What is the Space Shuttle Program



What is the Space Shuttle Program?

Since 1972 the United States has been planning and developing one of the most important and innovative projects of all time; the Space Shuttle Program.

NASA approached Congress with this basic idea; let’s spend a little more than you’d probably want to right now… to save a lot more than we’re spending now, later.

The goal was to create a much cheaper program in accessing space than the previous means. The Space Shuttle Program would be built for NASA, the Department of Defense and other commercial and scientific users.

NASA proposed this program to Congress and estimated that it would cost, in total, $7.45 billion dollars ($43 billion in 2011, inflation adjusted) for development and then $9.3 million per flight ($54 million in 2011, inflation adjusted).

The reality is that the Space Shuttle Program cost about $209 billion dollars (2015, inflation adjusted) and about $1.5 billion per flight. No one said you could trust a Rocket Scientist to do Accounting.

Nonetheless, the Space Shuttle Program has been one of the most important projects in human history and has helped in deploying commercial and military satellites, International Space Station parts, orbiters, Astronauts, the Hubble Space Telescope, Mir docking module and much more.

Without further ado, here’s our infographic with 10 amazing tidbits of information that will help you answer What is the Space Shuttle Program next time someone asks you.

What is the Space Shuttle Program?

The Space Shuttle Program operated 6 Space Shuttles transporting everything from satellites, probes, telescopes, space station construction and service objects and much more. The first manned flights began in 1981 and ended in 2011, along with the Space Shuttle Program.

The NASA Space Shuttle Program officially started in 1972, despite the concept being introduced as far back as the 1960’s. One of its primary purposes was to assist in the construction of a U.S. Space Station – later evolving into the International Space Station.

Let’s Meet the Space Shuttles:

The Enterprise:

  • Launched: February 18, 1977
  • Was built for testing, had no orbital capacity and was named after the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701), the Star Trek starship, after an overwhelming amount of mail sent to NASA requesting a name change from the Constitution.

The Columbia:

  • Launched: April 12, 1981
  • Was destroyed February 1, 2003 from a punctured hole in its wing upon re-entry.
  • Columbia Stats: 28 missions, 160 crew members, 300 days in space, 4,808 orbits and 125,204,911 miles.

The Challenger:

  • Launched: April 4, 1983
  • Successfully landed nine times before it was destroyed and disintegrated during its January 28, 1986 launch.
  • Challenger Stats: 10 missions, 51 crew members, 62 days in space, 995 orbits and 25,803,939 miles.

The Discovery:

  • Launched: August 30, 1984
  • Flew for over 26 years serving in NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet, the Discovery ran more missions than any other shuttle. The Discovery was retired March 9, 2011 and is on display in Virginia.
  • Discovery Stats: 39 missions, 252 crew members, 365 days in space, 5,830 orbits and 148,221,675 miles.

The Atlantis:

  • Launched: October 3, 1985
  • Was the second to last Space Shuttle built and was the shuttle to land on the Space Shuttle Program’s final mission in July of 2011.
  • Atlantis Stats: 33 missions, 207 crew members, 306 days in space, 4,848 orbits and 125,935,769 miles.

The Endeavour:

  • Launched: May 7, 1992
  • Was the last Space Shuttle built and was retired on May 6, 2011 after delivering the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station.
  • Endeavour Stats: 25 missions, 154 crew members, 296 days in space, 4,671 orbits and 122,883,151 miles.

Complexity is an Understatement:

  • The Space Shuttle is an incredible machine, but when you break down its parts, you can see how ingenious the Space Shuttle really is. It contains more than 2.5 million parts, nearly 230 miles of wiring (enough wiring to reach the International Space Station), over 1,000 valves, 1,400 circuit breakers, 27,000 thermal tiles, 5 computer systems and 3.5 million pounds of fuel (all consumed in the first 8 minutes of take off).

Half a Billion Miles:

  • The Space Shuttles have flown, collectively, over half a billion miles; 548,049,445, to be exact. The Space Shuttles travel at roughly 17,500 miles per hour, which would take 31,317 hours to travel all the miles the Shuttle Program has flown!

Up, Up and Away – but Not Too Far:

  • Despite the Space Shuttles leaving the Earth’s atmosphere and entering space, the Space Shuttles never go too far. The majority of Space Shuttle missions were between 120 and 600 miles above Earth. To visit the International Space Station, a Space Shuttle only needs to travel about 200 to 250 miles, about the same distance as a flight from Boston to New York.

The Most Expensive Space Endeavour, Ever:

  • Way back in the early days at NASA, the Space Shuttle Program was estimated to cost around $7.45 billion (~$43 billion in 2011 dollars, inflation adjusted). When all was said and done, the Space Shuttle Program’s total expenditure was about $209 billion. With 135 missions, that’s a little more than $1.5 billion per flight. To put things into perspective, the International Space Station only cost $160 billion.

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