When the space shuttle was announced in 1972 it was seen as the space vehicle to make low earth orbit space travel and living in space an everyday reality.
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But in hindsight many now believe that it was a failed project that was hamstrung by lack of funding and interest by government and sky high expectations from NASA that led them to sideline safety to ensure scheduled launches continued on time in order to secure future funding.
Instead of expanding man’s horizons, it in fact limited them and stopped the development more effective, safer forms of both manned and unmanned space transport. It ultimately become the deadliest space vehicle in history and more expensive than the expendable rocket systems it was meant to replace.
But wasn’t meant to be like this, NASA had originally proposed the Space Transport System or STS as it was known, which was a system of reusable manned space vehicles in 1969 as the successor to the Apollo program. The STS was going to consist of a permanent space station in low earth orbit, a small cheap space shuttle to transport astronauts to and from the earth and the space station, a space tug to move men and equipment to different earth orbits but could also double up as a lunar lander and a nuclear powered space craft to go between the low earth orbit and the moon or to other planets in the solar system.
The two main goals of the STS were to reduce the cost of spaceflights by replacing the then current rockets like the Saturn 5 that took men to the moon and that could only be used once, with reusable spacecraft. The second was for it to act as support for NASA’s more ambitious goals of permanent manned space stations around the earth and the moon and then manned missions to Mars.
Werner Von Brown, architect of the moon missions, wanted NASA to follow up Apollo and go to Mars and the military liked the idea of the of a reusable shuttle to deliver its satellites and do other things, However, after the success of the Apollo missions and the race to put a man on the moon was over, public and political interest in further manned missions waned and congress became unwilling to maintain the huge funding which had peaked at 4.5% of the Federal budget in the late 60’s, so it was cut to a fraction of that in the early 70’s………..
Video credits to NASA for footage of the shuttle via creative commons.
Space Night Drumming by Frank Dorittke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/)