A look back at the shuttle program
The sun rises over the Atlantic Ocean silhouetting space shuttle Atlantis' external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
July 8th, 2011
10:09 AM ET

A look back at the shuttle program

Today's launch of Atlantis will be the last time a space shuttle lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center. For more than 30 years, the orbiters have pushed the bounds of science and carried hundreds of people and tons of large cargo into orbit. As the final mission begins, CNN looks back at moments that have defined this one-of-a-kind program. You also can take a look at part one of the shuttle's most memorable moments.

Hubble Space Telescope – For more than 20 years, this giant orbiting telescope has peered into the farthest reaches of space. Space shuttle Discovery deployed the tractor-trailer-sized telescope in 1990. Since then, five shuttle missions have returned to upgrade and repair its instruments. The telescope helped astronomers estimate the date of the universe, learn how planets are formed, spot super novas, and produce breathtaking pictures.
[cnn-video url="http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/tech/2011/06/20/1990.hubble.discovery.launch.cnn"%5D

John Glenn – John Glenn was a space legend long before the space shuttle. As one of the first "Mercury 7" astronauts, he became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962. On October 29, 1998, he blasted back into space onboard space shuttle Discovery. At 77 years young, he was the oldest person to visit space – and served as a guinea pig for a variety of tests devoted to understanding the human aging process.
[cnn-video url="http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/tech/2011/06/17/1998.glenn.flight.nasatv"%5D

International space station – Roughly the size of a football field, the international space station has traveled nearly 2 billion miles in orbit. The final shuttle mission will be the 37th U.S. shuttle visit to the station. Shuttles have transported many of the large laboratories, structural trusses and solar panels to help build the nearly million pound orbital outpost. NASA says the complex now has more livable room than a typical five bedroom house. It has been continuously inhabited since October 31, 2000.
[cnn-video url="http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/tech/2011/06/20/natpkg.iss.history.cnn"%5D

Columbia disaster – On February 1, 2003, after nearly 16 days in orbit, space shuttle Columbia started what was expected to be a normal descent to land at Kennedy Space Center. Around 9:00 a.m. ET the ship broke apart, killing seven crew members.  NASA later determined the destruction was caused by foam falling onto the shuttle as it launched. The external fuel tank insulation hit the bottom of Columbia’s left wing and breached thermal tiles designed to protect it from the heat of re-entry.
[cnn-video url="http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/tech/2011/06/20/2003.columbia.disaster.cnn"%5D

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Filed under: Shuttle • Solar System • Space • U.S.
soundoff (32 Responses)

    usa, once the leaders in space fight and exploration...now bums that hitch rides off russia...

    July 8, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • DoriAndi

      For the record, Russia was first in space and first on the moon and the scientists who helped us get to the moon were all from Russian and German space teams. We could never have gotten into space without the Russians. Hopefully, now that the political landscape has changed, we can work *together* and more efficiently.

      July 8, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandy002

      Wrong Russia was not the first on the the moon...matter of fact Russia never landed a man on the moon at all... the had three people who circled the moon and when they landed back on earth they were all dead... check your historical facts.

      July 8, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Charles M.

      How laughable DoriAndi you have seriously confused your history...

      1) There were no Russians on the Apollo team save some that might have been 2nd generation (it was the height of the cold war).

      2) The Germans were former Nazi Scientists (not Nazis themselves perhaps but still). Even so Dr. Von Braun became an American citizen, and of the approximately 400,000 Americans who worked on Apollo almost every single one was an American, not a German.

      Yes the Germans helped us in the early days after WWII, but we would have gotten there none the less. FINALLY, a bit of history, the Russians ALSO nabbed a few German V2 rocket scientists as well AND got a hold of V2 rockets they used for their program so if anything the Russians bummed data from the Germans as well.

      Living and growing up around Marshal Space Flight center I personally knew Dr. Von Braun and many of the German AND American scientists who worked on Apollo. Anyway... Learn your HISTORY. Oh, and just because you wanted history to be your way doesn't make it that way, then again perhaps you'd be better off in the Stalinist USSR era. Then you could make up history however you saw fit. Then again you could move to North Korea and work for Kim Il Jung.

