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Thursday, January 28, 2016

30 years after the Challenger explosion - humans in space endure

NASA's shuttle program was marked by stunning developments and devastating loss. With its current fleet retired, here is a look back at some of the more notable missions.

1981 -- Columbia

Columbia becomes the first shuttle to go into orbit, launching on April 12, 1981, for a two-day mission.

The objective of the mission is to "demonstrate safe launch into orbit and safe return of the orbiter and crew," says a summary of the flight on NASA's website. It is also used to "verify the combined performance of the entire shuttle vehicle - orbiter, solid rocket boosters and external tank."

All systems test successfully, NASA says.

The second shuttle mission occurs seven months later.

1984 - Challenger

Canadian Astronaut Marc Garneau became the first Canadian in space when he flies aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1984.

1986 -- Challenger

On Jan. 28, 1986, many gather around their TV sets to watch the launch of Challenger. Aboard is the first teacher to go into space, Christa McAuliffe.

Just 73 seconds after liftoff, a series of structures fail on the shuttle, causing it to explode. The flaw that brings down Challenger is a poorly designed seal in the shuttle's solid rocket booster.

The shuttle program is suspended pending an investigation. In 1988, Discovery is the first spaceflight attempt after the Challenger accident.

1990 -- Discovery

The Hubble Space Telescope is taken to space aboard Discovery on April 24, 1990. It is deployed in a 610-statue-kilometre orbit.

Hubble revolutionized astronomy with its pictures of the universe. But it has recently been beset by problems. In late June, its main camera stopped working, and it will need new batteries and gyroscopes if it is to keep working beyond next year.

1995 -- Atlantis

On June 27, 1995, Atlantis blasts off for what is the 100th U.S. human space launch conducted from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Other firsts on this flight include the inaugural docking of a space shuttle to the Russian Space Station Mir, on June 29. When linked, Atlantis and Mir form the largest spacecraft ever in orbit. The two crews switch spacecraft for an on-orbit changeout of shuttle crew.

Atlantis undocks from Mir on July 4 in a separation sequence described by shuttle Commander Robert Gibson as a "cosmic" ballet. The spacecraft lands back on Earth on July 7.

On Dec. 4, 1998, Endeavour launches into space for a 12-day mission aimed at starting the assembly of the International Space Station.

Just two months earlier, Discovery takes U.S. Sen. John Glenn into orbit. At 77, Glenn is the oldest person to go into space. During the nine-day mission, he participates in studies on the effects of weightlessness on aging.

In 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth aboard Mercury.

1999 -- Columbia

Eileen Collins becomes the first female shuttle commander as the leader of the Columbia crew on its July 1999 mission. Just four days long, it is the shortest mission since 1990.

One of the main goals of the mission is to place the Chandra X-Ray Observatory in orbit.

The flight is almost aborted after Columbia leaks more than 4,000 pounds of hydrogen fuel during takeoff. The problem causes one of the main engines to shut off prematurely, but Columbia still makes it into space.

2001 -- Endeavour

In April of 2001, Chris Hadfield makes history as the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space. During the eight-day mission, he helps install the new Canadarm2 on the International Space Station.

The 17.6-metre robotic arm is essential to the continued construction of the space station.

Hadfield isn't the first Canadian to go to the ISS. Julie Payette visits in 1999, followed by Marc Garneau in 2000.

2001 -- Endeavour

On Dec. 5, 2001, Endeavour becomes the first shuttle to go into space following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington.

On board are 6,000 small U.S. flags that are to be distributed to the families of the victims after the shuttle returns to Earth. Other items on board include the U.S. flag found on the World Trade Center site after the attacks, and a U.S. Marine Corps Colours flag from the Pentagon.

The shuttle also carries photographs of the firefighters lost in the attacks.

2003 -- Columbia

Columbia lifts off on Jan. 16, 2003 with seven astronauts on board, including the first Israeli astronaut. After a 16-day mission, it is scheduled to land on Feb. 1, but instead breaks apart over Texas during re-entry.

A piece of foam that had broken off from the ship's fuel tank during liftoff does extensive damage to the shuttle's wing. NASA does not realize the extent of the damage to the shuttle's heat shield until Columbia disintegrates 16 minutes before touchdown.

2005 -- Discovery

Discovery, which launches on July 26, 2005, is the first spaceflight attempt following the Columbia disaster.

Between the two flights, NASA engineers had redesigned the external fuel tank, to cut down on falling debris. Managers were then surprised when a piece of foam broke off of Discovery. It doesn't do any major damage but NASA is forced to ground the shuttle fleet and make more modifications.

Four landing opportunities are waved off at Kennedy Space Center due to poor weather conditions. Discovery eventually touches down at Edwards Air Force Base in California on the night of Aug. 9.

*CTV News

Click here for some really good pictures taken from Discovery

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