After almost 30 years, NASA's space shuttle program is ending. NASA is cancelling its space shuttle program and the space shuttles will be retired. There will be no more space shuttle flights after 2010, unless NASA extends some of the remaining 6 missions into the year 2011. The space shuttle era is coming to an end.
As the world's first reusable spacecraft, the space shuttle has been able to accomplish things that no other spacecraft can do. The space shuttle can launch like a rocket, maneuver in orbit like a spacecraft, and then land on a runway like an airplane. NASA's space shuttle is the first space vehicle ever developed that can bring large satellites up into orbit and then also bring them down from orbit and back to Earth.
Even though it is the most complex spacecraft ever designed and built, the space shuttle has been a hard worker. Heavy space station modules, parts, and supplies have been ferried to the International Space Station in the shuttle's large cargo bay. Since the first shuttle flight on April 12, 1981, the shuttle has boosted more than 3 million pounds of cargo into orbit.
Since 1981, more than 600 people have flown as crew members on space shuttle missions. The space shuttle today is even more capable than it was when it first launched. Modifications and updates to the original design have made the space shuttle even safer and more reliable than before.
The Space Transportation System (STS) is the official name of the space shuttle orbiter, the large external tank, and the two slender solid rocket boosters. The space shuttle orbiter vehicle houses the crew and payload. About two minutes after lift-off, the shuttle drops the used solid rocket boosters and they fall into the ocean, where they are picked up by boats and taken to be cleaned and reused.
As the space shuttle orbiter and external tank reach orbit, the main engines shut down and the external tank drops off to fall and burn up in the atmosphere. The space shuttle opens its large payload bay doors when it is in orbit. The shuttle can use its remote manipulator arm to take satellites from the payload bay or move items over to the International Space Station.
So what does the future hold for the space shuttle? NASA, if it can get funding from Congress, is considering delaying space shuttle retirement. NASA may even request funding for a few additional space shuttle missions before the vehicles are mothballed. The Constellation program is the new space program being developed by NASA. The manned component of the Constellation program is a crew exploration vehicle, named Orion, which is similar to an Apollo capsule.
The Orion capsule, launched on a rocket, will transport crew and cargo to the International Space Station. It is hoped that later versions of the Constellation program will some day be able to travel beyond Earth to the Moon and eventually to Mars. The Constellation program will take years to design, build, and test. Because of this, many people hope that Congress and NASA will delay the space shuttle retirement.
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