About Human Spaceflight

Space Shuttle
Space Shuttle

Mission Facts
The Space Shuttle forms a unique platform for Earth Science experiments because equipment can be used for a short period of time (5 to 15 days) and then returned to Earth. First launched in April 1981, the Shuttle program has launched over 100 missions using 5 Orbiter vehicles. The altitude for each mission is different, ranging from 222 to 611 km. Most recent missions have focused on Space Station construction, and have had altitudes of approximately 400 km. The orbital inclination (the highest latitude reached on each orbit) also has varied from 28 to 62 degrees. Most missions have had inclinations of 28.5, 39, 51.6 (Space Station inclination), or 57 degrees.

Sample flight path
Example of a single orbit track at 51.6 degree inclination. Yellow indicates local daylight, and blue, local night. This orbit takes about 90 minutes.

Current position of the Space Shuttle in orbit (when in orbit)

Recent Earth Science Projects on Shuttle
Camera preparation
Astronaut Dom Gorie prepares to use the Hasselblad camera to photograph Earth through the Space Shuttle windows.

Mt. Ararat
Mt. Ararat as photographed from the Space Shuttle in March 2001.

Space Shuttle Earth Observation Photography Throughout the Space Shuttle era, astronauts in orbit have photographed the Earth through the spacecraft windows.

Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) was a mission to map the topography (elevation data) of the world with unprecedented resolution. It flew on the Space Shuttle Endeavor in February 2000. During the 10 days of operation, it collected data on as much of the surface of the Earth as possible (between 60 degrees north latitude and 54 degrees south latitude). A systematic global data set will be completed by the end of 2002.

Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) was the precursor to SRTM, and flew twice on the Space Shuttle in 1994. SIR-C/X-SAR featured multiparameter radar imaging (3 bands, programmable polarization modes). Two earlier missions SIR-A (1983) and SIR-B (1984) demonstrated the radar capabilities for various scientific applications. These missions focused on a limited number of “supersite” targets for repeated viewing and illustrated the potential of radar mapping.

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About Human Spaceflight
International Space Station
Space Shuttle
Astronaut Photography

SRTM animation
Animation of the interferometry principle used for SRTM

SRTM data
Example of topographic data produced by SRTM