The Space Shuttle Orbiter
The Orbiter, both the brains andheart of the Space TransportationSystem, is about the same sizeand weight as a DC-9 aircraft. Itcontains the pressurized crewcompartment, which can hold upto seven crew members; the hugecargo bay; and the three MainEngines, mounted at its aft end.The thermal tile system which pro-tects the orbiter during its searingreentry through the atmospherewas a breakthrough technologythat proved much more challeng-ing than expected. There are twolevels to the crew cabin. Upper-most is the ﬂight deck where thecommander and the pilot controlthe mission, surrounded by an array of switches and controls.During the launch of a seven-member crew, two other astronautsare positioned on the ﬂight deck behind the commander andpilot. The three other crew members are in launch positions inthe mid-deck, which is below the ﬂight deck. The mid-deck iswhere the galley, toilet, sleep stations, and storage and experi-ment lockers are found for the basic needs of weightless, dailyliving. Also located in the mid-deck are the side hatch for pas-sage to and from the vehicle before and after landing, and theairlock hatch into the cargo bay and space beyond. It is throughthis hatch and airlock that astronauts go to don their spacesuitsand manned maneuvering units and prepare for extravehicularactivities, more popularly known as “spacewalks.” These excur-sions have produced some of the most important space ﬁrstsin the Shuttle program as well as the most spectacular photo-graphic vistas of the space age. Below the mid-deck’s ﬂoor is autility area for the air and water tanks and their ducts.The Space Shuttle’s cargo bay is adaptable to hundreds of tasks.Large enough to accommodate a 60-foot-long tour bus, thecargo bay instead carries satellites, spacecraft, and scientiﬁclaboratories to and from Earth orbit. It is also a work station forastronauts to repair satellites, a foundation from which to erectspace structures, and a hold for retrieved satellites to be returnedto Earth. Mounted on the port side of the cargo bay behind thecrew quarters is the remote manipulator system (RMS). TheRMS is a robot arm and hand with three joints analogous tothose of the human shoulder, elbow and wrist. It is operatedfrom the aft station of the orbiter’s ﬂight deck. The RMS, some50 feet long, can move anything from satellites to astronauts toand from the cargo bay or to different points in nearby space.Thermal tile insulation and blankets—also known as the thermalprotection system or TPS—cover the underbelly, bottom of thewings, and other heat-bearing surfaces of the orbiter and protectit during its ﬁery reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. The Shut-tle’s 24,000 individual tiles are made primarily of pure-sand sili-cate ﬁbers, mixed with a ceramic binder. Incredibly lightweightand about the same density as balsa wood, they dissipate theheat so quickly that a white-hot tile with a temperature of 2,300degrees Fahrenheit can be taken from an oven and held in barehands without injury.
The Main Engines andOrbital Propulsion Systems
The three Main Engines are clus-tered at the aft end of the Orbiterand have combined thrust of morethan 1.2 million pounds. They arehigh performance, liquid propel-lant rocket engines whose thrust can be varied over a range of65 to 109 percent of their rated power level. They are the world’s