Introduction by Charles Bolden
It is an honor to be invited to write the introduction for this tribute to the Space Shuttle, yet the invitation presents quite an emotional challenge. In many ways, I lament the
coming of the end of a great era in human spaceflight. The shuttle has been a crown jewel in NASA’s human spaceflight program for over 3 decades. This spectacular flying machine has served as a symbol of our nation’s prowess in science and technology as well as a demonstration of our “can-do” attitude. As we face the fleet’s retirement, it is appropriate to reflect on its accomplishments and celebrate its contributions.
The Space Shuttle Program was a major leap forward in our quest for space exploration. It prepared us for our next steps with a fully operational International Space Station and has set the stage for journeys to deep-space destinations such as asteroids and, eventually,
Mars. Our desire to explore more of our solar system is ambitious and risky, but its rewards for all humanity are worth the risks. We, as a nation and a global community,
are on the threshold of taking an even greater leap toward that goal. All the dedicated professionals who worked in the Space Shuttle team—NASA civil servants and contractors alike—deserve to be proud of their accomplishments in spite of the constant presence of skeptics and critics and the demoralizing losses of
Challenger (1986) and Columbia (2003) and their dedicated crews. Some of these scientists and engineers contributed to a large portion of this book. Their passion and enthusiasm is evident throughout the pages, and their words will take you on a journey filled with challenges and triumphs. In my view, this is a truly authentic account by
people who were part of the teams that worked tirelessly to make the program successful. They have been the heart, mind, spirit, and very soul that brought these amazing flying machines to life. Unlike any engineering challenge before, the Space Shuttle launched as a rocket, served
as an orbital workstation and space habitat, and landed as a glider. The American engineering that produced the shuttle was innovative for its time, providing capabilities
beyond our expectations in all disciplines related to the process of launching, working in space, and returning to Earth. We learned with every succeeding flight how to operate more efficiently and effectively in space, and this knowledge will translate to all future space vehicles and the ability of their crews to live and work in space.
The Space Shuttle was a workhorse for space operations. Satellite launching, repair, and retrieval provided the satellite industry with important capabilities. The Department of Defense, national security organizations, and commercial companies used the shuttle to support their ambitious missions and the resultant accomplishments. Without the shuttle and its servicing mission crews, the magnificent Hubble Space Telescope
astronomical science discoveries would not have been possible. Laboratories carried in the payload bay of the shuttles provided opportunities to use microgravity’s attributes for understanding human health, physical and material sciences, and biology. Shuttle
research advanced our understanding of planet Earth, our own star—the sun—and our atmosphere and oceans. From orbit aboard the shuttle, astronaut crews collected hundreds of thousands of Earth observation images and mapped 90% of Earth’s land surface.
During this 30-year program, we changed dramatically as a nation. We witnessed increased participation of women and minorities, the international community, and the
aerospace industry in science and technology—changes that have greatly benefitted NASA, our nation, and the world. Thousands of students, from elementary school
through college and graduate programs, participated in shuttle programs. These students expanded their own horizons—from direct interactions with crew members on orbit, to student-led payloads, to activities at launch and at their schools—and were inspired to seek careers that benefit our nation.
International collaboration increased considerably during this era. Canada provided
the robotic arm that helped with satellite repair and served as a mobile crew platform
for performing extravehicular activities during construction of the International Space Station and upgrades and repairs to Hubble. The European Space Agency provided a working laboratory to be housed in the payload bay during the period in which the series of space laboratory missions was flown. Both contributions were technical and engineering marvels. Japan, along with member nations of the European Space Agency and Canada, had many successful science and engineering payloads. This international collaboration thus provided the basis for necessary interactions and cooperation.
My personal change and growth as a Space Shuttle crew member are emblematic of the valuable contribution to strengthening the global community that operating the shuttle encouraged and facilitated. I was honored and privileged to close out my astronaut career as commander of the first Russian-American shuttle mission, STS-60 (1994).
From space, Earth has no geographic boundaries between nations, and the common dreams of the people of these myriad nations are realizable when we work toward the common mission of exploring our world from space. The International Space Station, the completion of which was only possible with the shuttle, further emphasizes the importance of international cooperation as nations including Russia,Japan, Canada, and the member nations of the European Space Agency join the United States to ensure that our quest for ever-increasing knowledge of our universe continues to move forward. We have all been incredibly blessed to have been a part of the Space Shuttle Program. The “Remarkable Flying Machine” has been an unqualified success and will remain forever a testament to the ingenuity, inventiveness, and dedication of the
NASA-contractor team. Enjoy this book. Learn more about the shuttle through the eyes of those who helped make it happen, and be proud of the human ingenuity that made
this complex space vehicle a timeless icon and an enduring legacy.