The View From Here

The View from Here: Saluting an Enduring Space-Age Icon

Written by: developer

After almost a year of debate and indecision, the House has passed the Senate’s NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which is expected to be signed by the president. While certainly not perfect, the legislation should help stabilize the space agency and industry for the near term.

With all the hub-bub, we don’t want something truly important to get lost in the fray: America’s Space Shuttle program is about to end its 30 years of service to the nation and to humanity. At the Space Foundation, we are honoring that incredible legacy.

That is why on April 12, at the 27th National Space Symposium, we will honor the program at a special Industry Salutes the Space Shuttle luncheon, co-sponsored by United Space Alliance (USA).

As it happens, April 12 will mark the 30th Anniversary of the very first Space Shuttle launch, the orbiter Columbia on mission STS-1. It will be the perfect opportunity for all of us to show our appreciation to the NASA, industry, academic, international and other partners who brought the remarkable accomplishments of the Shuttle era to life. Later that afternoon we’ll relive some of the greatest moments in Shuttle history with our Space Shuttle Commanders’ Forum, with five former Shuttle commanders representing the five orbiters that have flown in space.

I hope you’ll mark your calendars now, and be sure to join us as we celebrate and present a specially commissioned commemorative award to NASA.

The readers of this column won’t need much reminding about why the Space Shuttle program has been so special. Despite the fact that the Shuttle was designed more than 30 years ago, it remains the only orbital vehicle in the world that can fly to a runway landing on Earth and be used over and over again. With its distinctive external tank, solid rocket boosters, and airplane-like design, it is arguably the only vehicle of the space age that can stand alongside the mighty Saturn V as an enduring icon of space exploration.

The Space Shuttle orbiters have flown a lot:

  • OV-99, Challenger 10 missions
  • OV-102, Columbia 28 missions
  • OV-103, Discovery 37 missions
  • OV-104, Atlantis 31 missions
  • OV-105, Endeavour 24 missions

Of those 130 space shuttle missions:

  • 17 were launched at night
  • 14 were extended duration missions (longer than 10 days) 

Eight missions were dedicated to the science of the Great Observatories in space:

  • STS-31 deployed the Hubble Space Telescope
  • STS-37 deployed the Gamma Ray Observatory
  • STS-93 deployed the Chandra X-Ray Observatory
  • Missions STS-61, STS-82, STS-103, STS-109 and STS-125 were dedicated to servicing the Hubble Space Telescope, arguably the most important and prolific telescope in human history

Cementing its role as a platform for the exploration of the cosmos, the Space Shuttle ferried three of the largest and most capable interplanetary explorer spacecraft to orbit, serving as the springboard launch pad in space for the Magellan Venus spacecraft (STS-30, Atlantis), the Galileo Jupiter spacecraft (STS-34, Atlantis), and the Ulysses solar-polar explorer (STS-41, Discovery). All three were spring-deployed from the Shuttles’ payload bay atop the Inertial Upper Stage, a program that I supported, and that took me to Kennedy Space Center many times to experience the powerful majesty of a shuttle launch.

Following in the footsteps of Apollo-Soyuz, the Space Shuttle program also demonstrated the ability of nations to work together peacefully in space. Six separate flights were operated under the umbrella of the Shuttle-Mir program, paving the way for even greater international collaboration with the construction of the International Space Station, the most complex engineering feat in the history of humankind.

Yes, we lost two Shuttles and 14 astronauts along the way. And yet we persevered. The memories of Challenger and Columbia, and their crews, will stay with us forever. That, too, is part of the Shuttle legacy.

The View from Here is that nothing should take away from the three decades of remarkable accomplishments of America’s Space Shuttle program. I hope you’ll plan to join us on April 12 as Industry Salutes the Space Shuttle at the 27th National Space Symposium.

For more fascinating facts about the Space Shuttle program, click here.

And, if you’d like some amazing trivia to impress your friends with, the NASA/Kennedy Space Center Public Affairs Office has provided the following factoids:

  • It takes only about eight minutes for the Space Shuttle to accelerate to a speed of more than 17,000 miles (27,358 kilometers) per hour
  • The Space Shuttle main engine weighs 1/7th as much as a train engine but delivers as much horsepower as 39 locomotives
  • The turbopump on the Space Shuttle main engine is so powerful it could drain an average family-sized swimming pool in 25 seconds
  • The Space Shuttle’s three main engines and two solid rocket boosters generate some 7.3 million pounds (3.3 million kilograms) of thrust at liftoff; compare that with America’s first two manned launch vehicles: the Redstone produced 78,000 pounds (35,381 kilograms) of thrust and the Atlas produced 360,000 pounds (163, 926 kilograms)
  • The liquid hydrogen in the Space Shuttle main engine is -423 degrees F. (-253 degrees C.), the second coldest liquid on Earth; when burned with liquid oxygen, the temperature in the engine’s combustion chamber reaches +6,000 degrees F. (+3,316 degrees C.)
  • The energy released by the three Space Shuttle main engines is equivalent to the output of 23 Hoover Dams
  • Each of the Shuttle’s solid rocket motors burns 5 tons (5,080 kilograms) of propellant per second, a total of 1.1 million pounds (500,000 kilograms) in 120 seconds; the speed of the gases exiting the nozzle is more than 6,000 miles (9,656 kilometers) per hour, about five times the speed of sound or three times the speed of a high-powered rifle bullet; the plume of flame ranges up to 500 feet (152 meters) long
  • The combustion gases in a solid rocket motor are at a temperature of 6,100 degrees F. (3,371 degrees C.), two-thirds the temperature of the surface of the sun; while that temperature is hot enough to boil steel, special insulation inside the motor protects the steel case so well that the outside of the case reaches only about 130 degrees F. (54 degrees C.)
  • A stacked booster is the same height as the Statue of Liberty (not including pedestal) – 151 feet (46 meters) – but weighs almost three times as much
  • The four engines of a Boeing 747 jet produce 188,000 pounds (85,277 kilograms) of thrust, while just one SRM produces more than 17 times as much thrust  – 3.3 million pounds (1.5 million kilograms); a pair of SRMs are more powerful than 35 jumbo jets at takeoff
  • If their heat energy could be converted to electric power, two SRMs firing for two minutes would produce 2.2 million kilowatt hours of power, enough to supply the entire power demand of 87,000 homes for a full day
  • The Shuttle’s Remote Manipulator System (RMS), or robot arm, provided by the Canadian Space Agency, weighs about 905 pounds (411 kilograms) on Earth but can move cargo in space weighing 66,000 pounds (29,938 kilograms), objects about the size of a Greyhound bus 


This article is part of Space Watch: October 2010 (Volume: 9, Issue: 10).