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The Early Years
The Mercury Program
The Gemini Program
The Apollo Program

The Shuttle Program
Program Info
Orbiter Info
Mission Info

The Space Station
Dog Crews


Space is our Future!

The Shuttle Program

Shuttle Program patch

The Space Transportation System, commonly referred to as the Shuttle, consists of the Orbiter, the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB), and the External Tank. The Orbiter and SRBs are reusable. When ready for launch the entire system is 184 feet tall and weighs approximately 4.5 million pounds.

5% Space Shuttle Control Model in 16 Foot Transonic Tunnel Photo by Nasa

PHOTO: 5% Space Shuttle Control Model in 16 Foot Transonic Tunnel NASA model of the space shuttle being prepared for testing in Langley's 16 foot Transonic Tunnel.

The Shuttle transports cargo into near Earth orbit 100 to 217 nautical miles (115 to 250 statute miles) above the Earth. Each orbiter (Space Shuttle) is 121 feet long, has a wingspan of 78 feet, and a height of 57 feet. The Space Shuttle is approximately the size of a DC-9 commercial airliner and can carry a payload of 65,000 pounds into orbit. The payload bay is 60 feet long and 15 feet in diameter. Each main engine is capable of producing a sea level thrust of 375,000 pounds and a vacuum (orbital) thrust of 470,000 pounds. The engines burn a mixture of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.


In orbit, the Space Shuttles circle the earth at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour with each orbit taking about 90 minutes. A Space Shuttle crew sees a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes.

When Space Shuttle flights began in April 1981, Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, was the primary landing site for the Shuttles. Now Kennedy Space Center, Florida, is the primary landing site with Dryden remaining as the principal alternate landing site.

Enterprise, the first Space Shuttle Orbiter, was rolled out of Rockwell's Air Force Plant 42, Site 1 Palmdale California assembly facility on Sept. 17, 1976. On Jan. 31, 1977, it was transported 36 miles overland from Rockwell's assembly facility to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Facility at Edwards Air Force Base for the approach and landing test program. The nine-month-long ALT program was conducted from February through November 1977 at the Dryden Flight Research Facility and demonstrated that the orbiter could fly in the atmosphere and land like an airplane, except without power-gliding flight. Following the Enterprise's success, the orbiter Columbia was created and it became the first Space Shuttle to fly into Earth orbit in 1981. Four sister ships joined the fleet over the next 10 years: Challenger, arriving in 1982 but destroyed four years later; Discovery, 1983; Atlantis, 1985; and Endeavour, built as a replacement for Challenger, 1991.