Astronaut Stories: The World’s First Spaceplane
Shuttle crews from the 1980s recall how their new vehicle took some getting used to.
- By The Editors
- AirSpaceMag.com, February 28, 2011
No one watched the development of the space shuttle with more interest than the people it carried to orbit. A dozen groups of astronauts trained between 1978 and 2011 to fly as shuttle pilots, mission specialists, and payload specialists. Here some of them recall their feelings as the spacecraft took shape and, later, as they learned to live and work 250 miles above Earth.
Bolting a butterfly onto a bullet
Back in 1972, it was impossible to think that the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters would work. We didn’t have solid rockets anywhere near that size, and they kept getting even bigger as the shuttle design kept getting heavier. By 1972, they were horrendously big compared to anything that had ever been thought of. I knew the military was aghast that we were doing this, because they did not have a good record with solid rockets even a fraction of that size. So I expected the worst. What you’re doing is bolting a very beautiful butterfly onto a bullet. The whole concept was frightening. I was scared for a decade about how things were going to work.
Photo: Attached to its fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters, Discovery heads for the launch pad in January 1997.