Super Shuttle: Final Countdown

To Mark NASA’s Last Launch, David Ryle Traces the Flight Path From the Ground

With over 2.5 million parts, blasting off with 6.6 million pounds of thrust and reaching speeds of more than 1,000 miles per hour in under a minute, yesterday’s Atlantis launch heralded the end of NASA’s shuttle program. Inspired by an earthbound perspective on the engineering triumph, photographer David Ryle headed to the suburban sprawl surrounding Cape Canaveral in 2009, on the eve of Atlantis’s Hubble Telescope mission; there, in the area known as the “Space Coast,” he captured the surreal clash between the gleaming high-tech NASA base, and the humble malls, diners and miniature golf courses that are its neighbors. “I decided that the project would be about not only the technical aspects of space flight, but the beautiful-but-banal things nearby,” he says. Below, we look back on a pop cultural timeline of the space shuttle.

Shuttle Missions: A Highlights Reel

September 17, 1976
The prototype space shuttle is unveiled to the public. Originally named Constitution, it is renamed Enterprise after a letter-writing campaign by Star Trek fans.

June 26, 1979
The world gets a taste of things to come with the release of the 11th James Bond film, Moonraker. Originally due to coincide with the first launch (which would happen two years later), the movie features shuttles based on the real thing, plus footage shot at NASA.

April 12, 1981: 6:20pm
The shuttle era begins when Columbia lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida––20 years to the day after Russia’s Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.

August 1, 1981: 12:01am
MTV’s first-ever broadcast begins with the countdown from Columbia’s maiden flight, before cutting away to footage of the Apollo 11 astronauts planting an MTV flag to the sound of “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles.

June 18, 1983
NASA’s second shuttle, Challenger, carries the first woman into space. During the mission, American Sally Ride uses the craft’s robot arm (which she helped design) to recover a satellite.

February 11, 1984
NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless drifts away from the Challenger shuttle using the futuristic-looking manned maneuvering unit. The picture of him floating alone in space becomes ubiquitous.

April 24, 1990
After nearly three years, the shuttle program resumes. Discovery launches the Hubble Space Telescope, which provides spectacular, unprecedented views of the universe.

December 4, 1998
Endeavour makes the first shuttle flight to the in-construction International Space Station to deliver a huge, vital section of the build, something no other craft was able to do. The station, which is visible from Earth, plays home to six people.

July 8, 2011
Atlantis blasts off for the last time to deliver parts and cargo to the International Space Station. 

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