Columbia Space Shuttle Explosion - THE SHUTTLE

THE SHUTTLE (Illustration) American History Awesome Radio - Narrated Stories Disasters Famous Historical Events Social Studies American Presidents STEM

This cutaway image depicts the STS (Space Transportation System) Orbiter. NASA describes it: “The Orbiter is both the brains and heart of the Space Transportation System. About the same size and weight as a DC-9 aircraft, the Orbiter contains the pressurized crew compartment (which can normally carry up to seven crew members), the huge cargo bay, and the three main engines mounted on its aft end.” Image online, courtesy NASA. Click on it for a great view.


Except for its external fuel tank, shuttles are reusable launch vehicles. Capable of maintaining a consistent orbit, the supersonic transports provide up to seventeen days of high-quality micro-gravity conditions.

Decades in the making, they offer a tremendous environment for conducting many types of experiments, and from a shuttle astronauts see breathtaking views:

  • Africa looks like a stunning painting from space

  • Abilene, Texas from space

  • Memphis, Tennessee from space:

  • The Western Hemisphere appears as a priceless “Blue Marble” when viewed from space

America’s shuttles have flown hundreds of missions since the first launch of Columbia in the spring of 1981. A normal mission sequence includes liftoff from Pad 39A or 39B, at the Kennedy Space Center, with re-entry and landing at either Edwards Air Force Base or Cape Canaveral.

More than 20,000 small tiles, part of its Thermal Protection System, safeguard the shuttle when it forces its way back into the earth’s atmosphere.

Although NASA never lost a mission to re-entry problems until Columbia exploded on February 1, 2003, it came close once before. On his 1962 Project Mercury return, John Glenn had a broken heat shield which almost cost him his life.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Feb 01, 2003

Updated Last Revision: Feb 07, 2015

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"THE SHUTTLE" AwesomeStories.com. Feb 01, 2003. Jan 21, 2020.
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