When it comes to exploring space and discovering new planets, the space shuttle has played an important role in many historical firsts and other accomplishments. The first test flight of a space shuttle took place in 1981 and orbital missions followed the next year. Today, the space shuttle is known as the only spacecraft that can make more than one orbital flights and landings. In this article, you will learn about some records associated with space shuttles.
When a space shuttle lifts off, it carries with it the orbiter itself, the external fuel tank that feeds the main engines, and two solid rocket boosters that give it the necessary thrust. At liftoff, the heaviest component on a space shuttle is the tank, which weighs 1,680,000 pounds.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis
The space shuttle Atlantis was named after the sailing ship operated for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute from 1930 to 1966. In April of 1985, Atlantis was delivered to Kennedy Space Center and lifted off on its first voyage on October 3, 1985. Its mission referred to as 51-J was the second flight associated with the Department of Defense. Other missions to follow for Atlantis included the launch of the Galileo interplanetary probe to Jupiter on STS-34 (October 1989) and STS-37 , which carried the Gamma Ray Observatory (GRO) as its main payload (April 1991).
The Space Shuttle Columbia
Columbia was named after a small sailing vessel with links to Boston in 1792, which explored the mouth of the Columbia River. Also, one of the first ships of the United States Navy to circumnavigate the globe was called Columbia. The name was quite popular, as NASA named the command module for the Apollo 11 lunar mission the same.
Columbia was the name given to the first of NASA’s orbiter fleet. It came to Kennedy Space Center in March 1979. The Space Shuttle flight program didn’t lift off until 1981. Columbia would later go on to recover the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) satellite from orbit during mission STS-32 (January 19) and embarked on the STS-40 Spacelab Life Sciences (June 1991), which dealt with the first manned Spacelab mission completely focused on human medical research.
Columbia is no longer in existence, as the space shuttle was destroyed over east Texas on its landing descent to Kennedy Space Center on February 1, 2003.
The Space Shuttle Endeavour
The first ship commanded by 18th century British explorer James Cook gave NASA the inspiration for naming Endeavour. The ship sailed into the South Pacific and around Tahiti to view the passage of Venus between the Earth and the Sun in 1768. As the journey extended, Cook also discovered New Zealand, surveyed Australia, and navigated the Great Barrier Reef. Congress gave the OK to build the fifth Space Shuttle orbiter as a replacement for Challenger on August 1, 1987. The space shuttle was complete by May of 1991 when it arrived at KSC’s Shuttle Landing Facility.