Triumph and tragedy: 30 years of the Space Shuttle

The space shuttle Atlantis returns from its final mission this week, heralding the end of NASA's 30-year shuttle programme. Nature takes a look back at the shuttle's sometimes rocky past, and looks ahead to the uncertain future for human space flight.

Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls


  • Space Shuttle: The complete missions

    The touchdown of Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center marked the end of an era, after 135 missions. This video shows all of them in chronological order.

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The Future of Spaceflight

  • Up and away

    The final mission of the space shuttle heralds difficult days for space science.

    Nature 475, 6 ( )

  • Shuttle's end spells change at NASA

    As the shuttle flies its penultimate mission, the US space agency seeks to fill a looming gap in crew transport.

    Nature 473, 262-263 ( )

  • Space science: Along for the ride

    Reusable commercial rockets will soon be able to take scientists - and tourists - on suborbital spaceflights. Are these vehicles vital research tools, or an expensive dead end?

    Nature 473, 21-23 ( )

  • NASA: What now?

    This month marks 50 years since Yuri Gagarin first ventured into space in the Vostok 1 mission, and 30 years since NASA's first shuttle flight. As the shuttle Endeavour prepares for its final flight, seven experts outline what NASA's priorities need to be.

    Nature 472, 27-29 ( )

The History of the Space Shuttle

  • Getting back on the horse

    Tony Reichhardt talks to former astronaut George 'Pinky' Nelson about flying the shuttle after an accident, and the future for NASA.

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  • Space shuttle: Return to flight

    After more than two years without a space-shuttle mission, in July 2005 NASA returned to human space flight with the launch of the Discovery. But not all went as planned.

    Nature 475, 456-457 ( )

  • The space shuttle's return to flight

    On 26 August last year, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board released its assessment of the devastating space shuttle crash on 1 February 2003, which claimed seven lives and brought the US human space flight programme to a jarring halt. One year on from the report, looks at the shuttle's long road to recovery, and its uncertain future.

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  • NASA sets up dual probes into shuttle accident

    An internal NASA probe and an external committee of experts are already preparing the ground to find out exactly what caused Columbia to break apart over Texas.

    Nature 421, 561 ( )

  • High hopes for the space telescope

    All being well, the Hubble Space Telescope will now be in orbit. The achievement is the culmination of 20 years of politicking and caps a triumph for astronomers over bureaucrats.

    Nature 344, 808-810 ( )

  • United States back in space again

    On 29 September, the same day that the launch of the space shuttle Discovery marked the return of the United States into space after a forces hiatus of two and a half years, the first steps were taken towards establishing a permanent manned presence in space.

    Nature 355, 480 ( )

  • US space research: Nobody knows what will happen next

    The destruction last week of the Challenger space shuttle and the subsequent suspension of the whole US shuttle flight programme has thrown into disarray what was to have been the most ambitious year yet for space science.

    Nature 319, 437 ( )

  • Why did Challenger matter?

    The loss last week of the US shuttle Challenger has in some sense schocked the world. It would be good if it helped the United States to a better programme.

    Nature 319, 435 ( )

  • US shuttle: NASA takes gloomy view of prospects

    Competition between the United States and Europe to launch commercial payloads into Earth orbit is apparently bruising the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

    Nature 313, 517 ( )

  • More trouble for the hapless shuttle

    Ironically, the shuttle device for putting objects into orbits about the Earth is being threatened now by commercial as well as technical problems.

    Nature 292, 785 ( )

  • Space shuttle: Bonding problems

    As the US space shuttle achieved its first orbital test flight last week, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was working on proposals for an alternative thermal protection system involving large carbon/carbon panels rather than the ceramic tiles so far.

    Nature 290, 620-621 ( )

  • Space shuttle: Costs and technical delays raise political doubts

    After almost 10 years of preparation, technical delays and uncertainties are turning the final development stages of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Space Shuttle programme into something of a political cliffhanger.

    Nature 278, 296 ( )

  • Nixon backs economy shuttle

    When President Nixon announced last week that he has given his personal blessing to the space shuttle, it was widely acclaimed as a victory for the National Aeronautical and Space Administration.

    Nature 225, 685 ( )

  • NASA cocks snooks at academic advice

    A list of future priorities for the unmanned part of NASA's space science programmes has been drawn up by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Nature 230, 142-143 ( )

  • Shuttles in space

    "I stand before you a man who has just had his budget cut by 12 per cent", jauntily remarked Dr Thomas O. Paine, administrator of the National Aeronautical and Space Administration, who was in London last week to receive various trohpies commemorating the first manned lunar landing from the British Interplanetary Society.

    Nature 230, 142-143 ( )