NASA’s construction of the first reusable space shuttle was one of the biggest moments of modern history. During the 1960s and 1970s space shuttles could only be used once. This made space travel and exploration extremely expensive. A reusable space craft was absolutely necessary if space research was to continue.
Enterprise: The First Reusable Space Shuttle
The problem was solved in 1977. NASA unveiled to the world the first reusable shuttle. The office title of this amazing craft was the Space Transportation System or STS for short. All space flights after this point are numbered and labelled starting with STS.
This first shuttle was named the STS Enterprise after the famed craft in the popular television series ‘Star Trek.’ The STS Enterprise was not actually made to fly into space and it never did. It was just a display model.
Columbia And Later Shuttles
The first reusable space shuttle that actually went into space was modeled after the Enterprise. This craft’s name was Columbia. Columbia was launched on April 12, 1981. The main purpose of the shuttle was to help build the International Space Station and deliver satellites into orbit around the Earth. Because of Columbia it ended up being discovered that part of the Hubble telescope was faulty. Astronauts were then able to repair it and they were delivered there to complete the repairs by shuttle.
Five total space shuttles have been built to date: Columbia, Discovery, Challenger, Atlantis and Endeavor.
Parts Of The Space Shuttle
Each of these reusable shuttles consisted of four main parts. The first part is known as the orbital vehicle and this is where the crew sits. Any payloads are also kept in the cargo bay area of the orbital vehicle. Most of the space shuttle consists of the large, orange fuel tank. It carries enough fuel to power all three of the engines and it is a part of the shuttle that actually isn’t reused.
For the first two shuttle flights, the fuel tank was painted white. It turned out that this added a great deal of extra weight. For all subsequent flights the fuel tanks were left their natural orange color. There are two boosters on the sides of the shuttle that provide thrust during the launch. The boosters actually provide about 80% of the lift.
The fuel used in shuttles is liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Liquid takes up the least space. Inside of the boosters is a paste that is a mixture of other chemicals. The boosters can’t be turned off once they’re activated during the launch. Once the shuttle has reached the needed height, they detach and are parachuted down to be collected and then reused for another launch.
Space Shuttle Landings
Space shuttles actually have no power when they return to Earth. They simply glide. There is a great deal of heat during re-entry and the bottom of the shuttle is coated in black, heat-resistant tiles to deal with this. Friction with the atmosphere is what slows the shuttle down.