NASA Podcasts

The Space Shuttle (Narrated by William Shatner)
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An idea born in unsettled times…

President Nixon: "we are going forward. America, the united states is first in space."

…becomes a feat of engineering excellence.

the most complex machine ever built…

to bring humans to and from space…

Launch control: "zero and we have lift-off of Endeavour!"

…and eventually, construct the next stop on the road to space exploration.

ISS: "request to take the radio call sign - alpha"

As 30-years of flight draw to a close, its legacy is one of unsurpassed achievement.

NASA's space shuttle.

Space shuttle Endeavour is rolling out to launch pad 39a at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

In 24 missions flown over 20 years, Endeavour has logged more than 103 million miles in space.

The last of NASA's shuttles to be built, Endeavour prepares for her final flight, STS-134.

Endeavour's six astronauts have trained for this mission for years.

Well before any shuttle reaches the launch pad however, a staggering amount of work is required. The parts, plans and people necessary to make each launch span the entire nation.

Paul Hill: "You've got all these people, all these folks that are in their twenties and thirties and they are no kidding in charge of some part of the space shuttle, some part of the space station or some part of the plan and everyone of those people absolutely believes that they are the one that makes the difference on getting those astronauts back down to the ground alive."

T-minus three years to launch:

At NASA's Michoud assembly facility in New Orleans, production begins on the shuttle's external fuel tank, the last of 136 produced here since 1973.

Around the same time, in Clearfield, Utah, technicians at ATK launch systems start work on the shuttle system's solid rocket motors, or boosters.

Unlike the orange external tank that is used only once, the boosters detach themselves and parachute into the Atlantic Ocean. They are then retrieved, refurbished and reused on later missions.

T-minus two years to launch:

The shuttle mission's crew is assigned.

Right up until launch, a shuttle crew will train in a variety of critical regimens, some basic, others specific to their mission.

Simulators –

Safety and contingency –

Science experiments-

And underwater… in the world's largest indoor pool.

T-minus three months to launch:

One month later, the E.T. is mated to the solid rocket boosters to form the "backbone" of the stack.

Now, all that's missing -- is the spacecraft itself.

T-minus five weeks to launch:

Looking now much like it will at liftoff, the space shuttle is carried to the launch pad atop the six-million pound crawler-transporter at a blazing pace of less than a mile an hour.

Not exactly warp speed.

Dan Drake: "At our peak carrying full load, we get around thirty-eight feet per gallon"

Not bad for an original 1965 hybrid vehicle with low miles. The 3-point-4 mile journey takes up to six hours…

T-minus four weeks:

Now on the launch pad, the orbiter is ready to take on its main payload. Testing assures that the multi-ton cargo is secured and safely stowed in the payload bay before technicians certify the orbiter is ready for launch.

T-minus four days to launch:

Flying t-38 aircraft from Ellington Field in Houston, the crew members arrive at Kennedy's shuttle landing facility.

T-minus nine-minutes:

Launch control / Stephen Payne: "This is the STD (Shuttle Test Director) conducting the launch status check- all stations verify ready to resume count and go for launch. OTC? OTC go. TBC? TBC, go. ETC? ETC go."

After nearly three years, hundreds of thousands of hours logged by engineers, technicians, scientists, seamstresses, electricians, and other program workers across the globe…

mission control: "we have main engine start- 2, 1, booster ignition… "

The shuttle makes its way skyward.

At liftoff, 6.6 million pounds of thrust begin hurtling the vehicle and crew at speeds that'll reach 17,500 miles per hour.

The shuttle is like no other machine ever built. For its launch to succeed, more than a million parts must move together -- perfectly.

How this engineering marvel came to be is an amazing story that begins in the early 1970s.

A new mission is sought for NASA to send humans into space. But Mars, for many the next logical step on the path of exploration, is dismissed as too costly a destination for a country pre-occupied with events back on earth.

Instead, on January 5th, 1972, another destination is selected, Low-earth orbit.

Charlie Bolden: "President Nixon really liked the idea and told the NASA Administrator go do it. And the NASA Administrator got a call from OMB the next morning and someone there said hey! What the President really meant to say was you're going to get this much money, and so do as best you can with the space transportation system and our choice, logically, was to have a vehicle first and that was the birth of the space shuttle as the first in the three-part space transportation system."

