The Most Unforgettable Space Shuttle Pictures

National Geographic has compiled a photographic retrospective of the shuttle's colourful history.
Rich Fogarty
Published on July 25, 2011

Last week saw the 135th and final space shuttle mission end when Atlantis touched down at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. For the past 30 years, the shuttle has been the flagship plane for NASA's sometimes controversial, always captivating space program.

The decommissioning of the shuttle will undoubtedly make space travel cheaper and safer for the American government, who will continue their program in 1960s-style manned capsules made in Russia, before taking off in American-built vehicles. Every time the shuttle took off, it cost American taxpayers $1.5 billion. Choosing to either abandon the space shuttle or avoid it entirely, the Soviets and China have progressed by using rockets and capsules for manned spaceflights. For now, the space race is back on.

National Geographic has compiled a photographic retrospective to mark the occasion, showcasing the most vivid photographs from the shuttle's colourful history. Here are some of our favourites.

A huge crowd—many driving recreational vehicles—gathers to watch the space shuttle Columbia land on July 4, 1982, at Edwards Air Force Base in California at the end of STS-4.

Sitting on a rolling platform, the space shuttle Challenger emerges from the mist at Kennedy Space Center in Florida as it heads toward the launch pad, just visible in the distance, in November 1982.

Curling like bizarre sigils in the sky, plume remnants from the June 8, 2007, launch of the space shuttle Atlantis glow with the light of the setting sun.

Earth seems ready for loading into the space shuttle Endeavour's open payload bay in a picture taken in December 1998 using an onboard IMAX camera.

Riding piggyback on a Boeing 747, the test shuttle Enterprise glides over the New York City skyline in June 1983.

Astronaut Dale Gardner enjoys a moment of levity as he completes a spacewalk to recover two broken communications satellites from orbit on November 14, 1984. Astronaut Joseph P. Allen IV is seen reflected in Gardner's helmet visor.

Star Trek cast members from the science-fiction show attend the shuttle's rollout ceremony in Palmdale, California, on September 17, 1976.

Atlantis is lifted high inside the Vehicle Assembly Building on May 18, 2011, so it can be attached to the "stack"—the combination of the large external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters.

A cloud of debris spreads in the sky over coastal Florida as the space shuttleChallenger breaks apart on January 28, 1986.

A charred astronaut helmet lying in the grass near Norwood, Texas, was among the debris found after the space shuttle Columbia broke apart during reentry on February 1, 2003.

Suspended above the planet, the space shuttle Endeavour is silhouetted against the layers of Earth's atmosphere in a picture taken by an ISS crew member on February 9, 2010.

[Via National Geographic]

Published on July 25, 2011 by Rich Fogarty
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