While I’d earlier joked about President Nixon being responsible for giving the final go ahead for development of the space shuttle program in 1972, I thought I should put together a short post about how the program actually came together after President Kennedy vowed America would beat the Communists to the Moon having already lost to the Soviet Union when they successfully put Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit for the first manned space flight.
Officially called the Space Transportation System (STS), NASA’s Space Shuttle program was the sole manned launch vehicle program after the final Apollo and Skylab flights in the mid 1970s. Actual operation of the program began in 1981 with the launch of Columbia (STS-102) on the 20th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s space flight, and would continue through to 2011 and their last launch of Atlantis (STS-135). Exploration of the program’s core concepts however originally began in the late 1960s through the Space Task Group that Nixon’s vice president chaired, and was the final design settled on as the most economical solution to be the workhorse necessary for allowing the US to put a space station in low earth orbit by the early 1990s when it would then be replaced by a new vehicle.
However as the station evolved into the International Space Station (ISS) the shuttle program’s service life was extended several times as the project was plagued by delays, pushing the program’s lifespan to thirty years of service. During this time it would do everything from carrying payloads into various orbits, crew for rotation to the ISS, even recovering satellites for return to Earth. Unfortunately its retirement also marks the end of America’s varied space related activities being performed by a single craft, not to mention single organization. But still holds the distinction of being the only reusable winged manned spacecraft to have achieved multiple orbits and landings.