Many designs were considered. Often, they combined the best features of different concepts.

One was the use of a lifting body, an aircraft with no conventional wings. Only its fuselage would keep the aircraft airborne and guide it safely back to earth.

John McTigue: "At that time they were looking at having jet engines on the shuttle for landing and transporting it across the country."

Peter Merlin: "They were known as the flying bathtubs. For the first test, the M2F1 was towed behind a car, a powerful Pontiac. Whitey Whitesides drove that Pontiac across the lakebed about one hundred and twenty miles per hour.. Dragging this flying bathtub behind it."

As well as groundbreaking, their tests could also prove… ground-shaking.

September, 1976. More than four-and-a-half years after President Nixon signed off on its development, America's new spacecraft, constitution, gets its first close up before the cameras.

The orbiter itself was well-received by the public. But impassioned fans of a particular, long-cancelled television series called "Star Trek," wanted it called something else.

They staged a successful write-in campaign, and the orbiter was re-named for the "starship" featured on the show. Thus, NASA's new shuttle would be: the Enterprise, boldly going as no spacecraft had ever gone before.

Whatever its name, this bird still needed to prove it could fly.

In an age before computer simulations, balsa wood models and wind tunnel testing was the only means to test the airliner-sized glider.

Joe Engle: "We put together a very aggressive flight test profile that consisted of data-points continuously all the way down. There was not a matter of ten seconds that went by without another pitch doublet or rudder kick or an angle of attack sweep… the things that really turn on a test pilot to fly them as accurately as possible."

August 12, 1977. On a crystal clear California morning high above the Mojave Desert, two NASA test pilots ready for Enterprise's first flight. The plan was for Fred Haise, Jr. And Gordon Fullerton to lift the orbiter off a modified 747, then land on a dry lakebed 15-thousand feet below.

Columbia, NASA's first orbiter, is fittingly named after the first American vessel to circumnavigate the globe.

While a new class of NASA astronauts trained for subsequent shuttle flights, Columbia was undergoing preparations for the program's maiden voyage: STS-1.

Veteran astronaut John Young, one of the twelve men to set foot on the moon, is in command. His pilot is first-time flyer, Bob Crippen.

Together, they would travel over a million miles and circle the earth 36 times.

Bob Crippen: "John used to say – Crip, they are getting ready to light off seven million pounds of thrust under you, aren't you a little bit excited? You don't know what's going on but <>both John and I know what was going on."

Launched like a rocket two days earlier, Columbia lands as a glider on the dry lake bed of Edwards Air Force base in California.

Bob Crippen: "We do a big turn around to land on the lakebed from that first flight and I remember when John went into a left bank, I looked down at the lakebed and there's thousands of people out there. " John! Look at all those folks!... Which had come on out to see us land."

Thomas McMurtry: "Anyone who was associated with the program or there just to see the shuttle return I think felt a lot of pride in our country, and our space program and so, those emotions were, you know, finally released and you said wow, the flight was done safely, they're back home, the shuttle really does work, it's a great program and has a great future ahead of it.

Launch control montage: "Lift off of the Challenger, Columbia, Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavour"

For more than 30-years, the fleet - and the thousands of Americans dedicated to its success have toiled in exhilarating triumph, heartbreaking tragedy and, most often, quiet obscurity.

Their contributions have extended beyond the bounds of space.

Among others, shuttle-derived technologies have been used in developing an artificial heart and limbs, 3-dimensional biotechnology, a light for treating tumors in children, improving crime prevention and wildfire detection.

From crawler driver to payload specialist, from scuba diver to pilot, from scientist to engineer, they, and many like them throughout the nation, share a commitment to sending humankind safely into space.

That dedication, as much as any other acclaim, will be the legacy of America's space shuttle.

Charlie Bolden: "I think we'll be remembered in thousands of years as perhaps the most incredible technological feat of humans of our time."

As is the order of life, an ending for the space shuttle fleet becomes a beginning for its space bound successor.

Soon, America will again send astronauts into orbit and beyond to do what NASA does best: explore.

The space shuttle; a legacy that forever embodies the heart of a grateful nation and the ingenuity of all mankind.

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