A Shuttle tribute

By Phil Plait | July 21, 2011 5:41 pm

When I was four, humans landed on the Moon. I grew up with the Saturn V. It was my rocket.

But folks younger than me, people around 35 and younger, they’ve known the Space Shuttle as their rocket their whole lives. This video is a tribute to all of them.

It was put together by Dave Holloway and Adam Rutherford, and shows clips from all 135 Shuttle missions. I like the way they handled Columbia and Challenger, too. Very nice.

Tip of the heat shield tile to my pal Gia.

MORE ABOUT: Space Shuttle

Comments (42)

  1. Nerdista

    I love it! All I kept thinking was “I just want more.” I can’t wait to see what we do next!

  2. Greg W.

    I know the capsule design is aerodynamically better suited for a deep space return but I’m still going to miss the wings.

  3. tyler

    that video moved me to tears.
    recently, due to the efforts of neil degrasse tyson, you, and other astronomers and skeptics, i’ve really developed this deep and profound connection and desire to learn about the universe.
    i never really cared all that much about space was younger and honestly was surprised to realize that columbia disaster happened at a time when i was alive and in a functioning capacity to understand what happened and i have absolutely no recollection of hearing anything about it. but i was lucky enough to be in florida when the atlantis took off for its final mission. i felt it to be my duty and obligation to see the last shuttle launch as a lover of the cosmos and an american. and when it disappeared into the clouds, i had to hold back tears. i felt so lucky to be there, so lucky to share that moment when the others who were in the park with me and watching all around the country. and so lucky, that after 18 years of not realizing all the amazing things the shuttle has done for us, that i was still getting to see it launch.
    this video showed me what i was missing out on for all these years. and i really hope that nasa will continue to move forward, explore the space frontier, and continue to inspire the youth of america.

    /long rambling post over.

    tl;dr i really enjoyed this post, thanks for posting it.

  4. Gonçalo Aguiar
  5. RobinPA

    Very nice…1 glitch…”five space shuttles made up the fleet”….the intended fleet was four orbiters….after Challenger the decision was made to replenish the fleet and Endeavor was built.

    Nothing matches the Saturn V (I was nine when they landed saw A17 launch when I was 12), but what impressed me at a Shuttle launch the most was it really “climbed the elevator” FAST…boy did it move off of the pad. I kept repeating “look what we can do….look what we can do!!!”

  6. What are the folks going to get the next 30 years…

    …Great advances in China’s reach for the Moon!

    …Cosmonauts reach Mars!

  7. Naomi

    I’m twenty-four, so the Space Shuttle has been my rocket for my entire life. And I’m not American – I’m Australian. I know the world still has Soyuz, but they did not capture the imagination of the entire world like the Space Shuttle did.

    When I was a kid (and a teenager, and a young adult), and I pictured myself one day flying into space, it was always the Shuttle my mind went to.

    I’ll miss it.

  8. Grand Lunar

    “I grew up with the Saturn V. It was my rocket.

    But folks younger than me, people around 35 and younger, they’ve known the Space Shuttle as their rocket their whole lives.”

    Very true.
    I pretty much grew up with the program.

    To read the stories of it’s early days gets my imagination racing.
    I often wondered what it would be like to have ridden on it (wonder if the shuttle experience will still be at the vistor’s center?).

    To think, though, that we could’ve done better…..

  9. Melissa Dow

    Wow. I was born the day the Challenger exploded, which in a strange way has always made me feel like I have a very personal interest in the Shuttle program. Great video.

  10. During the Apollo program, gas stations used to hand out 8×10 photographs of the moon, the spacecraft, and the astronauts. People collected them like trading cards. People of all walks of life. Of course, that was a time when gas stations were actually “service stations,” but still…

    Of course, times are different now, but with all our instantaneous communication and live webcasts and tweets from space and all, I wish there something as simple as those collectible photographs that NASA could hand out. It’s one thing to see the shuttle or the latest image from Hubble or Cassini on a computer screen, but it’s another thing entirely to hold something in your hands, to feel it, study it, own it.

    I dunno. I think NASA is missing an opportunity.

  11. That was really moving. It filled me with nostalgia, pride, sorrow, and hope all at once.

    The Space Shuttle has been my rocket my entire life. I was fascinated by space exploration when I was a kid, and really still am today. I never got to see a shuttle launch in person; I hope to get the chance to make up for that when the next generation of space vehicle comes around!

  12. Lynn Wilhelm

    That was wonderful. I remember the first shuttle flights. They were so amazing. I suppose I watched many of them (sadly, only on TV).

