About The Space Shuttle
Before the Space Shuttle was invented, NASA, which stands for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, used rockets to get people to space. The problem with rockets is that they can only be used one time. They wanted a better solution. NASA set out to design a space craft that could be used over and over again. The idea was to make something that could be launched like a rocket but land like a plane. In 1972, engineers started working on the space shuttle. In 1981 (9 years later), the first space shuttle was launched into space. It was called the “Space Shuttle Columbia.”
What Is a Space Shuttle?
A space shuttle is kind of like a big space bus. It carries people and cargo into outer space. The people are usually astronauts and scientists. The cargo can be a lot of different things. It may bring satellites, supplies for the International Space Station like food, water and fuel, or scientific equipment for studying things in outer space.
The Parts of a Space Shuttle
The space shuttle is built of more than 2.5 million parts! Many of these parts had to be designed and made especially for the shuttle. You can’t just buy them at the local hardware store. Here are three main parts that you should know about:
- Orbiter: This is the actual space craft. It holds the astronauts and cargo.
- External Tank: This holds most of the fuel the Space Shuttle needs to rocket into space. When the fuel tank is empty, the astronauts get rid of it and it falls into the ocean. This is the only part of the space shuttle that does not get reused.
- Rocket Boosters: There are two rocket boosters attached to the space shuttle. These boosters provide the lift the space shuttle needs to launch into the atmosphere.
How Does the Space Shuttle Work?
The Space Shuttle uses two rocket boosters for launch, an external fuel tank which contains the fuel that is used during launch, and the orbiter which houses the passengers and cargo. When launch time comes, the fuel tank feeds the rocket boosters, which give enough thrust (force) to send the orbiter into space. The shuttle is covered with tiles that resist heat, because entering the earth's atmosphere creates about 3,000 degrees of heat. When it's time to return to Earth, the orbiter lands just like a regular plane would. It uses a very large parachute attached to the back of the shuttle to help slow it down. The shuttle lands on tires that are strong enough to absorb the same force as 40 race cars hitting the pavement at 250 miles per hour.
Interesting Facts about the Space Shuttle
- Most of the smoke you see coming from the space shuttle is water vapor.
- The computer of the space shuttle has less power than an Xbox 360.
- The space shuttle could never travel to the moon. The highest it can go is 600 miles. The moon is 238,000 miles away from the Earth!
- A total of 355 people flew into outer space on the space shuttle.
Space Shuttle Tragedy
Many wonderful things have happened because of the space shuttle. We can travel to and from space. We can transport people to the International Space Station where they can live in space for months. We can zoom up to space and repair a satellite or the Hubble Telescope. We launched the first woman, the first teacher, and the first person who was not an astronaut into space. But there were also two very sad events that happened as well—one in 1986, and one in 2003.
In January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle “Challenger” lifted off to space carrying 7 crew members. Just a little over a minute after the launch, it broke apart over the ocean. Sadly, all 7 crew members lost their lives. The problem was a very small part on the shuttle that broke. The shuttle is so complex a machine that everything has to work perfectly. The whole world was saddened by the disaster.
In February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle “Columbia” was coming back to Earth from its mission to space. A heat shield had fallen off during liftoff, but no one knew. When the shuttle entered the Earth’s atmosphere, it got too hot and disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean. The seven members of that mission also perished.
Future Space Travel
Despite those sad events, the Space Shuttle Program has been very successful. There have been 135 missions and they have been very important to space exploration and history. The Space Shuttle Program is not in operation right now. NASA is looking at other ways to get people and supplies into space. Many companies are coming up with new space ship designs to transport regular people like us into space. There is also talk of building a "space elevator" that could bring people into space. It will be exciting to see what they come up with.