September 1969, two months after the first manned lunar landing,
a Space Task Group appointed by the President of the United States
to study the future course of U.S. space research and exploration
made the recommendation that "…the United States accept the basic
goal of a balanced manned and unmanned space program. To achieve
this goal, the United States should …develop new systems of technology
for space operation…through a program directed initially toward
development of a new space transportation capability…"
In early 1970,
NASA initiated extensive engineering, design, and cost studies of
a space shuttle. These studies covered a wide variety of concepts
ranging from a fully reusable manned booster and orbiter to dual
strap-on solid propellant rocket motors and an expendable liquid
propellant tank. Each concept evaluated development risks and costs
in relation to the suitability and the overall economics of the
| The Shuttle Enterprise separates from the 747 shuttle carrier aircraft during the approach and landing tests.
January 5, 1972, President Richard M. Nixon announced that NASA
would proceed with the development of a reusable low cost space
shuttle system. NASA and its aerospace industry contractors continued
engineering studies through January and February of 1972; finally
on March 15, 1972, NASA announced that the shuttle would use two
solid propellant rocket motors. The decision was based on information
developed by studies that showed that the solid rocket system offered
lower development cost and lower technical risk.
17, 1976, the first orbiter spacecraft, Enterprise, was rolled out.
A total of thirteen test flights were performed. The Enterprise
was built as a test vehicle and not equipped for space flight.
flights, with the Enterprise perched atop a 747 jumbo jet with no
crew and unpowered, were conducted to test the structural integrity
of the craft. Three crewed captive flights followed with the crew
operating the flight control systems in preparation for the first
orbiter free flight. Finally, five free flights occurred with an
astronaut crew separating the orbiter from the 747 shuttle carrier
and maneuvering to a landing at Edwards Air Force Base.
Lift off of Columbia at 7:00 a.m. April 12, 1981; the first space shuttle mission.
For all of
the captive flights and the first three free flights, the orbiter
was outfitted with a tail cone covering its aft section to reduce
aerodynamic drag and turbulence. The final two free flights were
made without the tail cone, and the three simulated space shuttle
main engines and two orbital maneuvering system engines were exposed
tests across the United States, the Enterprise was ferried across
the Atlantic for several air shows across Europe. Finally, on November
18, 1985, the Enterprise was ferried from Kennedy Space Center to
Washington, D.C. and became the property of the Smithsonian Institution.
orbiter, Columbia, was the first to fly into space. Perched atop
the 747 shuttle carrier, Columbia arrived at Kennedy Space Center
from Dryden Flight Research Facility on March 25, 1979 to be readied
for the space shuttle's first flight on April 12, 1981.