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Space Shuttle First Flights: An Era Ends, A New Age Begins

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Space Shuttle is ended. The future of near-earth manned spaceflight is now in the hands of private industry. As I believe it should be.

Shuttle Astronaut Mike Mullane Describes Orbiter Damage on STS-27 (Atlantis 1988)...

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Guest blogger veteran Shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane weighs in on the severe impact damage to Atlantis on his own 1988 flight (STS-27) and to Columbia's disastrous flight in 2003 (STS-107)

Space Shuttle First Flights: Columbia (February 3, 2003)

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As with Apollo 13, NASA "can do amazing things when they've got their back against the wall". But for Space Shuttle Columbia they didn't try.

Space Shuttle First Flights: Challenger (“Nature Cannot Be Fooled”)

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Richard Feynman's question about Space Shuttle Challenger was, "What is the cause of management's fantastic faith in the machinery?"

Space Shuttle First Flights: Challenger (January 28,1986)

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On the eve of the Space Shuttle Challenger launch the Morton Thiokol engineering team protested the decision to launch. They were overridden by NASA

Space Shuttle First Flights: Discovery Launch Abort (June 1984)

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The maiden voyage of Space Shuttle Discovery was scheduled for June 25, 1984. The first-ever main engine shutdown launch abort scared the crap out of us.

Space Shuttle First Flights: Judy Resnik (“Best Wishes”)

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Mike Mullane offered me a personal memento from Judy from their first Space Shuttle flight. I still have it.

Space Shuttle First Flights: Judy Resnik (First Encounters)

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Shuttle astronaut Judy Resnik was a pilot, a classical pianist, and had a PhD in Electrical Engineering. And she was a terrific emissary for NASA, as I found out when I invited her to speak to the IBM Shuttle Software team.

Space Shuttle First Flights: Mike Mullane (“No Place for Civilians”)

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Astronaut Mike Mullane knew Shuttle was an experimental spaceship sitting atop highly volatile explosives. When NASA allowed civilians to ride they were implying it was safe when it was not. Unfortunately, he was right.

Space Shuttle First Flights: STS-1 (Columbia) The First Orbital Flight

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Our Shuttle flight software team had the “distinction” of hearing Walter Cronkite describe, live and on national television, whether we’d done our work correctly.

Space Shuttle First Flights: Dick Truly – The Approach and Landing...

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I had visions of the Space Shuttle Enterprise getting jostled during separation and colliding with the 747’s vertical stabilizer – which would definitely make for a bad day all around.

Space Shuttle First Flights: John Aaron (“Exceptional” Flight Software)

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NASA's John Aaron set high standards for IBM, and Space Shuttle onboard software came closer to "error-free" than any large, complex software ever built.

Space Shuttle First Flights: John Aaron (Software Failure Is Not An...

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I met with John Aaron to explain why IBM couldn’t fulfill a Shuttle software contract that required zero errors. His answer changed my mind.

Space Shuttle First Flights: John Aaron (Error-Free Code?)

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NASA required IBM’s Space Shuttle software to be delivered “error-free”. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the likelihood of that was extremely low.

Space Shuttle First Flights: Phil Shaffer (Again)

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During the Apollo Program, NASA’s Phil Shaffer had subjected me to what I’d describe today as a version of “Shark Tank”. I wasn’t looking forward to presenting to him again on Shuttle.

Space Shuttle First Flights: Ten Pounds in a Five Pound Sack

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The first version of the Shuttle flight software had two serious problems: it couldn’t fit in the computer, and it ran way too slow. IBM was two years into the contract and basically nothing worked. All hell broke loose.

Space Shuttle First Flights: Bob Crippen and Dick Truly – Working...

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Hearing about the near-legendary competence of NASA astronauts was one thing, seeing it in action was humbling. Bob Crippen and Dick Truly, the two I got to work with on Space Shuttle, were the most impressive professionals I’ve met.

Space Shuttle First Flights: Engineering the Onboard Software

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By comparison to the Space Shuttle, Apollo was a Model-T Ford - no set of computer-controlled spaceship operations like this had ever been attempted. Nothing that got us to the Moon could be reused here, and so it was discarded.

Space Shuttle First Flights: “Fly-by-Wire”

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During high speed atmospheric flight, the extreme forces buffeting the Space Shuttle produced abrupt, violent oscillations that, left unattended, would cause it to spiral out of control. No human was capable of flying the Shuttle unassisted.

Space Shuttle First Flights: Onboard Computers (Shuttle vs. Apollo)

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The Space Shuttle's onboard computer system alone weighed more than the entire Apollo Command Module.

Space Shuttle First Flights: Why Shuttle Has Wings

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An Air Force requirement demanded wings for the Space Shuttle, and that drove everything else about its design. Yet they were never used for that purpose.

Space Shuttle First Flights: “Space Transportation System”

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In spite of having four separate sets of rocket engines, for the entire flight through the atmosphere and landing, the Shuttle Orbiter was simply an unpowered glider.

Space Shuttle First Flights: Early Shuttle Designs

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The Space Shuttle was immensely different and more complex, in both concept and design, from anything attempted on Apollo.

Space Shuttle First Flights: Shuttle and the X-15

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In 1959, U.S. astronauts piloted an airplane-shaped rocket ship into space, and then flew nearly 200 missions, twenty years before the first Space Shuttle ever left the ground.

Space Shuttle First Flights: Where to Launch Shuttle?

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The Space Shuttle launch site could have been Cape Hatteras, North Carolina

Space Shuttle First Flights: STS-135 (End of An Era)

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Now that the era of Space Shuttle has passed, was it all worth it? While the Apollo Program was the great adventure of our age, what exactly did this stepchild do to earn its keep?