Higher, Faster, Further: 1970-1996

Rockwell International ... Building the Space Shuttle

The record of the past is filled with demonstrations that pure physical research pays for itself many times over, often in totally unforeseen ways.
-- Dutch Kindelberger

In 1973, North American Rockwell took the name Rockwell International and designated its aircraft division North American Aircraft Operations. Autonetics became one of four divisions within the Rockwell International Electronics group, which, in 1974, were reorganized into three business groups: Microelectronics, Autonetics and Collins Radio. Autonetics became Autonetics Electronics Systems in 1987 and was part of Rockwell's aerospace and defense unit acquired by Boeing in 1996.

On July 26, 1972, Rockwell International won the $2.6 billion contract to build the space shuttle orbiter, designated OV-101 (orbiter vehicle 101). It was named the Enterprise after a write-in campaign by Star Trek fans, although NASA originally wanted to call it the Constitution.

On July 18, 1974, NASA bought a 747 from American Airlines, and under a $30 million contract from Rockwell International, Boeing began modifying it into the first shuttle carrier aircraft (SCA). The Enterprise was not built to go into space, so during its approach and landing test program, it was released from the modified 747 to glide to a landing at Edwards Air Force Base.

The Enterprise (OV-101) rolled out Sept. 17, 1976, and its nine-month approach and landing test program was from Jan. 31 to Oct. 26, 1977. Tests showed the orbiter could fly in the atmosphere and land like an airplane. On April 12, 1981, the next shuttle, the Columbia (OV-102), was the first space shuttle to fly into orbit. It was also the first online orbiter to be retrofitted, so between 1981 and 1999, it made 26 flights. The Columbia's achievements also included the first launch of satellites from a space shuttle on mission STS-5 and on mission STS-9, the first flight of the European-built scientific workshop also called Spacelab.

On Jan. 28, 1986, the Challenger, the second orbiter to become operational, exploded after takeoff due to failure of an O-ring. All aboard died. The program was delayed for 32 months while the causes were investigated. The newest shuttle, the Endeavour, made its first flight May 7, 1992. After the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003, the program was suspended until Space Shuttle Discovery returned to flight July 28, 2005.

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