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What Was the Space Shuttle? (Grades K-4)

This article is for students grades K-4.

NASA’s space shuttle carried people into space. The shuttle flew around, or orbited, Earth.

What Did the Space Shuttle Do?

The space shuttle did many things. It could carry up to seven astronauts at a time. The space shuttle was like a moving van. It took satellites to space so they could orbit Earth. The shuttle carried large parts into space to build the International Space Station.

The space shuttle was also like a science lab. Astronauts did experiments there. Doing experiments in space is different than doing them on Earth.

Each time a space shuttle launched, it was called a mission. The space shuttle launched for 135 missions. Each mission lasted for one or two weeks. The first mission was in 1981. The last mission was in 2011.

What Were the Parts of the Space Shuttle?

The space shuttle was made of three main parts: the orbiter, the external tank and the solid rocket boosters.

The orbiter was the part that looked like an airplane. The orbiter flew around Earth. The astronauts rode and lived in this part. NASA had five orbiters. The names of the orbiters were Atlantis, Challenger, Columbia, Discovery and Endeavour.

The external tank was a large orange fuel tank.

The solid rocket boosters looked liked two thin rockets. They gave the rocket the lift from Earth’s gravity.

How Did the Space Shuttle Launch and Land?

The space shuttle launched like a rocket. But it landed like a glider airplane.

The solid rocket boosters and the main engines on the orbiter helped the shuttle blast off from Earth like a rocket.

The two boosters dropped off the shuttle two minutes after launch. They fell into the ocean. A special boat picked the boosters out of the ocean. They were used again for another flight. The external tank dropped off the orbiter after it had used all the fuel in the tank. The external tank would burn up over Earth. So the tank could not be used again.

When the shuttle orbiter returned to Earth, it came down from the sky like an airplane. Wheels came out from underneath the orbiter. It rolled to a stop on a runway. Then NASA would prepare it to fly on another mission.

Where Are the Orbiters Now?

NASA used the space shuttle for 30 years. It was a great machine. Now, three orbiters are in museums so that anyone can go to see them. The orbiters Challenger and Columbia were lost during accidents. Atlantis is at a museum in Florida. Discovery is at a museum in Virginia. And Endeavour is at a museum in California. One other orbiter, Enterprise, never flew into space. It was built to test how the orbiters would work and is on display in New York City.

Read What Was the Space Shuttle? (Grades 5-8)