Flight International has been with the Shuttle every step of its life. Its latter days are documented through the flightglobal.com archive search facility, found at the top of this page. Below is a selection of original articles from the pre-Internet age.

11 April 1981
Shuttle first flight in profile
When Space Shuttle's solid rocket boosters and main engines are finally lit, almost everything has to work correctly.  The lives of Commander John Young and pilot Robert Crippen, as well as the future of American spaceflight, depend on it. Space Shuttle is the first re-useable rocket and none of it has flown unmanned tests in space as happened with Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.

It is the first time that solid propellant boosters have been used on a manned spacecraft, the first bluff shape rocket, the pioneer of throttleable engines and will be the first US manned flight for almost six years...

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Flight 11 APR81 p1039
Flight 11APR81 p1040 
Flight 11APR81 p1041
Flight 11APR81 p1042 

8 February 1986
Booster burnthrough caused Shuttle explosion

NASA believes that burnthrough of a solid rocket booster caused the catastrophic explosion which destroyed Challenger, killing its crew of seven little more than a minute into the 25th Space Shuttle mission.

The external tank containing liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen exploded with such force that, for half an hour after, recovery ships and aircraft were not allowed from entering the area by debris falling from high altitude.

Mission 5L lifted off at 1138hr local time on January 28. The day was clear, but cold, and the first 70 sec of flight appeared normal. About 50sec after launch Challenger’s three main engines were throttled back to 60 per cent thrust as the Shuttle experienced maximum air pressure...

Read more in Adobe portable document format (PDF) by downloading the following original pages
Flight 08FEB86 p3 
Flight 08FEB86 p2 

11 February 2003
NASA looks for 'missing link'

The disintegration of Space Shuttle Columbia has highlighted one stark fact - even if NASA had determined that thermal-protection tile damage during launch was a safety risk, there is little the space agency could have done. This could have long-term implications for the operation of the three surviving orbiters.

There is no way to repair or replace tiles in orbit, and Columbia's crew was not equipped to spacewalk outside the payload bay. Columbia did not have enough fuel to reach the International Space Station, and it was not equipped for docking. A more benign re-entry was impossible, says Space Shuttle programme manager Ron Dittemore.

Returning to Earth on 1 February after the 16-day STS 107 Freestar science mission, en route to a 09:16 landing at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, Columbia broke up over Texas just before 09:00, during the period of maximum re-entry heating. Tile damage has not been confirmed, but NASA believes a "thermal event, rather than a structural event" caused the accident.

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Source: Flight International