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NASA Space Shuttle
Rockwell Space Shuttle



There had long been the desire to have a reusable vehicle that could be launched into Earth orbit, have the ability to manoeuvre in space, re-enter Earth's atmosphere and land conventionally on an airfield. The first step in this direction was made with lifting-body research aircraft which, in turn, led to design of the Space Shuttle Orbiter, for which Rockwell International became prime contractor in July 1972.

A large vehicle with a thick-section wing of double-delta planform, the SSO has a fuselage which conforms to lifting-body outlines. Mounted in the rear fuselage are three Rocketdyne SSME rocket engines, each developing 417,300-lb (189287-kg) thrust for launch, at which time the SSO has mounted beneath it a large external fuel tank for the SSME rocket engines, and at each side of the tank a solid-propellant rocket booster. The whole assembly is launched with the main engines and the boosters firing; after burn-out the boosters are jettisoned and recovered by parachute, the main engines then being fed from the external fuel tank, which is jettisoned just before entry into orbit. Having completed its orbital mission, during which the SSO is controlled by orbit manoeuvring and reaction control engines, a de-orbiting manoeuvre is initiated and, at a high angle of attack, the SSO re-enters Earth's atmosphere to make an unpowered but otherwise conventional aircraft-type landing.

It was not until 13 August 1977 that the Enterprise and its crew were launched in free flight from the SCA at a height of 22,800 ft (6950 m), to make a gliding and unpowered flight to a conventional landing at Edwards AFB, California.

Almost four years later, on 12 April 1981, the spacecraft OV-102 Columbia, crewed by astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen, lifted off from Cape Canaveral on the first orbital mission. It then completed 37 orbits of the earth in 54 hours and on 14 April made a near-perfect unpowered 200-mph (322-km/h) landing on Runway 23 at Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards AFB, California. The first ever "soft" return from space in a re-usable craft that is part spaceship and part aeroplane.




The Columbia was subsequently flown back to Cape Canaveral on the back of its Boeing 747 mother-plane for full examination and preparation for the next mission. 






Boosters: 2 x Solid rocket, 1,315,430-kg (2,900,000-lb) thrust each



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