The space shuttle's history in pictures

The space shuttle's history in pictures

Summary: Atlantis's mission to the International Space Station is the final flight in the 30-year-old space shuttle programme, which has pushed technology to its limits

TOPICS: After Hours

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  • Hubble Space Telescope repair

    In its 30-year history, the space-shuttle programme has carried 179 payloads into orbit and retrieved 52 for return to Earth. (In fact, Nasa calculates that 97 percent of man-made material that has returned safely from space has done so courtesy of a space shuttle).

    One of the shuttle's most important missions was Endeavour's successful repair of the Hubble Space Telescope on mission STS-61 in 1993 (above), three years after Discovery had deployed it.

    Hubble's images were famously distorted by a mirror that had been ground to the wrong shape. Although it was impossible to remove the mirror in space, the technically fraught servicing mission in 1993 (captured in an early Imax film) corrected the telescope by fitting the COSTAR adaptive package into the telescope, and paved the way for ground-breaking observations.

    Best known for its stunning images of the cosmos, Hubble made its one-millionth science observation on 4 July, 2011. It has captured 50 terabytes of data to date.

    Photo credit: Nasa

  • Challenger disaster

    On 28 January, 1986, Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch at an altitude of nine miles. All six astronauts on board perished, including Christa McAuliffe, a teacher who had won a much-published competition to go into space.

    The tragedy was blamed on the failure of an O-ring joint on one of the solid-fuel booster rockets, partly due to extremely cold weather conditions in Florida.

    As a result of the inquiry that followed, Nasa tightened up safety procedures and the cost of shuttle missions soared, eradicating the notion of the space shuttle programme as a cost-effective route into space.

    Nasa returned to space 32 months later with Discovery's Return to Flight mission, having made more than 400 changes to its orbiters and rockets.

    A replacement shuttle, Endeavour, was commissioned in 1987 and made its first flight in 1992. 

    Photo credit: Nasa

  • Space shuttle docked with ISS

    The first American woman in space was Sally Ride on Challenger in 1983 (she flew on the same orbiter again in 1984).

    In 1995, Eileen Collins became the first woman to pilot a space shuttle, on Discovery. She became the first female mission commander in 1999, on Columbia.

    Senator John Glenn became the oldest man to go into space when he flew on Discovery in 1998 at the age of 77. In 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. 

    The space shuttle programme completed nine dockings with the Russian space station Mir. It has docked with the International Space Station 36 times, prior to its final mission.

    Excluding Atlantis's final flight, the programme has carried 355 individuals into space. It has racked up 20,830 orbits and 1,310 days of flight time.

    Photo credit: Nasa

Topic: After Hours

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