The Space Shuttle was a manned, reusable spacecraft operated by NASA.
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NASA's Space Shuttle program was a manned launch vehicle program approved by President Richard Nixon in 1972. It was officially referred to as the Space Transportation System or STS. Six space shuttles were built within the program. The first was Enterprise in 1976, which was not capable of space flight. The youngest member of the fleet is Endeavour, first launched in 1992. Since the first launch of Columbia, in 1981, a total of 135 launches were carried out within the program, which ended with the final landing of Atlantis in 2011. Each launch was carried out at the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida.
The Space Shuttle consisted of four main components: a spaceplane, a large external fuel tank and two reusable booster rockets. The reusable Solid Rocket Boosters carried 500 tons of solid fuel each and provided the lift-off thrust during the first two minutes of powered flight that the three engines of the spaceplane could not produce. Shortly after leaving the launchpad, the Shuttle started a roll, pitch and yaw maneuver, the orbiter flew upside down, under the fuel tank during the ascent phase. This allowed uninterruptedradiocontact with mission control. The vehicle climbed in a progressivelyflatteningarc, accelerating as the weight of the fuel tank decreased. At a height of 45 km (27.96 mi) the booster rockets automatically separated from the fuel tank and parachutedback into the Atlantic Ocean.
The liquidoxygen and hydrogen content of the external fuel tank was used by the main engines of the Shuttle during take-off. Another important function of the tank was to provide structural stability for the vehicle, as the spaceplane and the two booster rockets were attached to it. At a height of 130 km (80.78 mi), about 8.5 minutes after the launch the main engines were shut down, the fuel tank was released from the vehicle and it fell back to the atmosphere where it burnt.
The more than 37 m (121.4 ft) long Orbiter Vehicle had a wingspan of nearly 24 m (78.74 ft). Its fuselage consisted of three sections. The forward fuselage housed the cockpit and the crew cabin, which consisted of three decks. The mid fuselage contained the delta wings, the payload bay and the related equipment. The 15 m (49.21 ft) long multifunctional robot arm was carried in the payload bay. The aft fuselage consisted of the orbital maneuvering systems, the three main engines and the body flap.
The orbital height of Endeavour varied between 185 and 643 km (115 and 399.5 mi). Its orbital speed was over 27 thousand km/h (16,780 mph). It spent more than 296 days in space on 25 missions with a maximum crew of 10, covered nearly 200 million km (124,300,000 mi) and completed 4,671 orbits around the Earth.