The space shuttle is a reusable spacecraft, made up of a 37.2-m-long orbiter, two big Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs), three main engines and a tank.
The shuttle orbiter is launched into space upright on SRBs, which fall away to be collected for reuse. When the mission is over the orbiter lands like a glider.
The orbiter can go as high as a near-Earth orbit, some 300 km above the Earth.
The maximum crew is eight, and a basic mission is seven days, during which the crew work in shirtsleeves.
Orbiter toilets use flowing air to suck away waste.
The orbiter can carry a 25,000 kg-load in its cargo bay.
The first four orbiters were named after old sailing ships – Columbia, Challenger, Discovery and Atlantis.
The three main engines are used only for lift-off. In space, the small Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) engines take over. The Reaction Control System (RCS) makes small adjustments to the orbiter’s position.
The shuttle program was brought to a temporary halt in 1986, when the Challenger exploded shortly after launch, killing its crew of seven.
In 1994 the crew of Discovery mended the Hubble space telescope in orbit.