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The Space Shuttle was a partially reusable low Earth orbital spacecraft system operated by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), as part of the Space Shuttle Program. Its official program name was Space Transportation System (STS), taken from a 1969 plan for a system of reusable spacecraft of which it was the only item funded for development. The first of four orbital test flights occurred in 1981, leading to operational flights beginning in 1982. Five complete shuttle systems were built and used for a total of 135 missions from 1981 to 2011, launched from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Operational missions launched numerous satellites, interplanetary probes, and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), conducted science experiments in orbit and participated in construction and servicing of the International Space Station. The Shuttle fleet’s total mission time was 1322 days, 19 hours, 21 minutes and 23 seconds.
The Space Shuttle was initially developed in the 1970s but received many upgrades and modifications afterwards to improve performance, reliability, and safety. Internally, the Shuttle remained largely similar to the original design, with the exception of the improved avionics computers. In addition to the computer upgrades, the original analogue primary flight instruments were replaced with modern full-colour, flat-panel display screens, called a glass cockpit, which is similar to those of contemporary airliners. To facilitate construction of the ISS, the internal airlocks of each orbiter except Columbia were replaced with external docking systems to allow for a greater amount of cargo to be stored on the Shuttle’s mid-deck during station resupply missions.
NASA retired the Space Shuttle in 2011, after 30 years of service. The Shuttle was originally conceived of and presented to the public as a “Space Truck”, which would, among other things, be used to build a United States space station in low earth orbit in the early 1990s. When the US space station evolved into the International Space Station Project, which suffered from long delays and design changes before it could be completed, the service life of the space shuttle was extended several times until 2011, serving at least 15 years longer than it was originally designed to do. Discovery was the first of NASA’s three remaining Space Shuttles to be retired.
The final Space Shuttle mission was originally scheduled for late 2010, but the program was later extended to July 2011 when Michael Suffredini of the ISS program said that one additional trip was needed in 2011 to deliver parts to the International Space Station. The Shuttle’s final mission consisted of just four astronauts – Christopher Ferguson (Commander), Douglas Hurley (Pilot), Sandra Magnus (Mission Specialist 1), and Rex Walheim (Mission Specialist 2), they conducted the 135th and last Space Shuttle mission on board Atlantis, which launched on July 8, 2011, and landed safely at the Kennedy Space Center on July 21, 2011, at 5:57 AM EDT (09:57 UTC).
A planned successor to STS was the “Shuttle II”, during the 1980s and 1990s, and later the Constellation program during the 2004-2010 periods.
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