      July 8, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • jd

      You got to be the dumbest earthling in the history of space travel

      July 8, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Andreas Moser

    It was fun!
    But also a waste of money, admittedly.

    July 8, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandy002

      A waste of money? If you look at all the technology and new science we have developed over the years due to all these space mission I don't consider it a waste..plus it puts thousands of Americans to work... what's a real waste and the Gov't refuses to cut is the billions we send to countries that don't even like us and we get nothing back in returns from that... and very little if any Americans are put to work because of that...

      July 8, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Charles M.

      Trolling obviously... A waste of money is throwing billions into a war with no end.

      You do realize that eventually the earth will not support life, and if we don't learn to live off this rock population controls will have to be enacted. Perhaps you should rethink your logic and realize we aren't putting enough money into it to begin with. 3 billion a year over 30 years is nothing when you're talking about the federal budget. It's less than 1%

      July 8, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |

    wrong.. lots of technology we have today comes from space research...
    where would we be without tang?

    July 8, 2011 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  4. Brian

    Tang?!? Why is that the primary example people come up with when talking about the benefits of the last five+ decades of manned space exploration?

    Of course, Tang is much more important than other less-important stuff like global communications, cell phones, personal computers, the internet, weather prediction/monitoring (hundreds of thousands of lives saved), increased crop production, and,oh yeah, nearly the entire digital age! These things are obviously unimportant and I'm sure that every American will be glad to live without them.

    Without a manned space program, we are setting our civilization back. The long overdue challenge of returning to the moon or reaching out for Mars would put America back on the path to prosperity. Millions (yes, millions) of jobs, new technologies and innovation (hey, even more jobs!), and some of the answers to the most fundamental questions humans have been asking for thousands of years could all be provided if we only had the leadership and vision to see beyond the ends of our noses.

    Waste of money? You can only say that if choose to live in a shack in the woods without technology.

    Tang? Please stop using that as the example and use "the world we enjoy today" as the primary benefit of America's manned space program. Because that is the truth.

    July 8, 2011 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Dude2000

      and let's not forget Tang haha

      July 8, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • JLG

      You forgot velcro, too... and you have to admit, tang does taste really good...

      July 8, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sandy002

      Brian I couldn't agree with you more. It's funny that so many American comment on how we need to cut the space program but fail due to lack of education I guess to understand that most of the impovement in science and technology we have today is due to the space program. It was a democrat that sent us on a path to the moon... it's just sad this President can not see the same type of benefits and rewards. Not to mention more American jobs and pride in a nation that can still lead the world for the net century... Most want to see us fall behind and play secon fiddle to others.

      July 8, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • jd

      okay, but I still like Tang okay!!!

      July 8, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. CSnSC

    Believe that was a joke Brian. Enuf coffee for now.

    July 8, 2011 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  6. bobcat2u

    " It's the final countdown "

    July 8, 2011 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  7. Another Opinion

    How about velcro...I really appreciate velcro.

    July 8, 2011 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      And memory foam. Makes a great bed! 🙂

      July 8, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      You mean "hook and loop" fastener? Velcro is a brand and as a politically correct society we mustn’t forget to call things by their actual name, not their name brand.

      July 8, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. lisa

    Why no mention of the Challenger?

    July 8, 2011 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • AJ

      Yeah even I was wondering the same thing.

      July 8, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • jd

      Perhaps because theres nothing left of her

      July 8, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. MIke T

    Just a few spinoff sites thanks to NASA and man spaced flight. Regardless, man spaced flight is one of the greatest endeavors since inventing the wheel or making fire. It represents new and larger possibilities for all mankind.




    July 8, 2011 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  10. theAntiELVIS

    Huge advances in electronic miniaturization, materials technology, astronomy, communications, weather prediction, space medicine, general science applications in chemistry, physics, and biology, space-based ground resource detection, climatology, ecological monitoring and management, navigation via GPS, and on and on. The shuttle program has been a major event in the history of human civilization that has paid back every dollar spent many times over. Space exploration is the future of humanity: it's the research lab for future technology. And now it's becoming the next frontier for private enterprise. Without space exploration, colonization, and innovation humanity has no future here on Earth.

