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Space shuttle on launch pad
Above, Columbia sits on the launch pad for the first shuttle flight into space on 12 April, 1981. John W Young and Robert L Crippen flew the shuttle into orbit for a two-day mission to test the orbiter's functionality.
The orbiter measures 78 feet in width and 122 feet in length, of which nearly half is the cargo bay.
The two narrow rockets on the side of the shuttle's body are solid-propellant rockets, a major innovation for the shuttle programme. Together they provide over 80 percent of the lift-off thrust. These rockets fall to Earth after two minutes, after which they are recovered from the sea, refurbished and reused for later missions.
The final component of the space shuttle design is the external booster tank, which provides fuel for the orbiter's three engines during launch. Around eight and a half minutes after blast-off, the external tank is jettisoned into the sea. It is the only component of the launch system not reused.
The external tank is usually orange; on the first two shuttle flights it was painted white as a precaution to help radiate heat. Nasa engineers later decided this was unnecessary.
Photo credit: Nasa