Space Shuttle, by Jean-Pierre Luminate

This is the thirteenth in my “Illustrated Space Chronicles”. whether If you want to acquire my book in its non-illustrated paperback version (original edition 2019 or paperback 2020), don’t deprive yourself!


Beginning in 1969, amid the euphoria of the success of the lunar mission, NASA conducted a follow-up study to the program. Apollo. Several proposals have been developed internally: space stations, lunar bases, expeditions to Mars, space vehicles. But the Vietnam War was heavy on the budget. NASA is aware of the need to reduce costs. Until now, rockets, capsules and ships were intended for single use only. US agency financiers convinced Congress that a reusable space vehicle would lower the cost of rocket launches and curb the ambitions of European and Soviet rivals.

This is how the Space Shuttle was born, a true masterpiece of technology based on a classic airplane model with delta wings with an evolved profile.

Early sketch of the US Space Shuttle (NASA, 1960)

The first shuttle takes off Columbia, April 12, 1981, is a great television moment. The power of firing boosters is impressive. After a few maneuvers in orbit, the rocket landed at an air base two days later. For the first time, a crew returned from space and landed on the same runway as the plane. It was a success, despite the large number of damaged heat protection tiles.

Historic takeoff of Shuttle Columbia on April 12, 1981
At left, astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen in the cockpit of Columbia during the first flight. Right, return to Earth after the first flight. © NASA

Five models of shuttles will be built and flown between 1981 and 2011: Columbia, discovery, the challenger, Atlantis And try.

In their early days, their mission was mainly to launch commercial civilian and especially military satellites. They put the main space telescope in high orbit, as is famous Hubble Space Telescope and X-ray satellites the moon.

Shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on April 24, 1990, carrying the Hubble Space Telescope.

In the late 1990s, their main purpose became servicing the Russian space station MirThen assemble the material into orbit International Space Station.

But beyond its scientific success, the program would prove to be a resounding failure, both emotionally and commercially. Psychological first, because two plays. In 1986, the shuttle the challenger, carrying seven astronauts, exploded 73 seconds after liftoff. The shock in public opinion is even more serious because this shooting was more publicized than previous ones due to the presence on board of the young teacher Krista McAuliffe. The US military withdrew from the program and the shuttles were banned from flying for two and a half years, while they improved. A second tragedy occurred in 2003: the shuttle Columbia Disintegrated on return to Earth, killing all seven astronauts on board.

The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger shortly after takeoff on January 28, 1986

Then business failure. Shuttle launches ultimately proved to be more expensive than conventional rocket launches. Not only were repairs not made as quickly as expected between the two flights, but the cost of repairs became prohibitive, causing America to cease launching civilian and military satellites. The decision was made to retire the shuttle fleet. The last flight took place in July 2011.

Shuttle Atlantis completed the last flight of the fleet in July 2011 to resupply the International Space Station (mission STS-135).

In total, the five American space shuttles made 135 flights over thirty years.

Other space nations have developed several shuttle projects, but most have been abandoned due to their complexity and prohibitive costs. This was especially the caseHermesEuropean shuttle project to be launched by rocket Ariadne 5.

In 1988, the Soviets succeeded in launching a fully automated shuttle, with no crew on board. But due to the collapse of the USSR, the program could not be continued. the shuttle Buran became the property of Kazakhstan, unable to use it economically. signs of decay, Buran Destroyed in 2002 when the shed collapsed…

Behind the giant Antonov aircraft is the Russian shuttle Buran

Since then, the only manned, reusable spacecraft to successfully complete a suborbital flight was built by a private company in 2004. the ship Spaceship One It reached an altitude of 111 km before coming to rest at its launch base. This success initially sowed hope for the commercial development of space tourism, but it has since come up against a series of failures and disappointments.

Spaceship Two, belonging to British billionaire Richard Branson’s firm Virgin Galactic, crashed in California’s Mojave Desert on November 1, 2014, killing one person and seriously injuring him, and dealing a severe blow to dreams of space tourism.

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