Initial Operational Capability (IOC):
Origin: United States of America
Parent System: Space Shuttle
Initial Operational Capability (IOC): 1981
Total Production: 5
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Description: The NASA Space Shuttle is the world's first reusable spacecraft designed to carry large satellites both to and from the orbit. It launches like a rocket, maneuvers in Earth orbit like a spacecraft and lands like an airplane. The Space Shuttle was developed in the 1970s and entered into service in 1981 carrying payloads into orbit. Each spacecraft comprises an expendable external fuel tank for the orbiter's main engines, two reusable solid rocket boosters which provide liftoff during the first two minutes and the orbiter which houses the crew and the payload. Five spacecrafts were produced until 1991 with each orbiter designed to fly at least 100 missions.
The first orbiter, Challenger, was delivered in 1979 to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and was lost in February 2003 during re-entry. The Challenger was delivered in 1982 and was destroyed in an explosion during ascent in January 1986. Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour were delivered in 1983, 1985 and 1991 respectively. The Endeavour was built as a replacement for the doomed Challenger. The Enterprise was an early Shuttle orbiter that never flew into space and was used for landing tests at the Dryden Flight Research Center and several launch pad studies in the late 1970s.
The Space Shuttle was designed for a crew of up to eight-man but the orbiter can be piloted by a two-man crew. Average missions require a crew of five to seven persons for five to 16 days at orbits ranging from about 185 kilometers to 643 kilometers high. During the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s the Space Shuttle design suffered thousands of major and minor modifications making it safer, more reliable and more capable. The engine and system improvements that are estimated to have tripled the safety of flying the Space Shuttle. The number of problems experienced while a Space Shuttle is in flight has decreased by 70 percent.
Amid safety and reliability concerns and after the lost of two spacecrafts and rising launch and operating costs, NASA has scheduled the Space Shuttle program for termination by 2011. The Orion crew exploration vehicle and Ares space launch systems are expected to replace the Space Shuttle carrying astronauts into orbit by 2015. More realistic estimates suggest that an effective replacement would be available at a later date in the 2020-2025 timeframe.
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