Shuttle Launch

Shuttle Launch

The first Shuttle (Columbia) launched from Florida on April 12, 1981. Before that eventful day, however; many years of planning went into NASA’s Space Shuttle Program. The biggest problem they had to start with was not how to launch a spacecraft-that had been done before with Apollo. The problem was landing it on the ground, like an airplane. When I worked for NASA in the early 1980s, I remember the astronauts reportedly saying that the Shuttle was not an easy aircraft to land. It wasn’t very well balanced. Today, you would never know it the way those guys always bring it in.

Before the Shuttle Program, there was the X-15 Program and a lot of wind-tunnel testing. The X-15 broke the sound barrier and flew over 6 times the speed of sound. The first flight was said to have melted the windshield. It also proved NASA could get almost to outer space, which is what the X-15 did, and land back on the ground. It helped set the stage for all the other NASA Programs, including the Space Shuttle Program. The last flight of the X-15 was on October 24, 1968.

When Columbia was launched, NASA put on board only two crewmembers-two of their best astronauts, John Young and Robert Crippen. Young was a veteran from the Gemini and Apollo Programs, and had flown Apollo 10 and 16. Crippen had been involved with Skylab and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission. The trip to outer space only lasted two days and it was done mostly to prove it could be done.

NASA’s Shuttle fleet includes the Discovery, Atlantis, and the Endeavour. The Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff on January 28, 1986. Seven crewmembers were killed, including the first school teacher ever to be trained to go on a Shuttle, Christa McAuliffe. She was to be part of the Teacher in Space Project. The cause of the explosion was said to have been an o-ring failure due in part to cold weather. The Columbia was destroyed over Texas on February 1, 2003 on its reentry to Kennedy Space Center. Pieces of the debris were transported back to Kennedy to try and reconstruct what happened. About 38% of the Columbia was recovered and they were able to find where pieces were located that had damaged areas.

NASA has done its best over the past 28 years to land the Shuttle at Kennedy Space Center, rather than the alternate landing site in California at Edwards Air Force Base. One of the main reasons is the extra time it takes to transport the Shuttle on the 747 specifically built for that purpose, back to Kennedy Space Center. Another alternate landing site at White Sands, New Mexico, is used as a last resort, not only because of the extra transport time, but it creates a lot of extra work in cleaning off the sand. Through 2003, there were a total of 113 Shuttle launches. 61 of those landed at Kennedy Space Center, 49 at Edwards Air Force Base, and one at White Sands.

A great deal of advancement in medical sciences, including cancer cell research, methods of delivering medicine to different parts of the body, as well as advancements in materials used in space, is made possible by the experiments onboard the International Space Station. The Space Shuttle transports the instruments and other things necessary, along with crewmembers, to make those experiments possible. The Shuttle has also been instrumental at times in repairing satellites as well as making repairs and improvements to the Hubble Telescope.

President Obama proposed a NASA budget in 2010 of $18.69 billion dollars. The population of the U.S. as of July, 2008 was estimated at 304,059,724. That means that each taxpayer will spend about 1.6 cents on the Space Program. That seems a small price to pay for all the medical advancements and other benefits the Shuttle Program has given us.


NASA (n.d.). Retrieved September 23, 2009 from


X-15 Hypersonic research at the edge of space (February 24, 2000). Retrieved September 23, 2009 from

Mark, Roy (May 8, 2009). Green IT and Green Computing. Critics weight in on Obama’s NASA budget. Retrieved September 23, 2009 from

List of U.S. states and territories by population (August 16, 2009). Retrieved September 23, 2009 from

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