    I was watching the Challenger launch that fateful day and recall how sad I was. I had long since given up the idea of becoming an astronaut (childhood dream–I was in college) but still hoped one day I would be in space–that we all would. The Challenger disaster suddenly made it seem that wouldn’t be as easy at it had seemed to be the day before.

  13. John Paradox

    Geeze, guess I’m the geezer, remembering the Original Mercury 7…


  14. Beau

    I’m 27 so I’ve never known a NASA without the shuttle program. At times, I’ve been critical of the program, but it played a role in inspiring me in science so. I had the opportunity to see my only shuttle launch with STS-135, and I’m glad I did. You really don’t get a feel for how impressive this all is until you see it for yourself first hand.

    The video definitely moved me to tears. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Bob

    As a former Space Camper (teehee) I got to command a simulator. Aside from launching a communication satellite into the sun, all went well. I’ll miss the shuttle. But it’s 1970s tech, time to upgrade.

    I’ll be really super peeved if James Webb gets cancelled. It would be el-sucko week for US science if that did not fly. RJB

  16. Brendon

    My cousin (Pierre Thuot) was on the maiden flight of Endeavour. Needless to say, this video was beautiful. Thanks for posting it here, Phil.

  17. The Shuttle has been “our rocket” also to many people older than 35. I was born in ’68 and Apollo missions has been only photos on books to me (and a wonderful poster we hd at school). The fist live lift-off I’ve seen has been the Shuttle Columbia.

  18. Richard F

    @Maxx, same here. I was born in ’65 and can’t remember much of the Apollo missions. But I was so much more aware during the Shuttle-age. They were the pinnacle of what we could achieve in those days and I was so proud of NASA that they achieved this feat. And I can still remember clearly the day the Challenger exploded. In those times launches were aired live and I watched it explode during the transmission. I still can remember the sadness of that moment.

  19. Bill3

    Born in ’71 here, and yes, the space shuttle has always been “My Rocket”. I still remember coming home from school that day in January, 1986 and rushing to the tv to watch the launch like it happened yesterday. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment or the horror I felt not only for the astronauts on board but the space program as a whole. Thank God we persevered.

    I hope we don’t stop now just because idiot politicians can’t balance the country’s checkbook.

  20. mcb

    I came of age during the Gemini program – spacewalks, rendezvous in orbit, docking with the Agena, long duration flight, astronanauts with beards – all the cool stuff done for for the first time. I’m no fan of the STS and the bureaucratic nightmare that created it and all the unwarranted wishful thinking that resulted in the violent public deaths of two crews. The Apollo 1 debacle should have taught NASA once and for all the importance of doing it right the first time, but they cut corners, ignored prior warnings, killed 14 astronauts, and could easily have killed more. We should have done better, and I worry that we won’t going forward if we idealize the many compromises that created the shuttle.

  21. Kurt L

    Great video. I remember that for the first missions the space shuttle’s external tank was painted white. NASA eventually realized how much that paint weighed so they stopped painting it. While it made a lot of sense to get rid of the white paint it did look spectacular!

  22. Eric

    I definitely feel like the shuttle was “my” rocket. I was born in 1982, just after the program started flying. One of my earliest memories was watching on TV in 1986 when Challenger exploded. When I went to Space Camp as a kid, I had the chance to meet Jeffrey Hoffman just before he flow on STS-61 to fix the Hubble. Lots of memories…

  23. Kevin

    Hi Phil,

    I think props should also go to Charlotte Stoddart who edited the film.

  24. davidlpf

    Goodbye old friend.

  25. Tuccitanus

    Wonderful video, I still have a lump in my throat. In terms of the space race, I was born shortly after the Apollo-Soyuz joint mission in 1975, so the Shuttle has also been the only American ship for me, and one of the main reasons to become a air and space freak, being others the fact of living close to a Spanish Air Force Base, and watching Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” on TVE (Spain’s national TV station) when I was 9.

    I remember knowing about the Challenger’s accident after coming back from the local library, watching (sadly on TV) the launch of STS-95, with my country’s first astronaut (Pedro Duque) along with John Glenn, and after watching (now online) the launch and landing of the two last missions, it makes me feel with a sense of “and now… what?”, of stopping in the middle of nowhere without knowing which way to go. I had the dream of watching someone walking on the Moon (or even on Mars) without recurring to old footage (I have books showing such missions to be launched… in the mid-80s). Now I feel that dream farther than ever. Despite all the “bureaucrazy”, mismanagement and terrible mistakes, the Shuttle was an inspiration to everyone. Now it seems we have to begin from scratch again.

    Phil, thanks for your blog, and thanks Columbia, Challenger, Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour, and all those who made them fly, for trying to fulfill our dreams, and expanding our knowledge of the universe.

