The Space Shuttle was the first reusable launch vehicle ever put into regular service, it ferried hundreds of men and women into space to conduct research, build the International Space Station, and deploy (then repair) the Hubble Space Telescope. There were originally four fully operational orbiters in the US fleet, with Columbia making that first trip into space on April 14, 1981.
That first Colombia launch in the video might strike you as odd due to the lack of the iconic orange fuel tank. NASA painted the tank white for the first two launches, then ceased doing so because it turns out that much pain is pretty heavy. The solid rocket boosters, combined with the orbiter’s main engines with fuel from that big external tank, were used to get the Shuttle into orbit.
The video above is split into quarters, which each one following the launch through separation of the external rocket boosters. Of the 135 launches in this video, 134 are successful. The 1986 Challenger disaster (STS-51L) is included in the video montage at the 17-minute mark for the sake of completeness. Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds after liftoff when the O-rings that sealed a joint on the right solid rocket booster failed and caused a fuel leak. The 2003 loss of Colombia occurred during re-entry, so it’s not included in the video.
The Space Shuttle is one of the most advanced feats of engineering ever undertaken by humanity, and in spite of a few high-profile failures, it was the workhorse of manned spaceflight for decades. That’s an impressive accomplishment. As private firms like SpaceX begin to move toward manned low-Earth missions, NASA is still looking toward building its own next-generation orbiter called Orion for missions to the Moon, asteroids, and even Mars.