The first solo flight of the space shuttle 'Enterprise' in the United States on Friday (12 August) marks another major step in the development of space vehicles.
The first solo flight of the space shuttle 'Enterprise' in the United States on Friday (12 August) marks another major step in the development of space vehicles. The craft - the forerunner of a planned series of manned cargo ships designed to fly into space and return again - made a perfect landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California after being taken to 24,100 feet (about 6,700 metres) on top of its parent craft -- a Boeing 747 'Jumbo' jet.
SYNOPSIS: The two craft, with the shuttle riding piggy-back on the Jumbo, have flown in test flights before. But Friday marked the first time that the space shuttle was separated in the air from its parent craft.
The pair flew to their predetermined height accompanied by other aircraft monitoring the test. Just in case, both parent aircraft and the shuttle were equipped with emergency escape hatches for the Jumbo crew, as well as astronaut Fred Haise and co-pilot Gordon Fullerton aboard the spacecraft. The two craft were locked together by rivets, designed to explode and release the shuttle. The separation exercise worked perfectly.
But then came the more critical part of the test -- to see if the powerless shuttle could glide down to earth as it's designed to. The craft has no engines, and in aeronautical terms very little effective wingspan -- besides weighing a heavy 75 tons (tonnes).
The exercise was successful, pointing the way to the real beginning of the space shuttle programme late in 1979, when such craft will ferry cargoes and crews to satellites and space stations, returning to earth for re-use instead of remaining expensively in space for all time.