    Greetings from Madrid, Spain (my first comment, by the way).

  26. Cindy

    Thanks, Phil, for posting that. I’m just a little younger than you and only vaguely remember the final Apollo launches and the Apollo-Soyuz.

    I got moved to tears, particularly the ones showing the Hubble repair missions. I’ll miss the close-ups of that beautiful telescope. The only live launch I got to see was for the first servicing mission.

    That video brought back flashbacks of watching the first launch after Challenger in college with my friends.

    I’m ashamed to say that I missed the final landing. I remember watching the first landing in junior high – fortunately it was during science class and our teacher had snagged one of the TV’s and we all watched it.

    Just forwarded it around to my school. Will have to show it in Astronomy class next spring.

  27. Austen Redman

    First Concorde, then the Space Shuttle, all the glamorous air/spacecraft are disappearing.
    Soyuz just doesn’t offer the same excitement does it?

  28. Malcolm Ramsay

    Born in ’62, here, and even from the UK I followed all the missions, starting with Gemini. I remember being on holiday on the Isle of Mull and walking to the local pub to watch the first Shuttle launch… how have we all let things come to this?

  29. Megan

    I was a little mean in my comment about America’s firsts on the And “Then There Were None” post. After watching that all I can say is BRAVO. More, more.

  30. TJ Czeck

    Being 35, the shuttle may be my generations rocket program, but my heart is still back in the heady days of the early space program. How many people nowadays can name one astronaut from the last 30 years compared to how many back in the day could name the original seven, the next nine, and so on. I just wish more people had an interest in science (yes, I do try to raise the geek-level wherever I am). My jaded perspective aside, it truly was a beautiful video. I am looking forward to the next program, whatever that will be.

  31. Alan(UK)

    When I was born, the Germans had just stopped firing weapons of mass destruction on London and were off to Russia, and the US, to develop more weapons to fire at each other.

    Peaceful applications came later. I can remember the excitement of Sputnik I, Laika the dog, and Yuri Gagarin.

    I remember the transatlantic TV pictures via Telstar – visible simultaneously from Andover, Maine and Goonhilly Down in Cornwall for only a few minutes each revolution.

    The Apollo Moon landing caused much excitement here but interest soon waned except for Apollo 13 of course.

    The Shuttle made space flight interesting but really it ought to be rather boring – and would have been if everything had gone to plan. Who could name the last 10 satellites to be launched and what they are for?

    Nice video – it is a pity that Macmillan had to get its wrist slapped today in the High Court for “unlawful conduct”.

    Finally (well almost) a quote from Neil DeGrasse Tyson on July 8, the day of the final shuttle launch:

    “Many lament the shuttle era’s end. But that’s misplaced sentiment. Lament instead the absence of an era to replace it.”

    I cannot agree with him. There are so many exciting things happening.

  32. Jen L

    Wonderful! Makes me so sad its over and we don’t know if anything will ever replace it. And that when i was younger I didn’t feel this way about science, astronomy etc… if only i could go back in time…
    I absolutely LOVED the clip from Reagan’s address. Thanks for sharing, Phil!

  33. The Shuttle was my spacecraft. I built many models of the “Rockwell Orbiter” in the years leading up to the first flight. When Columbia first passed over Sydney (Australia) I was on school camp and dragged everyone outside to watch it go over (I still have my Columbia pencil sharpener). My worst ever first day back for the school year was the day Challenger was lost.

    The silence after the last few chuffs of the Shuttle APUs was very sad yesterday morning, but at the same time I think it’s very much the right decision. Despite the fantastic success of the ISS and Hubble the Shuttle was not the affordable launch system it was intended to be, and the combination of solid fuel boosters and a huge heat shield area to keep intact make it a relatively risky way to get people into space. Yes capsules with parachutes are nowhere near as cool as a Thunderbirds-style lifting body, but they work. They should have been replaced years ago, but several promising replacement projects were canned, I understand in part because the Shuttle was very lucrative business for the (albeit hard-working and innovative) companies involved – who could blame them?

    I fully support NASAs return to focus on science missions and leaving launches to commercial operators. Apart from Hubble (a very significant “apart”) most of the big science in the last decade has come from the unmanned programme – think what else we could find out if we got people out to the same places the rovers and probes went. I’m very excited about the advances SpaceX are making in launch costs ($1000/pound – brilliant!) and the transparent way they’re offering their services to the public (I could get a small 30kg micro-satellite into LEO for the cost of a new car, not sure what it would do, but it would be fun).

    Onwards and outwards humanity! :-)

  34. Me

    What about the Enterprise?

