Tuesday, 3 July 2012


Endeavour at launch pad

(3)  The Shuttles or Orbiters as they are officially known, were designed as the first re-usable orbital spacecraft for carrying crews and various payloads into low-earth-orbit, capable of a wide range of missions before returning to earth. The Orbiter is basically a space-plane that is able to launch using rocket assistance and manoeuvre as needed in orbit before re-entering the earth's atmosphere to land like a glider. Early missions included the Spacelab series jointly funded by several European nations and many satellite launches. Their most recent achievements include helping build the International Space Station which has taken more than 10 years and is now virtually complete. There is one more mission to the ISS, Atlantis, scheduled for the 8th July 2011; this will be the last shuttle mission ever. A very sad moment for all involved.

There were 6 shuttles all together, the first being Enterprise which took off from the back of a Boeing-747 cargo plane in 1977. Columbia was the first shuttle to take-off with a rocket from the launch pad in 1981. In 1983 Challenger first launched, followed by Discovery in 1984 and Atlantis in 1985 but in 1986 disaster struck, Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into the flight because an O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed at lift off. Sadly, all 7 crew members were killed.

Challenger Space Shuttle crash

Challenger's smoke plume
Challenger's smoke plume 
Challenger crew STS-51-L
Challenger crew STS-51-L 

Many people were watching the launch live, including school children as Christa McAuliffe, the first member of the Teacher in Space Project, was part of the crew. The Challenger disaster has been used as a case study in many discussions of engineering safety and workplace ethics. A new shuttle was made to replace Challenger, named Endeavour which first launched in 1992. I managed to follow Endeavour's final mission on May 16th 2011 thanks to NASA TV.

In 2003 disaster struck again, this time Columbia was destroyed on re-entry into the earth's atmosphere, killing all 7 crew members.The loss of Columbia was a result of damage sustained during launch when a piece of foam insulation the size of a small briefcase broke off from the Space Shuttle external tank (the main propellant tank) under the aerodynamic forces of launch. The debris struck the leading edge of the left wing, damaging the Shuttle's thermal protection system (TPS), which shields it from heat generated with the atmosphere during re-entry. While Columbia was still in orbit, some engineers suspected damage, but NASA managers limited the investigation, on the grounds that little could be done even if problems were found.  Since this tragedy astronauts are trained to repair any tiles on the shuttle in space before they re-enter the earths atmosphere.

Below is a video of Columbia's final moments.

 Last moments of Columbia

Columbia Crew STS-107
Columbia Crew STS-107 
Insignia for STS-107
This is the insignia for STS-107

Discovery and Endeavour made their last flights in 2011 and Atlantis will be making the final flight of the Shuttle missions on 8th July 2011. All 3 remaining shuttles will be de-commissioned to be exhibited in museums. Discovery heads to the Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia, Atlantis to Florida's Kennedy Space Center, and Endeavour to the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Enterprise, which is currently at the Udvar-Hazy Center, will be relocated to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City. Hundreds of other shuttle artefacts will be put on display at various other museums and educational institutions around the US.

Endeavour's final mission

Tune into NASA TV for the final launch, 8th JULY 2011 Atlantis is "go for launch"!

Final mission - Atlantis

I would like to add a tribute to astronaut Commander Alan Poindexter who died on the 2nd July 2012. He flew STS-131 Discovery on April 5th 2010.

STS-131 Ascent Highlights


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