The Space Shuttle (Space Transportation System) Metanode - er, MetaWriteup
Note: Kesper North already had quite a nice node at Space Transportation System; this node really is meant to serve as a metanode for other links. Check out his node first; it's part of the Spacecraft Information Database Project.

Unfortunately, we have almost reached The End of the Space Shuttle Program.

The United States' Space Transportation System, more commonly known as the Space Shuttle, is NASA's sole remaining manned spaceflight platform. Designed in the 1960s and 1970s as a service vehicle for then-planned space stations, it is really essentially a big flying truck. Unfortunately for NASA and the rest of us, the planned stations didn't get built until 1999 or so, about fifteen years later than envisioned. Until then, the Shuttle was pressed into service as a science platform, something it wasn't really built to do. Due to its large cargo space, however, science modules such as the Spacelab facility have allowed it to perform much useful work.

This writeup is intended to serve as a starting point for those looking for information on the Shuttle. I strongly recommend that if you're serious, you see the following websites:

  • they contain reams of excellent information. If you wish to remain within Everything2 for the moment, check the links and information below.


The orbiter is the heart of the Space Transportation System. It is the only part of it to actually remain in space, and carries the crew within. Built by Rockwell International, there have been six orbiters (five flying). The first non-spacerated prototype was, due to an active mailing campaign by Star Trek fans, named MPTA-098 Enterprise; it was used for Approach and Landing (glide) tests. Structural Test Assembly 99 (STA99) was rebuilt into Orbiter OV-99 Challenger, which was destroyed in an explosion during ascent on Mission STS-51L on January 28, 1986. For more information about this creative number shuffling, see Certified Geek's writeups on the orbiters themselves. Thanks to CG for correcting my numbering! The current (5/2011) shuttle fleet consists of one retired and two active orbiters:

  • OV-103 Discovery (retired, undergoing decomissioning)
  • OV-104 Atlantis (scheduled for final flight as STS-135 in mid-2011)
  • OV-105 Endeavour (delivered as a replacement for OV-099 Challenger using pre-purchased long-lead time components and new budgetary allocations, on the pad for its final flight as STS-134 sometime in May 2011)
The following orbiters have been lost:

The Enterprise remains as an exhibit in the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport.

Shuttle Stats from NASA (

  • Length: Shuttle - 56.14 meters / Orbiter - 37.23 meters
  • Height: Orbiter on Runway - 17.27 meters
  • Weight: At liftoff - 2,041,166 kilograms / At landing - 104,326 kilograms
  • Max. Payload to orbit: 28,803 kilograms
  • Orbital Altitude: 185 to 643 kilometers apogee

Shuttle Mission Phases and Timelines

The mission cycle of the Shuttle is quite complex. I will add nodes to this list as I complete them; for now, we have the following parts of the Shuttle's mission cycle available:

Although we hope they're never needed:
Space Shuttle Intact Abort Modes

...and we really hope we never need the flight termination system, which is SHUTTLE-speak for range safety package, which is NASA-speak for self-destruct.

Shuttle Components and Installations

Space Shuttle Acronyms, Terminology and Definitions