  35. Superluminous (ie. beyond merely brilliant) compilation space shuttle montage. :-)

    Thankyou – and thank you NASA and the Space Shuttle teams. So many memories, so many successful flights, so much science done and stuff learnt and joy delivered to us all. It was a wonder of the modern world. Now vanished into history.

    The ending of an era. A last landing in the pre-dawn darkness. Darkest time is just before the dawn?

    Will we see the Space Shuttles like again?

    If so, which nation will build and fly it?

  36. This item :


    Puts things very well indeed and is something I fully agree with and second.

  37. Messier Tidy Upper

    @35. Me : “What about the Enterprise?”

    The Enterprise orbiter was a test model that never made it into space – despite thoughts of upgrading it to be able to do so at a couple of points.

    The wikipage for it is here :


    whilst this :


    3 part youtube series gives an interesting view from that distant age before Shuttle flew on the Enterprise’s maiden flight.

    The Enterprise shuttle features nicely here too :


    in another decent youtube clip on it. :-)

  38. I grew up with the Space Shuttle too – and I loved them. :-)

    Sure, the Space Shuttles weren’t perfect and didn’t quite live up to all the early expectations and yet I still think they were one of the very finest things human minds have ever created and human hands have ever built.

    The Shuttle program has given us so much – a personal, off the top of my head, top ten list :

    1. It has flown more human individuals into orbit than any other craft incl. the likes of John Glenn, Sally Ride (first female astronaut) , Andy Thomas (the first Aussie astronaut who hails from my home town), the first African-American astronaut and along with so many others.

    2. The Shuttles launched and then flew several repair and upgrade missions to the Hubble Space observatory. In my view this feat alone made the Shuttle worth it and has given us all, well, just so incredibly much in the way of science and beauty and wonder.

    3. The Shuttle launched the Magellan spaceprobe that mapped Venus in unparalled detail in the early 1990’s.

    4. The Shuttle launched the Galileo spaceprobe to Jupiter flying past asteroid Gaspra for Humanity’s first close up encounter of an asteroid en route and subsequently orbiting our solar systems largest and nearest gas giant giant planet for years gifting us so much new knowledge and spectacular images of this gargantuan world.

    5. The Space Shuttles lifted to orbit and made possible the International Space Station.

    6. The Space Shuttles took three of the four NASA Great Observatories into Low Earth Orbit – the Chandra X-ray space observatory and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory as well as the HST mentioned already at #2.

    7. The Space Shuttles launched the Ulysses spaceprobe on its long and rewarding if unheralded odyssey to the Solar poles and Jupiter – and back repeatedly.

    8. The Space Shuttles gave us so many new – and fixed satellites – and so much more experience with launching them. We rely on any of these satellites today in a variety of ways.

    9. The Space Shuttles worked on international diplomacy bringing America and Russia closer together and helped them work co-operatively on such missions as the trips to Russia’s old Mir space station.

    10. The Space Shuttle flew the Spacelab facility into orbit on a number of flights – a dedicated space science station within the Shuttles cargo bay.

    Some of those moments were mentioned and pointed out on this excellent tribute but I wish a couple more of them had been – would’ve made this awesome tribute even better still. Eg.Sally Ride’s first flight, Magellan and Galileo‘s launches noted in the same style that Ulysseslaunch was pointed out.

    The Space Shuttles were also a learning experience – the first spaceplanes ever built, the first reusable spacecraft ever built and I suspect the largest, heaviest and most technologically advanced gliders ever constructed.

    IMHON, The Shuttles were the best method we’ve yet had of sending people and cargo into the Black and will likely hold that record for a long time to come.

    Statistically, surely they’d have to be the most successful craft ever with them flying so many missions, doing so much science and transporting so many people into the skies.

    I suspect we’ll only really appreciate how good the Space Shuttles were now they’ve gone. :-(


    For all the words and statistics, click on my name for perhaps the best reason to love the Space Shuttles I’ve ever seen. Launch of Atlantis on the STS-129 mission.

  39. Mike McCants

    65 launches per year? Failed.
    $50 million per launch? Failed.
    Commercial launches? Failed.
    Scientific launches? Cost/benefit too high and then abandoned as too risky.
    $100 billion to build the ISS? Success? Pyrrhic victory?
    What real science could have been done for 20% of that $100 billion?
    30 years of employment for a lot of (now unemployed) people? Success!

  40. Matt B.

    Thank you. I was in fact 35 when you posted this.

    I’m such a procrastinator that I finally got around to making a spreadsheet of the shuttle missions when the only piece of info not yet on Wikipedia was the duration of STS-135. (I already had Mercury, Gemini and Apollo done years earlier.)


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