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In Pictures
In Pictures: The space shuttle era
Images from three decades of NASA's shuttle programme.
Last Modified: 21 Jul 2011 12:08

Designed as the world's first reusable space vehicle, NASA's first space shuttle flight lifted off on April 12, 1981. Thirty years later, Atlantis' touchdown marks the end of an era in space exploration. Al Jazeera looks back on the history of an American icon, and recalls the tragedies of the 1986 Challenger and 2003 Columbia missions.

1) The first ever shuttle launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 12, 1981, carried astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen aboard space shuttle Columbia into an Earth orbital mission. [NASA]

 

2) Then US president Ronald Reagan, on November 13, 1981, gets a laugh from NASA officials in mission control when he jokingly asks crew members aboard space shuttle Columbia if they could stop by Washington en route to their California landing site in order that he might join them [NASA]

 

3) Astronaut Bruce McCandless II, is seen further away from the confines and safety of his ship than any previous astronaut has ever been, February 12, 1984 [NASA]

 

4) The Challenger shuttle exploded after launch, killing all seven members aboard on January 28, 1986 [AP]

 

5) The crewmembers who died on the Challenger, in the back row from left to right: Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist; Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Teacher in Space participant; Greg Jarvis, payload specialist; and Judy Resnik, mission specialist. In the front row from left to right: Mike Smith, pilot; Dick Scobee, commander; and Ron McNair, mission specialist [NASA]

 

6) The morning launch of the shuttle Columbia from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 9, 1990 [NASA]

 

7) Astronaut Rick Hieb looks into the aft flight deck of the orbiter during his spacewalk on the shuttle Endeavor, May 16, 1992 [NASA]

 

8) Astronauts aboard the space shuttle Endeavor work to repair the Hubble space telescope [NASA]

 

9) The space shuttle Discovery is brought to its mobile launcher platform on June 5, 1995, 11 days before its launch date [NASA]

 

10) Space shuttle Atlantis connected to Russia's Mir space station on July 4, 1995 [NASA]

 

11) Space shuttle Endeavor lands at Kennedy space center on January 20, 1996 [NASA]

 

12) A night launch of space shuttle Atlantis on September 25, 1997 [NASA]

 

13) Space shuttle Atlantis is returned to Kennedy space center on the back of a Boeing 747, September 11, 1998 [NASA]

 

14) Astronaut Bill Shepherd (C), Cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko (L) Sergei Krikalev, balance oranges on their fingers in the international space station, February 7, 2001 [NASA]

 

15) The space shuttle Columbia flies into a cloudbank after lift off at the Kennedy space center March 1, 2002 [NASA]

 

16) A sign outside downtown Dallas, Texas, tells residents to report found remains of the space shuttle Columbia February 1, 2003. Columbia broke up during re-entry, killing seven astronauts and spreading debris over hundreds of miles of Texas countryside [Chris Hondros/Getty]

 

17) An alligator swimming in a small pond in front of launch pad as the space shuttle Discovery - the first shuttle mission since the 2003 Columbia accident - is reflected in the water July 14, 2005, at the Kennedy Space Center [Win McNamee/Getty]

 

18) Kennedy Space Center employee Lisa Gorichky cries as space shuttle Atlantis lifts off during the final space shuttle mission, July 8, 2011 [Win McNamee/Getty]

 

19) Space shuttle Atlantis in Earth orbit just before docking for the last time with the international space station, July 10, 2011 [NASA]

 

20) The Southern Lights and the port side wing of space shuttle Atlantis can be seen from the international space station, July 14, 2011 [NASA]

 

21) Astronaut Mike Fossum waits at an international space station's pressurized mating adapter as the station's robotic system moves the failed pump module (out of frame) over to the spacewalking astronaut during a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk July 12, 2011, in space [NASA]

 

22) A sign along the road at the NASA's Kennedy space center shows the countdown to the scheduled landing of the space shuttle Atlantis, July 20, 2011, in Cape Canaveral, Florida [NASA]

 

23) Space shuttle Atlantis lands at the Kennedy space center on July 21, 2011, on the final trip of NASA's space shuttle program. [Don Emmert/Reuters]
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