Back in the 1970’s, NASA began a transition from the Apollo program, using expendable rockets and single-use capsules, to an idea known as the Space Shuttle – a reusable space plane to carry crew and cargo into orbit at a fraction of the cost of traditional boosters.
Of course, 40 years later, we all know the history of the Shuttle, it’s 135 missions, the loss of Challenge and Columbia, and the somewhat sad end of the program. We all know how expensive the Shuttle was to operate and how over the long term its intention to replace all other launch vehicles was never met.
Back in 1976 though, the promises of almost airline-like space flight seemed attainable. This film, produced by Rockwell, the manufacture of the Shuttle, discusses a brief history of their involvement in the Apollo program, before going over the details of the Shuttle Orbiter.
It’s interesting to see them mention things like the first flight being in 1979, as delays would push back the launch of Columbia until April 12th 1981. This film also shows a more innocent time for NASA, when the Shuttle was promised to do so much more than it would eventually do. Only a few missions seemed to take full advantage of the capabilities of the vehicle, but still, over a 30 year career, the program was, to me, quite successful. Of course, due to the Challenger and Columbia disasters, many missions would be canceled or changed, and their payloads in some cases changed from the Shuttle to other, expendable launch vehicles.
40 years ago, though, no one knew what would happen, and the Shuttle seemed like the perfect space vehicle.
Enjoy the video.