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Space exploration - The underside of the Space Shuttle in Earth orbit; STS; high-temperature reusable surface insulation; HRSI tiles; low-temperature reusable surface insulation; LRSI tiles; spacecraft; spaceship - Space Art Illustration

The Space Shuttle enters Earth orbit

The Space Shuttle, part of America's Space Transportation System (STS), reveals a belly covered with thousands of individual thermally protective silica tiles, scorched and charred from numerous reentries of past missions.

Nine minutes after launching from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the US Space Shuttle shuts down its engines, shed's its massive external fuel tank, and enters freefall 60 miles above the Atlantic ocean. Traveling "upside down" at 16,700 miles per hour, the Shuttle has already put over a thousand miles between itself and the launch tower. If uncorrected however, the current trajectory will bring the orbiter back to Earth somewhere halfway around the globe. In order to propel the Shuttle to it's final orbit--anywhere from 116 and 600 miles high--the two Orbital Maneuvering System thrusters (the smallest nozzles near the tail) will fire until the target altitude is reached.

After nearly 30 years of service this aerospace marvel will be permanently retired sometime in 2010.


Copyright Walter B. Myers. All rights reserved.

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