8 pivotal moments from NASA’s Space Shuttle Program
NASA

8 pivotal moments from NASA’s Space Shuttle Program

Today through July 21 marks one decade since the last NASA space shuttle flight, with the Atlantis shuttle launching on July 8, 2011, to spend 13 days partly delivering supplies to the International Space Station.

On the 10th anniversary of that last space shuttle flight, let’s take a spacewalk down memory lane.

The NASA space shuttle journey began in 1972, when then-US President Richard Nixon announced the intent to develop the world’s first inexpensive, reusable space shuttle for travel into space.

The first space shuttle flight, STS-1 (Space Transportation System-1) Columbia, took off nine years later from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 12, 1981. Columbia’s debut launched a 30-year program that included 135 missions; the transport of millions of pounds of cargo to and from space; firsts for racial, gender and ethnic minority astronauts; repairs and updates to the International Space Station; and more.

And though the program had its iconic firsts, it was also mired in tragic, fatal accidents at times. Here are eight pivotal moments from the space shuttle era.

1. The first US woman goes to space

When the space shuttle Challenger (mission STS-7) launched on June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first US woman in space. This was 20 years after the then-Soviet Union sent cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, on the Vostok 6 spacecraft in 1963.

2. The first African American achieves spaceflight

When Challenger’s third mission, STS-8, took off on August 30, 1983, deploying the Insat-1B weather and communications satellite for India wasn’t the only record achieved. This launch also marked mission specialist Guion “Guy” Bluford Jr. becoming the first African American to fly in space.

3. Marking the first untethered spacewalk

After space shuttle Challenger launched on mission STS-41B the early morning of February 3, 1984, mission specialists Bruce McCandless II and Robert L. Stewart did the first spacewalks outside of a shuttle without being tethered to the shuttle.

4. Resuming space shuttle flight post-Challenger explosion

The space shuttle Discovery voyage (STS-26) on September 29, 1988, was NASA’s first return to space shuttle flight about two-and-a-half years after the Challenger disaster that killed all seven crew members on January 28, 1986.

5. Launching the Hubble Space Telescope

To deploy the telescope, space shuttle Discovery (STS-31) launched on April 24, 1990, and soared to an altitude of 370 miles (595.5 kilometers), the highest shuttle orbit ever at that time, according to NASA. Placed in orbit as two IMAX cameras recorded the mission on April 25, the Hubble Space Telescope has since informed our knowledge of the cosmos for over 30 years by sharing its observations of stars, galaxies and other astronomical objects.

6. Achieving the 100th US human space launch

Launching Atlantis, the last space shuttle, on June 27, 1995, marked the 100th US human space launch. This mission (STS-71) was also when space shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir for the first time — an international space collaboration that made Atlantis and Mir the largest combined spacecraft ever in orbit, totaling nearly half a million pounds (226,796 kilograms), according to NASA. This cooperation helped pave the way for the International Space Station.

7. Returning to space post-Columbia disaster

Nearly two-and-a-half years after the space shuttle Columbia exploded over Texas while reentering Earth, a second fatal accident that killed all seven crew members, Discovery (STS-114) launched on July 26, 2005.

“Take note of what you saw here,” then-NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told reporters, according to a 2005 CNN report. “The power and the majesty of the launch, of course, but also the competence and the professionalism, the sheer gall, the pluckiness, the grittiness of this team that pulled this program out of the depths of despair.”

8. Remodeling the International Space Station

One goal of the space shuttle Endeavour (STS-126) launch on November 14, 2008, was for the crew to renovate a kitchen and bathroom on the ISS and deliver a new refrigerator. Also included in the cargo was exercise equipment. All supplies were part of NASA’s hope to expand the space station and enable space personnel to have long-duration missions.

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