At a Glance: NASA's Space Shuttle Fleet Since its inception in the 1970s, NASA's space shuttle program has included six orbiters. Here's a brief overview of each.
NPR logo At a Glance: NASA's Space Shuttle Fleet

At a Glance: NASA's Space Shuttle Fleet

Since its inception in the 1970s, NASA's space shuttle program has included six orbiters. Here's a brief overview of each:


The space shuttle Enterprise in 1982
Roger Ressmeyer/Corbis

First Launch: None

Number of Missions: None

Final Launch: None

Enterprise rolled out of the assembly plant on Sept. 17, 1976. NASA's official line on the first space shuttle orbiter: "The Enterprise was built as a test vehicle and is not equipped for space flight." It took a year's worth of ground and flight tests to convince NASA that shuttles would actually work and served as a stand-in for vibration and launch-pad tests before launch of the first real shuttle flight. After August 1979, the Enterprise never flew again. It went on tour with an air show and to the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans. Now, the Enterprise is the property of the Smithsonian and is on display at the Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C.


The Space Shuttle Columbia breaks up over Texas, Feb. 1, 2003.
Dallas Morning News/Corbis

First Launch: April 12, 1981

Number of Missions: 28

Final Launch: Jan. 16, 2003

Columbia was the first orbiter to fly in space. Construction on Columbia began in 1975, but it wasn't until 1979 that the shuttle was approved for flight and rolled out of the assembly plant. The shuttle disintegrated while re-entering the Earth's atmosphere on Feb.1, 2003, approximately 16 minutes before it was set to land.


The space shuttle Challenger accident

First Launch: April 4, 1983

Number of Missions: 10

Final Launch: Jan. 28, 1986

Challenger began as a test vehicle, but it was converted into an orbiter and joined the NASA fleet in July 1982. It flew nine successful missions before it exploded 73 seconds after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986, the result of a booster failure.


The Space Shuttle Discovery on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center

First Launch: Aug. 30, 1984

Number of Missions: 30

Next Launch: July 26, 2005

Discovery enjoys the advantages of being the third orbiter to become operational in the fleet: It is more than 6,000 pounds lighter than Columbia and better designed. It is still in use and will fly in NASA's Return to Flight mission.


Atlantis hurtles into space on mission STS-112. The shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean is visible in th

First Launch: Oct. 3, 1985

Number of Missions: 26

Last Launch: Oct. 7, 2002

Next Launch: Not scheduled

Atlantis joined the fleet in 1985 and was the first shuttle to dock at the Mir space station. Building Atlantis took half as long as building earlier shuttles, because its upper body features thermal protection "blankets" instead of tiles. It is still in use.


The drag chute on Space Shuttle Endeavour unfurls upon landing.

First Launch: May 7, 1992

Number of Missions: 19

Last Launch: June 5, 2002

Next Launch: Not scheduled

Endeavour, the newest orbiter, was built out of spare parts for Atlantis and Discovery to replace the Challenger. Its second mission included the first four-person spacewalk, the longest spacewalk in history, and the first use of a drag chute during landing. The Endeavour is still in use.