50 years ago, NASA’s space shuttle program got the green light

Excerpt from the January 15, 1972 issue of Science News

Launch of Atlantis space shuttle

On July 8, 2011, space shuttle Atlantis rocketed to the International Space Station on the final mission of NASA’s space shuttle program. The U.S. space agency is now working with private companies to get astronauts into outer space.

Bill Ingalls/NASA

The decision on the shuttle is ‘go’ — Science News, January 15, 1972

President Nixon’s announcement last week of the decision to begin development of a space shuttle system may prove to be nearly as crucial to the future of the manned space program as the 1961 Kennedy challenge to land a man on the moon.


The shuttle program was NASA astronauts’ ticket to space for 30 years. Beginning in 1981, five reusable spacecraft carried out many important missions, including helping to build the International Space Station and carrying the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit. Despite initial hopes that the shuttles would usher in an era of low-cost spaceflight, the program was deemed too expensive to continue and ended in 2011. Recently, NASA has begun working with private companies to transport astronauts to low Earth orbit. In 2020, SpaceX flew six astronauts to the International Space Station (SN: 12/19/20 & 1/2/21, p. 36). Last April, NASA announced it had tapped SpaceX to ferry astronauts to the surface of the moon as part of the upcoming Artemis program.

Physics writer Emily Conover has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. She is a two-time winner of the D.C. Science Writers’ Association Newsbrief award.

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