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The History of the Space Shuttle in Photos

The shuttle program has built the largest space station in history, has revolutionized science with the Hubble Space Telescope and has inspired a generation to dream of space. As we remember the tragedy of the Challenge , let’s look back at the past few decades of shuttle history.

Space Shuttle Columbia lifts off from Kennedy Space Center, on April 12, 1981. Commander John Young and pilot Robert Crippen were onboard STS-1, the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle program. Reuters/NASA/KSC

While on a visit to watch the launch of Apollo 16 on April 15, 1972, Russian Poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (left) listens as Kennedy Space Center Director Dr. Kurt H. Debus explains the space shuttle program. In the right foreground is a model of one the proposed Space Shuttle ship and rocket concepts. AP Photo


A scale model of the proposed Space Shuttle wing configuration. Photo taken on March 28, 1975. NASA

This November 6, 1975 photo shows a scale model of the Space Shuttle attached to a 747 carrier, inside NASA’s 7 x 10 wind tunnel.  NASA


Part of the crew of the television series Star Trek attend the first showing of America’s first Space Shuttle, named Enterprise, in Palmdale, California, on September 17, 1976. From left are Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, DeForest Kelly and James Doohan. AP Photo

The inside view of a liquid hydrogen tank designed for the Space Shuttle external tank, viewed on February 1, 1977. At 154 feet long and more than 27 feet in diameter, the external tank is the largest component of the Space Shuttle, the structural backbone of the entire Shuttle system, and is the only part of the vehicle that is not reusable. NASA

A technician works on sensors installed in the back end of a scale model of the Space Shuttle in NASA’s 10X10 foot wind tunnel, on February 15, 1977. 

At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, this space shuttle mock-up, dubbed Pathfinder, is attached to the Mate-Demate Device for at fit-check on October 19, 1978. The mock-up, constructed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, possessed the general dimensions, weight and balance of a real space shuttle. NASA

The Space Shuttle prototype Enterprise flies free after being released from NASA’s 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft over Rogers Dry Lakebed during the second of five free flights carried out at the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, on January 1, 1977. A tail cone over the main engine area of Enterprise smoothed out turbulent air flow during flight. It was removed on the two last free flights to accurately check approach and landing characteristics. NASA

Space Shuttle Columbia arrives at launch complex 39A in preparation for mission STS-1 at Kennedy Space Center, on December 29, 1980.  Reuters/NASA/KSC

Looking aft toward the cargo bay of NASA’s Space Shuttle Orbiter 102 vehicle, Columbia, Astronauts John Young (left) and Robert Crippen preview some of the intravehicular activity expected to take place during the orbiter’s flight test, at Kennedy Space Center October 10, 1980.  Reuters/NASA/KSC


Flight director Charles R. Lewis (left) studies a chart display on his console’s monitor in the mission operations control room (MOCR) in the Johnson Space Center’s Mission Control Center, in April of 1981.  NASA

The two solid rocket boosters are jettisoned from the climbing space shuttle Columbia as a successful launch phase continues for NASA’s first manned space mission since 1975, on April 12, 1981. Astronauts John W. Young and Robert L. Crippen are aboard Columbia. 

The Space Shuttle Columbia on Rogers Dry lakebed at Edwards AFB after landing to complete its first orbital mission on April 14, 1981. Technicians towed the Shuttle back to the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center for post-flight processing and preparation for a return ferry flight atop a modified 747 to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Space Shuttle Columbia is carried atop a NASA 747 at the Edwards Air Force Base, California, on November 25, 1981.  AP Photo/Lennox McLendon

Nighttime launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia, on the twenty-fourth mission of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, on January 12, 1986.  NASA

Astronaut Sally Ride, mission specialist on STS-7, monitors control panels from the pilot’s chair on the Flight Deck of the Space Shuttle Challenger in this NASA handout photo dated June 25, 1983. Floating in front of her is a flight procedures notebook.  Reuters/NASA

The Space Shuttle Enterprise passes through a hillside that has been cut to clear its wingspan, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California, on February 1, 1985. The orbiter is en route to Space Launch Complex Six aboard its specially-designed 76-wheel transporter. Tech. Sgt. Bill Thompson/USAF

High angle overall view of Space Shuttle Enterprise in launch position on the Space Launch Complex (SLC) #6, during the ready-to-launch checks to verify launch procedures at Vandenberg Air Force Base, on February 1, 1985.  Tech. Sgt. Bill Thompson/USAF

The space shuttle orbiter Discovery lands on Edwards Air Force Base in California, following completion of the 26th Space Transportation System mission.  Tech. Sgt. Mike Haggerty/USAF

