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The View from Here: Honoring America's Space Shuttle Program

Icon to the Last

The View from Here: Honoring America's Space Shuttle Program Ask anyone on the planet to identify this picture and the chances are good that they'll know it is a U.S. Space Shuttle. Of the dozens of launch vehicles in use around the world, only the Space Shuttle has achieved this iconic status.

(Before anyone sends me any nitpicking, technical e-mail, I'll acknowledge here that what we're really looking at is the Shuttle "stack" - i.e. a shuttle orbiter, mounted to its external fuel tank, paired with its solid rocket boosters, atop the mobile transporter launch pad.)

America's Space Shuttle program is unlike anything that has come before, or since, the first orbital launch of Columbia on April 12, 1981. And after 30 years of service to the nation, America's Space Shuttle program is coming to an end. To celebrate the many accomplishments of the men and women who have built, launched, flown and operated the Space Shuttle fleet, the Space Foundation and United Launch Alliance will co-sponsor a special Industry Salutes the Space Shuttle luncheon during the 27th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. The event, which pays tribute to all the orbiters and all the men and women who have been part of the Space Shuttle program, takes place at The Broadmoor Hotel on the 30th anniversary of the first orbital shuttle flight.

I normally don't like to use my column to tout what's going on at the National Space Symposium, but Industry Salutes the Space Shuttle is something different, something special and something that will only happen once. We will honor the service of all six orbiters - Atlantis, Challenger, Columbia , Discovery, Endeavour and Enterprise - and the people who made them fly. In addition to our tribute, we will present a specially commissioned sculpture to NASA, engraved with the simple message: "To the thousands of men and women whose intellect, dedication and passion made the Space Shuttle program a success." And we will debut a special collection of commemorative artworks, developed in cooperation with NASA, featuring unique images of each of the orbiters. (The picture that illustrates this The View From Here is part of one of those images; to learn more, click here.)

We will not mourn the loss of Challenger, Columbia and their crews. We will not debate the country's possible paths forward. Rather, we will pay tribute "To the thousands of men and women whose intellect, dedication and passion made the Space Shuttle program a success."

And why not? After 30 years of service, the Space Shuttle program is indeed something to celebrate. To quote a NASA website:

NASA's Space Shuttle fleet began setting records with its first launch on April 12, 1981, and continues to set high marks of achievement and endurance. Starting with Columbia and continuing with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, the spacecraft has carried people into orbit repeatedly, launched, recovered and repaired satellites, conducted cutting-edge research and built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station.

As humanity's first reusable spacecraft, the space shuttle pushed the bounds of discovery ever farther, requiring not only advanced technologies but the tremendous effort of a vast workforce. Thousands of civil servants and contractors throughout NASA's field centers and across the nation have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to mission success and the greater goal of space exploration.

All that, and more. Space Shuttles have launched communication satellites (think TDRS), interplanetary exploration missions (Magellan, Galileo and Ulysses - three very dear to me personally), SPACEHAB research missions, International Space Station assembly missions, Hubble Telescope servicing missions and even flew a joint program with Russia's Mir space station team. A total of 355 people have flown into space aboard the Space Shuttles.

Of course, there are many "wow" factoids about the Space Shuttle. You've probably seen some of these:

  • It takes only about eight minutes for the Space Shuttle to accelerate to a speed of more than 17,000 miles (27,359 kilometers) per hour.
  • The Space Shuttle main engine weighs 1/7th as much as a train engine but delivers as much horsepower as 39 locomotives.
  • The turbo-pump on the Space Shuttle main engine is so powerful it could drain an average family-sized swimming pool in 25 seconds.
  • The Space Shuttle's three main engines and two solid rocket boosters generate some 7.3 million pounds of thrust at liftoff. Compare that with America's first two manned launch vehicles, the Redstone which produced 78,000 pounds of thrust, and the Atlas, which produced 360,000 pounds.
  • The liquid hydrogen in the Space Shuttle main engine is -423 degrees Fahrenheit, the second coldest liquid on Earth; yet when burned with liquid oxygen, the temperature in the engine's combustion chamber reaches 6,000 degrees F.
  • The energy released by the three Space Shuttle main engines is equivalent to the output of 23 Hoover Dams.
  • Each of the Shuttle's solid rocket motors burns 5 tons of propellant per second, a total of 1.1 million pounds in 120 seconds. The speed of the gases exiting the nozzle is more than 6,000 miles per hour, about five times the speed of sound or three times the speed of a high-powered rifle bullet. The plume of flame ranges up to 500 feet long.
  • The combustion gases in a solid rocket motor are at a temperature of 6,100 degrees Fahrenheit, two-thirds the temperature of the surface of the sun. While that temperature is hot enough to boil steel, special insulation inside the motor protects the steel case so well that the outside of the case reaches only about 130 degrees F.
  • The four engines of a Boeing 747 jet produce 188,000 pounds of thrust, while just one Shuttle solid rocket motor produces more than 17 times as much thrust - 3.3 million pounds. A pair of SRMs are more powerful than 35 jumbo jets at takeoff.

If you've been in the space community for any length of time, you've probably been touched by the Space Shuttle program. If you've been to a Space Shuttle launch at Kennedy Space Center, you know you've witnessed one of the most awe-inspiring technical accomplishments in the history of mankind. In fact, if you like to share your personal Space Shuttle memories or experiences (including photos), just email them to [email protected]. We'll share your memories on our website and here in Space watch over the coming months.

The View From Here is that, whether you're attending the 27th National Space Symposium or not, you'll want to join us at The Broadmoor Hotel on April 12 for the Industry Salutes the Space Shuttle luncheon - a fitting tribute to the most iconic spacecraft of our time.

Elliot Holokauahi Pulham Chief Executive Officer

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