Here’s a feature that I wrote for Pocket-lint.com on the history of the space shuttle to coincide with the final mission.
Despite lifting off 135 times, making an appearance in a Bond film, and even its immortalisation in Lego, the famous space shuttle is taking early retirement. On 8 July 2011, the Atlantis orbiter will embark on the very last space shuttle mission bringing NASA’s shuttle programme to an end after 30 years. It’s the end of an era, both for space exploration and for technology, so it seems only fitting to look back over the life and times of the space shuttle, the amazing gadgets and gizmos that make her go and find out why the programme is coming to an end and what happens next.
Firstly, let’s deal with the basics. What is the space shuttle? Well, it was the first reusable orbital space craft, unlike the old Saturn V rockets as used in the Apollo missions (including the moon landings) that could only be used once. The concept of a spacecraft returning and landing horizontally, like a plane, was born in the 1950s, although development of the space shuttle didn’t actually begin until the 1970s, after the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was given the official go-ahead by president Richard Nixon in 1969.
The very first space shuttle orbiter was named Enterprise and was designed to perform test flights in the Earth’s atmosphere, so it was never actually ready for spaceflight. Construction began in 1974 and it first took to the sky in 1977. Supposedly, the shuttle was originally going to be called Constitution but was re-named following a campaign by Star Trek fans who thought that it should be named after the Starship Enterprise. Serving US president Gerald Ford said that he was “partial to the name”, but that may have had more to do with the fact that he spent much of his WWII naval service on aircraft carrier USS Monterey, which served with the famous USS Enterprise, the most decorated warship in the conflict. However, adding some weight to the sci-fi story, or at least making full use of the publicity that it generated, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and a fair number of the cast were present at Enterprise’s dedicaton ceremony.
You can read the rest of the article here on Pocket-lint.com (originally published 08/07/11).