    July 8, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      "Captain's Log, Star Date..........."

      July 8, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Recovering Republican

    The space programs are one of the few programs where Conservatives, Moderates, and Liberals actually work together (albeit grumpily) to get something done. I hope the next program comes on line soon. America needs a common goal to rally behind. Thanks to all who made this program possible, and to those who paid the ultimate price.

    July 8, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • JLG

      Like!!!! United we kick aXX, divided, well... look around...

      July 8, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Spock


    'usa, once the leaders in space fight and exploration...now bums that hitch rides off russia...'
    Hardly my friend! (Bums) that is. They (Russia) couldn't figure-out how to do it! (even with the German talent!) It's a small planet, so it's a good business decision to let them kick-in some bucks here. Supplying the ISS is not cheap.


    'For the record, Russia was first in space and first on the moon and the scientists who helped us get to the moon were all from Russian and German space teams. We could never have gotten into space without the Russians.'
    First in space? Ok, if you want to count a dog; helped us get to the moon? The Russians said you (they) faked it. I SAW, the moonrover in action in a place on Earth that most closely resembles the moon's surface. So much for the Russians (USSR) back in the day. (They're not that great at hockey either,once they get hit.)

    As for "Tang" and "Velcro" (umm, sorry, hook-up fastener.) Tang is ok,that's all. Velcro, use it on my hockey pads ALL the time.

    As for 'waste of money?' I don't think so! Look down the road. Forget about the "Tang" crap! And as for your politics, I think I might be a Democrat, not sure though. Requires further study.

    First in space,

    July 8, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • saboteurs #82

      thank god for velcro... where would my grandma be without it.. she would take 3 hour to lace up a regular pair of shoes ,,,,thank you nasa!!!

      .if we really want to goto space we need to build a space elevater.. then you could launch stuff into space real cheap..

      July 8, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. 2cents

    Actually, the Russians did land on the moon first. "Luna 15", the Russian craft, landed at 15:50 on July 21, 1969 ... hours before Apollo 11 did. Sadly, it was a crash landing 🙁

    July 8, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Charles M needs to.....

    ....take a chill pill and get off his high horse.

    July 9, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JehseaLynn

    THE IGNORANCE on this topic is astounding! I cannot possibly correct it all, so I will hit the highlights.
    1) CNN – The last graph of the article says COLUMBIA DISASTER. It then says the shuttle blew up on LANDING after 16 days in space, changes gears mid-paragraph and blames the accident on foam near the solid rocket boosters igniting DURING LAUNCH, then wraps up by refering to the disaster AT LANDING again. Wrong on all counts.

    The shuttle that first exploded was CHALLENGER. It occurred on launch. The cause was determined to be a faulty gasket seal on the solid rocket booster which allowed liquid hydrogen to leak; exposed to the flame of the boosters when it trickled down, the explosion occurred.

    2) SANDY – While you made several historical errors, you also made a lot of good points! One thing I would like to correct, however. Yes, you accurately note the space program was started (in its manned phase) by a Democrat – JFK – with his famous 1960 mandate that "These United States will put a man on the moon by the end of this decade!", but then you say Obama does not have that kind of aspiration for space.

    That is untrue. In fact, in the past few days CNN carried a story about Obama urging NASA to develope a cohesive "vision", and I am aware of 3 speeches in which he has cited the agency's failure to present to Congress (who holds the VITAL PURSE STRINGS) and the President a plan for space exploration. Sadly, our current Congress lacks the "vision" to see the ROI (return on investment) so many commenters here have pointed out – and instead see only the expense.

    3) As to benefits of space exploration, some of you gave good examples. Here is a good way to sum it up when someone says "Oh, space was a waste of money!"

    "Silicon Chips"

    July 11, 2011 at 3:17 am | Report abuse |