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Sev
06-05-2010, 04:39 AM
http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/space/space-exploration/space-shuttle-program/



NASA's space shuttle is unlike any other spacecraft ever built. The craft was designed to streak into space as a rocket but return as a glider, utilizing an aerodynamic winged shape to descend through the atmosphere and touch down on a runway much like a commercial airplane.

While in orbit, the space shuttle circles the planet at some 17,500 miles (28,000 kilometers) an hour, which means that the crew sees a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes.

After liftoff from Florida's John F. Kennedy Space Center, a typical space shuttle mission lasts ten days to two weeks and includes a full schedule of scientific experiments. Astronauts also perform varied tasks aloft, including the repair of satellites and the ongoing construction of the International Space Station. Each of the shuttles is specially equipped for such functions, most notably with an exterior manipulator arm.

Program Liftoff

On April 12, 1981, John Young and Robert Crippen launched the space shuttle program by piloting Columbia to space and returning successfully two days later.

Two years later space shuttle astronaut Sally Ride became the first U.S. woman in space as part of the Challenger crew.

The program has been a tremendous success for NASA but has also endured several tragedies. A string of successful missions was shattered in 1986 when Challenger disintegrated seconds after liftoff, killing its seven-person crew. The cause was a failed solid rocket booster O-ring.

The space shuttle program was suspended in the wake of this accident, and no shuttles were launched for nearly three years. The program rebounded in April 1990 with the successful mission of Discovery.

Astronauts on this momentous flight placed the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit. The incredible imaging device has subsequently added much to our understanding of the cosmos while returning otherworldly images that bring the universe to life.

In 1995 the space shuttle Atlantis successfully docked at the Russian space station Mir, bringing the two great space programs closer together in an era of cooperation that stood in marked contrast to the early days of the space race.

Tragedy struck again in February 2003 when the program lost its second shuttle. Columbia disintegrated over Texas just 16 minutes before its scheduled landing. All seven crew members were lost.

Future Plans

Despite this heartbreaking setback the space shuttle is once again flying regularly. In February 2008 Atlantis delivered Columbus, the European Space Agency's new laboratory, to the International Space Station. In March 2008 Endeavour delivered the first section of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory and the Canadian Space Agency's two-armed robotic system, Dextre.

The space shuttle program has now flown for over a quarter century, and NASA is already working on the next generation of manned spaceflight vehicles. The Orion crew exploration vehicle is being designed to take humans back to the moon by 2020, and, later to Mars and more distant destinations.

Sev
06-05-2010, 07:35 PM
Over all considering the nature of the space shuttle program it is a wonder that over the past 29 years there have been so few accidents.