30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

With today's last Space Shuttle flight, we've reached the end of an era in American space exploration. In this gallery, we look back on 30 years of the Space Shuttle program: the beauty of our space outposts, the engineering marvels of the Shuttles, and the brave sacrifices many people made to leave this gravity well. It's been a good run, NASA. A really good run.

Here you can see the first Space Shuttle, Enterprise, as it takes flight for the first time over the Dryden Flight Research Facility in 1977 (AP).

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Space Shuttle Columbia at the Kennedy Launch Complex, 1980 (Flickr/State Archives of Florida)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS


Senator John Stennis celebrates a successful test of the Space Shuttle's main engine, October 1978 (Flickr/NASA)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS


Columbia, followed by a chase plane, as it lands at Edwards Air Force Base, April 1981 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Sally Ride, the first female American astronaut, speaking with ground control on the shuttle Challenger, June 1983
(Flickr/NASA)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Astronaut Bruce McCandless II, approximately 300 feet from Challenger, as he takes the first untethered space walk in history, February 9, 1984 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Challenger explodes 73 seconds after liftoff, January 28th, 1986 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Reaction to the Challenger tragedy, Concord, New Hampshire, January 28th, 1986 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

The robot arm of Discovery maneuvers the Hubble Space Telescope outside of the shuttle payload bay, 1990 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Endeavour captures the Wake Shield Facility, an experimental science platform, after it was caught in solar winds for two days in September 1995 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Space Shuttle Columbia as it journeys from the Vehicle Assembly unit to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, March 1998 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Senator John Glenn, Jr., returns to space as a a Payload Specialist aboard the shuttle Discovery, October 1998 (AP/NASA)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Columbia lands at the completion of a two million mile journey wherein the crew deployed the Chandra X-ray Observatory, July 1999 (Getty)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

A picture of the crew of Columbia during mission STS-107, from a roll of undeveloped film found in the shuttle's debris, 2003 (AP/NASA)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Streaks in the sky as Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates upon re-entry, February 1, 2003 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Discovery crew members, on the first shuttle flight in almost three years, conduct an in-flight repair of thermal tiles on the underside of the Discovery, August 2005 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Lifting Atlantis within the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in preparation for a September launch, July 24, 2006 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Space Shuttle Atlantis leaves a streak of light as it passes overhead. Photo taken on September 20, 2006 in Tyler, Texas, where the initial disintegration of Columbia took place in 2003. (AP/Dr. Scott Lieberman)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Launch Control at Kennedy Space Center during an Atlantis launch, September 2006 (Flickr/NASA)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Atlantis lands at Cape Canaveral at the conclusion of a 12 day mission, September 21, 2006 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Atlantis prepares to dock with the International Space Station, June 2007 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

The International Space Station as seen in the reflection of Astronaut Scott Parazynski's visor during a space walk outside of shuttle Discovery, October 30, 2007 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Image taken at Banana River viewing site near Kennedy Space Center as Discovery leaves a trail after launch, 2009 (Flickr/NASA)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Atlantis departs for the final servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope, May 2009 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

One of the personal effects taken aboard by Commander Mark Kelly, a baseball, floats in the cabin of Endeavour, May 2010 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Discovery en route to the International Space Station, August 2010 (Flickr/NASA)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Astronauts Mastracchio and Anderson in the payload of Discovery on a mission to perform maintenance work on the International Space System, 2010 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Memorial for Challenger crew member Ellison Onizuka, 2011 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Discovery, ready for its final mission, is rotated on the launch pad to expose the orbiter, February 2011 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Discovery, on its last mission, as the shuttle prepares to dock with the International Space Station, February 2011 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

The crew of Atlantis is transported to a dress rehearsal for the final mission of NASA's Space Shuttle Program, March 2011 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Endeavour sits on the launch pad in April 2011 prior to its final launch in May 2011 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Atlantis moves from the Vertical Assembly Building to the launch pad in May of 2011 in preparation for a July launch (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston during a simulation of the final Atlantis mission, 2011 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

The sun, a portion of the International Space State, and Earth can be seen during a spacewalk taken on the last flight of Endeavour, May 27, 2011 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

A view of Discovery's payload bay as it is being decommissioned and decontaminated in June 2011 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Hand made sign attached to a payload canister destined for the final flight of Atlantis, June 10, 2011 (AP)

30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program in PicturesS

Atlantis, as it sits on the launch pad on June 17, 2011 in preparation the Shuttle Program's final flight in July 2011, in which it will carry spare parts and supplies to the International Space Station (AP)