The Space Shuttle was a partially reusable low Earth orbital spacecraft system that was operated from 1981 to 2011 by the U. S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as part of the Space Shuttle program. Its official program name was Space Transportation System (STS), taken from a 1969 plan for a system of reusable spacecraft of which it was the only item funded for development. The first of four orbital test flights occurred in 1981, leading to operational flights beginning in 1982. In addition to the prototype whose completion was cancelled, five complete Shuttle systems were built and used on a total of 135 missions from 1981 to 2011, launched from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Operational missions launched numerous satellites, interplanetary probes, and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST); conducted science experiments in orbit; and participated in construction and servicing of the International Space Station. The Shuttle fleet’s total mission time was 1322 days, 19 hours, 21 minutes and 23 seconds.
A billion years ago, our Moon was closer to Earth than it is now. As a result, it appeared to be a much larger object in the sky. During that ancient era, if human beings had been around to witness such a sight, it would have been possible to see the entire Moon--not merely the one near side face that we see now. A billion years ago, it took our Moon only twenty days to orbit our planet, and Earth's own day was considerably shorter--only eighteen hours long. Stupendous, almost unimaginably enormous tides, that were more than a kilometer in height, would ebb and flow every few hours. However, things changed, as the lunar orbit around our primordial planet grew ever wider and wider. Annually, Earth's Moon moves about 1.6 inches farther out into space. Currently, the lunar rate of rotation, as well as the time it takes to circle our planet, are the same. Jupiter, along with its beautiful ringed sister planet, Saturn, are the gas-giant duo of our Sun's family of eight major planets. The other two giant planets--that dwell in our Solar System's outer limits--are Uranus and Neptune. Uranus and Neptune are classified as ice giants, because they carry within them larger cores than Jupiter and Saturn, as well as thinner gaseous envelopes. Jupiter and Saturn may (or may not) contain small, hidden cores, that are heavily veiled by extremely massive, dense gaseous envelopes. The Kuiper Belt. Dark, distant, and cold, the Kuiper Belt is the remote domain of an icy multitude of comet nuclei, that orbit our Sun in a strange, fantastic, and fabulous dance. Here, in the alien deep freeze of our Solar System's outer suburbs, the ice dwarf planet Pluto and its quintet of moons dwell along with a cornucopia of others of their bizarre and frozen kind. This very distant region of our Star's domain is so far from our planet that astronomers are only now first beginning to explore it, thanks to the historic visit to the Pluto system by NASA's very successful and productive New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015. New Horizons is now well on its way to discover more and more long-held secrets belonging to this distant, dimly lit domain of icy worldlets.