May 16, 1992: Edwards AFB Space Shuttle Support

  • Published
  • Air Force Flight Test Center

The new Space Shuttle Endeavour landed on the main runway, completing its first orbital mission (STS-49). It was the first orbiter to use a drag parachute. During the course of its mission, crewmembers retrieved the INTELSAT-VI (603) satellite that had been left stranded in an unusable orbit since March 1990. Astronauts attached a new perigee kick motor that later boosted the satellite to its proper orbit. Approximately 125,000 people viewed Endeavour’s landing.

The shuttle was a marvel of American engineering and the most capable and sophisticated spacecraft ever flown. As the first reusable spacecraft, it was designed to make space travel routine and allow humans to live and work in space, providing a platform for scientific and commercial opportunities. The three decades following its inaugural launch in April 1981 were characterized by both triumph and tragedy, but despite two catastrophic accidents the shuttle demonstrated a better safety record than any other existing launch vehicle. Originally known as the Space Transportation System (re-designated the Space Shuttle Program in 1990), a fleet of five orbiters made 135 flights carrying 358 individual crewmembers from 16 countries. A sixth vehicle was flown in a series of five low-altitude approach and landing tests, but never went into space. At a cost of approximately $400 million per flight, the shuttle delivered some 3.5 million pounds of cargo mass to orbit. Among the 179 payloads deployed in space were three of the so-called ―Great Observatories‖ – the Hubble Space Telescope, Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. The shuttle was also used to launch several robotic spacecraft to explore the solar system including Galileo to Jupiter, Magellan to Venus, and Ulysses to study the Sun. The shuttle served as a platform for Earth sciences and environmental monitoring, human spaceflight physiology studies, material sciences, and numerous commercial and student science projects. It carried a variety of international science laboratories – such as Spacelab and Spacehab – into orbit, supported Hubble repair missions that allowed scientists to upgrade instruments, deployed Department of Defense payloads to improve national security, carried components of the International Space Station into orbit during construction, and resupplied the operational ISS with spare parts and consumables. Most important, the shuttle served as a learning tool to better understand how to live and work in space, a critical factor in the development of future space exploration missions