Retrofuturist Flashback: 1972 Space Shuttle Plans

BY Robert Lamb / POSTED August 13, 2013
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Space Shuttle '71 (©Bettmann/CORBIS) Space Shuttle ’72 (©Bettmann/CORBIS)

The space shuttle program spanned thirty years, from its first flight in 1981 till the final voyage on July 8, 2011. I was only two years old when Columbia carried out mission STS-1, so it’s one of those things that was always with me — until it wasn’t. I can’t help but draw comparisons to my father’s presence in my life, as he died just four months before the final Atlantis mission.

With this image, we travel back to 1972, when the shuttle was just one plan for America’s orbital future. And me? I hadn’t been born yet. Here’s the original sell:

Space Shuttle-will be a manned reusable space vehicle which will carry out various space missions in Earth orbit. It will consist of two stages. The first stage booster will be an unmanned liquid-or solid-fuled rocket. The second stage orbiter will look like a delta-winged airplane and will be piloted by two men who will fly it back to Earth for an airplane-like landing. On the launch pad the orbiter will be mounted to the booster, which will launch the orbiter to an altitude of about 55 to 65 kilometers (approximately 35-40 miles). The orbiter with its payload and crew will detech and continue into Earth orbit for missions lasting about seven days, or possibly as long as 30 days.

And there you have it. Phase A contract design studies for the shuttle kicked off in the late 1960s, so the roots go back further than you might think. In the end, the program ran 135 missions.


About the author: Robert Lamb is a senior writer and podcaster at HowStuffWorks, where he co-hosts Stuff to Blow Your Mind with Julie Douglas. He has a love for monsters, an aversion to slugs and a hankering for electronic music.

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