Then, four years after the program’s launch, NASA unveiled its first orbiter. After initially christening the craft Constitution, officials renamed it Enterprise – following a campaign led by fans of the science-fiction series Star Trek. And in 1977 the orbiter passed its first round of tests.
On April 12, 1981, the Space Shuttle program subsequently conducted its first successful launch. The Columbia – the first properly operational orbiter – and its crew of two soared beyond Earth’s atmosphere and into orbit. Two days later, the craft then landed safely in California, ushering in a new period of space exploration. And over the next ten years, four more shuttles joined NASA’s ranks.
Initially, the Space Shuttle program aimed to complete some 50 launches every year, bringing flights down to a relatively affordable $20 million per trip. However, by the time that it concluded in 2011, the project’s 134 missions had cost NASA more than $200 billion – equating to almost $1.6 billion each.