7 photos show iconic moments from NASA’s space shuttle, a decade since last flight



On July 21, 2011, Space Shuttle Atlantis last landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, marking the last time a space shuttle would land again.

The space shuttle program used five separate spacecraft throughout its life, which were humanity’s first reusable. They took off like a rocket, but landed like a glider plane.

The last flight of the program concluded three decades of record-breaking spaceflight achievements. Its milestones are numerous and it launched into space cutting-edge technology at the time and still at the service of the scientific community today.

Below you will find some photos documenting the main achievements of the program, from its first missions to its last.

STS-1: the first launch

STS-1, the first mission in the space shuttle program, began with the launch of Columbia in 1981.

Space Shuttle Columbia, pictured above, took off as the first mission of the Space Shuttle program. On board were astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen.

The spacecraft was the first of its kind at the time. The codename of the STS-1 mission stood for Space Transportation System-1, and each subsequent mission was named STS-2, STS-3, etc.

STS-7 and STS-8: first American woman and first African-American in space

Sally ride
Sally Ride became America’s first female astronaut on the STS-7 mission in 1983.

The first of these photos shows Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983 during STS-7. Above, she is pictured in a mission specialist‘s seat preparing for desorbit.

the Photo below shows Guion “Guy” Bluford, who became the first African-American astronaut to fly in space aboard the Challenger during STS-8. He is pictured in flight using one of the shuttle’s conveyor belts.

Guion "Guy" Bluford
Guion “Guy” Bluford working on mission STS-8, in which he became the first African-American to fly in space.

STS-31: Hubble launched into space

The Hubble Space Telescope was deployed in orbit around the Earth by the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990 during the STS-31 mission.

In April 1990, Space Shuttle Discovery launched the iconic Hubble Space Telescope into orbit around Earth.

The telescope, which is still in use today, is pictured above, still attached to Discovery in space during STS-31. The photo was taken with a Hasselblad portable camera.

STS-88: the International Space Station obtains the first American compartment

STS-88 has deployed the first US section of the International Space Station to orbit. Astronauts Jerry Ross and James Newman are pictured here during the spacewalk mission.

In 1998, Space Shuttle Endeavor launched the first US module to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of STS-88.

The photo above shows astronauts Jerry Ross and James Newman on the mission’s last spacewalk as they connect Unity to the Russian Zarya module that was already in orbit.

STS-116: A difficult mission to give permanent power to the ISS

The difficult STS-116 mission to work on the ISS. Here, astronauts Robert L. Curbeam Jr. and Christer Fuglesang perform a spacewalk during the mission.

NASA has called STS-116 one of the most difficult missions in the space shuttle program.

Launched in December 2006, Space Shuttle Discovery took a crew into orbit to rewire the International Space Station’s power system and continue construction.

At one point, a number of solar panels on the ISS refused to retract into their storage boxes, which had to be corrected by ground troubleshooting.

The photo above shows astronauts Robert Curbeam and Christer Fuglesang at the premiere of what was to be multiple spacewalks during the mission.

STS-135: The final mission

Astronaut Mike Fossum during a spacewalk during STS-135, the last mission of the shuttle program.
Getty / NASA

STS-135 was the last mission in the space shuttle program. He saw the space shuttle Atlantis take off on July 8, 2011 and land on July 21.

In the photo above, NASA astronaut Mike Fossum, who was already on board the ISS at the time of STS-135, is pictured pointing towards the camera during a six-hour spacewalk and a half devoted to the maintenance and construction of the ISS.


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