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A Spaceship Landed on Earth (1977)

Hardin-Simmons University Library

Sound | 1977

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  •  Captive flight phase, meaning the orbiter remained mated to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) 
  •  Free flight phase, meaning the orbiter separated from the SCA and glided to a landing 
  •  Future orbiter flight tests 
  •  The orbital program began with the launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia on April 12, 1981, the 20th anniversary of the first-ever human spaceflight 
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Officially known as the Space Transportation System, the Space Shuttle program was established on January 5, 1972. Unlike previous NASA projects, the Space Shuttle program employed reusable winged orbiters, providing a much less expensive means of access to space. The first orbiter, Enterprise, was rolled out on September 17, 1976. (The White House changed the name from Constitution, as originally planned, to Enterprise after a massive write-in campaign by Star Trek fans.) The following February, the orbiter began a series of flight tests at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Produced by Rockwell International, the primary contractor for the Space Shuttle program, this industrial film documents the results of the Approach and Landing Tests. The flight tests were divided into three phases: taxi test, captive flight, and free flight. For the first, the Enterprise was mated to a Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) to verify the taxiing characteristics of the aircraft while carrying the orbiter. For the second phase, the SCA/orbiter combination took flight in order to test the flight characteristics of the aircraft while mated to the orbiter. A two-man crew manned the Enterprise for three of these eight flights. For the third, the SCA carried the orbiter to a launch altitude before it was jettisoned with the use of explosive bolts. The Enterprise then glided to a landing. The final two free flights, conducted in October 1977, saw the Enterprise in its full operational configuration. After the Approach and Landing Tests, the orbiter was taken first to Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama for vertical ground vibration testing and then to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch procedure testing. The first orbital mission of the Space Shuttle program, STS-1, launched on April 12, 1981. The program formally ended on August 31, 2011.