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Space transport

Space Shuttle

Space Shuttle Atlantis just after lift-offSpace Shuttle Atlantis just after lift-offThe Space Shuttle was designed as a re-usable spacecraft because of the huge cost of rockets, all the parts of which are completely destroyed during missions. The first Shuttle mission was flown by Columbia in 1981. The five Shuttle spacecraft, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, flew 135 missions between 1981 and 2011 to launch or repair satellites, service space stations, and carry out scientific and military research. The Space Shuttle flew into space like a rocket, then glided back to Earth like an aeroplane. It consisted of four parts: the winged orbiter, where the astronauts travelled, a huge fuel tank, which supplied fuel to the orbiter’s three main rocket engines, and two booster rockets attached to the fuel tank. The fuel tank contained liquid oxygen and hydrogen. The booster rockets used solid fuel.

The Space Shuttle in cutawayThe Space Shuttle in cutawaySpace Shuttle flight deck controlsSpace Shuttle flight deck controls


Once in space, the Shuttle’s engines were turned off. It kept its speed because there was no air to slow it down. The orbiter was, however, equipped with two small additional engines, called the Orbital Manoeuvring System (OMS), and clusters of gas-powered thrusters at the nose and tail. These enabled it to make small manoeuvres, and slowed the spacecraft on its descent to Earth. The orbiter was coated with heat-resistant ceramic tiles on its nose and underside. This was to protect it from the intense heat as it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere.

Six Space Shuttle orbiters were built: Enterprise, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. Enterprise never flew a mission. Two, Challenger and Columbia, were lost in mission accidents.

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