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Timeline: Highs and lows of NASA's Space Shuttle Program

STS-41D -- AUGUST - 30 -- SEPTEMBER 5, 1984 -- The 12th mission of the Space Shuttle Program marked the debut of Discovery.


April 12 - 14, 1981 The inaugural launch of the space shuttle Columbia, piloted by Apollo veteran John Young and astronaut Robert Crippen. By happenstance, it was also the 20th anniversary of the first orbit of the earth by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

Nov. 12 - 14, 1981 First in-flight test of the Canadarm, the Canadian-built robotic arm that enabled astronauts to remotely move payloads. They could release satellites from the cargo bay; capture and repair satellites already in orbit and aid in the construction of the International Space Station. (Globe archives: Canadian space arm flexes, waves at Earth)

April 4 - 9, 1983 A new space shuttle - Challenger - joins active service. It releases a communications satellite from its cargo bay.

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June 18 - 24, 1983 Sally Ride becomes the first U.S. woman in space - two decades after the Soviet Union launched the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, on June 16, 1963. During the Challenger mission, Canadian communications satellite Anik C2 is placed in orbit. (Globe archives: Safe launch by shuttle of two sister satellites)

Aug. 30 - Sept. 5, 1984 The first fight of Discovery. On board is Charlie Walker, the first paying passenger on a shuttle mission. The bill was footed by his employer, McDonnell Douglas, so he could test some of the company's new equipment in space.

Oct. 5 - 13, 1984 Marc Garneau is carried into orbit aboard Challenger, becoming the first Canadian to fly in space. (Globe archives: Perfect launch for eight-day mission)

Oct. 3 - 7, 1985 Atlantis joins the growing fleet of space shuttles, but its first flight was largely conducted in secrecy. It was carrying out a mission for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Jan. 28, 1986 Challenger explodes 73 seconds after liftoff with the loss of all seven crew members, including Christa McAuliffe who would have been the first teacher in space. (Globe archives: All seven aboard killed, shuttle disaster unexplained)

Sept. 29 - Oct. 3, 1988 Shuttle flights resume with the launch of Discovery, following a lengthy investigation into the Challenger accident.

May 4 - 8, 1989 The Magellan Venus probe is launched from Atlantis, the first U.S. planetary mission in 11 years and the first launched from a shuttle.

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Oct. 18 - 23, 1989 Atlantis releases the Galileo probe to Jupiter.

April 24 - 29, 1990 Discovery carries the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit. But once it begins operations, its first images are disappointingly fuzzy. Scientists realize the main mirror had been ground incorrectly, compromising the telescope's ability to take clear pictures.

Jan. 22 - 30, 1992 Roberta Bondar, Canada's first female astronaut, is lifted into space on Discovery. (Globe archives: Jubilant Bondar walking on air)

May 7 - 16, 1992 Endeavour makes its maiden flight. It is to serve as a replacement for the destroyed Challenger. Endeavour was constructed from spare parts originally meant for Challenger and the other shuttles in the fleet.

Dec. 2 - 13, 1993 Astronauts aboard Endeavour carry out a repair mission on the Hubble Space Telescope, correcting its flawed vision. It will produce spellbinding images of the heavens. (Globe archives: Shuttle crew releases telescope after difficulty with equipment)

Feb. 3 - 11, 1995 Discovery performs the first space shuttle rendezvous with the Russian Mir space station. It flies close to the station but doesn't dock.

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June 27 - July 7, 1995 Atlantis performs the first docking between a U.S. space shuttle and the Russian space station Mir.

Nov. 12 - 20, 1995 Atlantis docks with Russian space station Mir. During the mission, Chis Hadfield becomes the first Canadian to operate the Canadarm. He is also the only Canadian to have boarded Mir.

Oct. 29 - Nov. 4, 1998 John Glenn, one of the original Mercury astronauts and the first American to orbit the earth, returns to space aboard Discovery. At the age of 77, he is the oldest human to fly in space.

Dec. 4 - 15, 1998 Endeavour brings to orbit the second section of the International Space Station. Called the Unity Node, the American-built component will serve as a docking hub for other sections. The station's first section, called Zarya, was supplied by the Russians and launched into space several weeks earlier atop a Russian Proton rocket.

May 27 - June 6, 1999 Discovery supplies the space station with water, tools and equipment. In a series of later flights, other space shuttles will transport key components including power supplies air purifiers and toilets.

Nov. 30 - Dec. 11, 2000 Endeavour brings supplies to International Space Station's first crew who were launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket a month earlier.

April 19 - May 1, 2001 Endeavour delivers Canadarm2 to the international space station. The new Canadian-built robotic arm will play a key role in the completion of the space station. Chris Hadfield becomes the first Canadian to walk in space as he installs Canadarm2.

March 1 - 12, 2002 Columbia carries out its fourth service mission to the Hubble. New equipment boosts its capacity to look deeper into space.

June 5 - 19, 2002 Endeavour installs the Canadian-built Mobile Base System on the space station. It is essentially a platform for the robotic arm. It allows Canadarm2 to travel to work sites all along the truss structure of the space station, giving it greater movement and flexibility.

Jan. 16 - Feb. 1, 2003 After 16 days in space, Columbia is destroyed while returning to Earth. The accident results in the loss of life of all seven crew members. An investigation reveals some of the heat-shielding tiles had been damaged during launch from foam insulation falling off the main liquid fuel tank. Columbia essentially disintegrated because its internal structure overheated from the friction of re-entry. (Globe archives: NASA faces big questions after shuttle disaster)

July 26 - Aug. 9, 2005 Shuttle flights resume with the launch of Discovery. But the fleet's days are numbered. U.S. President George W. Bush announced his intentions to retire the shuttles as part of a plan to re-focus America's space efforts on a return to the moon. (The lunar program, however, is later axed by President Barack Obama). The fleet would remain in service just long enough to complete work on the International Space Station.

March 11 - 26, 2008 Endeavour delivers the Canadian-built "Dextre" to the space station. Formally known as the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, the robotic device resembles a headless torso equipped with two flexible 3.35-metre-long arms. It enables astronauts to perform repairs and maintenance operations on the exterior of the space station without having to go outside themselves. Dextre, Canada's final hardware contribution to the space station, can also be operated by ground controllers.

July 15 - 31, 2009 Canadian astronaut Julie Payette is launched into space on Endeavour, which docks with the International Space Station. Fellow Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk was already aboard the station. It was the first time two Canadians have been in space simultaneously. Ms. Payette's return to Earth marked the final trip for a Canadian on the space shuttle. Mr. Thirsk returned to Earth on a Russian Soyuz capsule following the completion of his long-duration stay in orbit.

Feb. 24 - March 9, 2011 The last mission for Discovery. It had flown 238 million kilometres in 39 missions, completed 5,830 orbits, and spent 365 days in orbit in over 27 years. It will go on public display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

May 16 - June 1, 2011 Final flight of Endeavour. During its operations, Endeavour flew 197,761,262 km in 25 missions, completed 4,671 orbits and spent 299 days in space. It will be retired to California Science Center in Los Angeles.

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