A Space Plane Is Born
The most prolific space shuttle in NASA’s fleet is Discovery, which will fly its last mission in February/March 2011. But NASA had to build Discovery before it could fly its 39 space missions and here is how it was done. In this view, Rockwell engineers check the fit between Discovery’s upper and lower forward cabin sections on Feb. 26, 1982.
Business End of Shuttle Discovery
Discovery, like all NASA shuttles, has three main engines in the rear to help launch it into space. Here is a look at how the shuttle’s aft fuselage looked on March 9, 1982, before those engines – or pretty much anything else – were installed at the Rockwell Facility in Downey, Calif.
Space shuttle Discovery has a payload bay that is 60 feet long, enough room to fit a bus. That’s a long keel to lay for a spaceship. But on March 24, 1982, the mid-fuselage that would support Discovery’s payload bay were only a set of ribs and aluminum sheeting. By this time, Boeing has taken control of Rockwell.
Boeing’s historical photos show Discovery being built in three main sections: forward fuselage, mid fuselage, and aft fuselage. In this April 6, 1982 photo, the aft fuselage, which eventually housed Discovery’s engines main engines and OMS pods, is featured.
Discovery Earns Its Wings
By May 1982, it was time for Discovery to get her wings. Here, engineers install Discovery’s left wing and attach it to the shuttle’s mid-fuselage on May 5, 1982.
Shaping Discovery Up
By Aug. 4, 1982, Discovery space plane look began to hit overdrive. In this photo, the shuttle’s lower forward fuselage, wings and mid-fuselage are finally attached. Look close and you’ll see engineers INSIDE the shuttle’s mid-body.
Discovery Gets a Flight Deck
Every good manned spacecraft needs a flight deck, and this photo shows Discovery getting hers. The shuttle’s crew module and its aft fuselage (top right) are shown mated to its frame on Sept. 10, 1982.
Discovery's Heat Shield Armor
To protect Discovery from the scorching heat of atmospheric re-entry, engineers devised lightweight ceramic tiles that are super-resistant to heat. Here, some of the thousands of the black tiles, each custom made, are installed to the underside of one of Discovery’s wings.
Discovery Shuttle Systems Arrive
By April 1983, Discovery was ready for its main flight systems. In this April 19, 1983 photo, Discovery receives its final systems installation at the Boeing (formerly Rockwell) Facility in Palmdale, Calif.
Finished Shuttle Gets Upgrades
NASA and Boeing finished construction and tests on shuttle Discovery in time for an August 1984 launch debut. After 10 years of service, the shuttle ultimate got more upgrades. Here’s a look at Discovery’s major overhaul between September 1995 and June 1996.
Discovery soared into space for the first time on Aug. 30, 1984. The six-day mission, called STS-41-D, deployed three satellites and tested new solar array technologies for use in space
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Space.com is the premier source of space exploration, innovation and astronomy news, chronicling (and celebrating) humanity's ongoing expansion across the final frontier. Originally founded in 1999, Space.com is, and always has been, the passion of writers and editors who are space fans and also trained journalists. Our current news team consists of Editor-in-Chief Tariq Malik; Editor Hanneke Weitering, Senior Space Writer Mike Wall; Senior Writer Meghan Bartels; Senior Writer Chelsea Gohd, Senior Writer Tereza Pultarova and Staff Writer Alexander Cox, focusing on e-commerce. Senior Producer Steve Spaleta oversees our space videos, with Diana Whitcroft as our Social Media Editor.