Christa McAuliffe tries out the commander’s seat on the flight deck of a shuttle simulator at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, on September 13, 1985. McAuliffe was scheduled for a space flight on the Space Shuttle Challenger in January, 1986. AP Photo

Ice forms on equipment on launch pad 39-B, on January 27, 1986, at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, before the ill-fated launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger.  AP Photo/NASA

Spectators in the VIP area at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, watch as the Space Shuttle Challenger lifts from Pad 39-B, on January 28, 1986.  AP Photo/Bruce Weaver

The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes 73 seconds after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center. The shuttle, carrying a crew of seven, including the first teacher in space, was destroyed, all aboard were killed.  NASA

The Space Shuttle Columbia (left), slated for mission STS-35, is rolled past the Space Shuttle Atlantis on its way to Pad 39A. Atlantis, slated for mission STS-38, is parked in front of bay three of the Vehicle Assembly Building following its rollback from Pad 39A for repairs to the liquid hydrogen lines. NASA

A Florida Air National Guard F-15C Eagle aircraft assigned to the 125th Fighter Wing, flies a patrol mission as the Space Shuttle Endeavor launches from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on December 5, 2001. . Shaun Withers/USAF

Fish-eye view of the Space Shuttle Atlantis as seen from the Russian Mir space station during the STS-71 mission on June 29, 1995. NASA/JSC

Cosmonaut Valeriy V. Polyakov, who boarded Russia’s Mir space station on January 8, 1994, looks out Mir’s window during rendezvous operations with the Space Shuttle Discovery. NASA

Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless II, is seen further away from the confines and safety of the Space Shuttle Challenger than any previous astronaut has ever been from an orbiter in this February 12, 1984 photo.  Reuters/NASA

A modified Space Shuttle Main Engine is static fired at Marshall Space Flight Center’s Technology Test Bed, in Huntsville, Alabama, on December 22, 1993.  NASA/MSFC

Astronaut Joseph R. Tanner, STS-82 mission specialist, is backdropped against Earth’s limb and a sunburst effect in this 35mm frame exposed by astronaut Gregory J. Harbaugh, his extravehicular activity (EVA) crew mate, on February 16, 1997. The two were making their second space walk and the fourth one of five for the STS-82 crew, in order to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).  NASA

The fist two components of the International Space Station are joined together on December 6, 1998. The Russian-built FGB, also called Zarya, nears the Space Shuttle Endeavour and the U.S.-built Node 1, also called Unity (foreground).  NASA/JSC

During the first Gulf War, in April of 1991, black smoke pours from burning oil wells in the Kuwaiti desert, seen from Earth orbit by an astronaut onboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis during mission STS-37. The Iraqi army set fire to the oil wells in the region as they withdrew from their occupation of that country. NASA/Getty Images

Space Shuttle Endeavour (STS-134) makes its final landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 1, 2011.  Reuters/NASA/Bill Ingalls

Billows of smoke and steam infused with the fiery light from Space Shuttle Endeavour’s launch on the STS-127 mission fill NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A in July of 2009. NASA

Space shuttle external tank ET-118, which flew on the STS-115 mission in September 2006, was photographed by astronauts aboard the shuttle about 21 minutes after lift off. The photo was taken with a hand-held camera when the tank was about 75 miles above Earth, traveling at slightly more than 17,000 mph.NASA

ASA space shuttle Columbia hitched a ride on a special 747 carrier aircraft for the flight from Palmdale, California, to Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on March 1, 2001.

While fire-rescue personnel prepare evacuation litters, two stand-in “astronauts” prepare to use an exit slide from a Shuttle mockup during a rescue training exercise in Palmdale, California, on April 16, 2005. NASA / Tony Landis

The Space Shuttle Challenger moves through the fog on its way down the crawler way en route to Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in this NASA handout photo dated November 30, 1982.  Reuters/NASA

Donnie McBurney (left) and Chris Welch, both of Merrit Island, Florida, watch from atop their body boards as the space shuttle Discovery lifts off from Cape Canaveral, October 29, on mission STS-95. John Glenn returned to space aboard Discovery for the first time in 36 years. Reuters

This photo provided by NASA taken from the ground using a telescope with a solar filter shows the NASA space shuttle Atlantis in silhouette during solar transit, Tuesday, May 12, 2009, from Florida.  AP Photo/Thierry Legault, NASA

A view photographed from the International Space Station in 2007 shows the Space Shuttle Atlantis above the Earth, as the two spacecraft were nearing their link-up in Earth orbit.  NASA

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