Friday, June 30, 2006

Space Shuttle program

NASA's Space Shuttle, officially called Space Transportation System (STS), is the United States government's current manned launch vehicle. The winged shuttle orbiter is launched vertically, carrying usually five to seven astronauts (although eight have been carried) and up to about 22,700 kg (50,000 lb) of payload into low earth orbit. When its mission is complete, it re-enters the earth's atmosphere and makes an unpowered horizontal landing.

The Shuttle is the first orbital spacecraft designed for partial reusability. It is also the first winged manned spacecraft to achieve orbit and land. It carries large payloads to various orbits, provides crew rotation for the International Space Station (ISS), and performs servicing missions. The orbiter can recover satellites and other payloads from orbit and return them to Earth, but this capacity has not been used often. However, this capability is used to return large payloads from the International Space Station to earth, as the Russian Soyuz has limited capacity for return payloads. Each Shuttle was designed for a projected lifespan of 100 launches or 10 years operational life.

The program started in the late 1960s and has dominated NASA's manned operations since the mid-1970s. According to the Vision for Space Exploration, use of the Space Shuttle will be focused on completing assembly of the ISS in 2010, after which it will be replaced by the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). However, following the STS-114 return-to-flight mission in August 2005, the shuttle was grounded while outstanding safety issues were resolved. It is currently scheduled to launch on July 1, 2006, despite objections from its chief engineer and safety head

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