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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. --  In the white room on Launch Pad 39A, STS-120 Mission Specialists Daniel Tani (left) and Doug Wheelock are ready to enter space shuttle Discovery for a simulated launch countdown.  The countdown is the culmination of the prelaunch terminal countdown demonstration test, or TCDT.  The TCDT at NASA's Kennedy Space Center provides astronauts and ground crews an opportunity to participate in various launch preparation activities, including equipment familiarization and  emergency training. The STS-120 mission will deliver the U.S. Node 2 module, named Harmony, aboard space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station.  Discovery is targeted to launch on its 14-day mission at 11:38 a.m. EDT on Oct. 23. Photo credit: NASA/George Shelton KSC-07pd2789

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. -- In the white room on Launch Pad 39A, STS-120 Mission Specialists Daniel Tani (left) and Doug Wheelock are ready to enter space shuttle Discovery for a simulated launch countdown. The countdown is the culmination of the prelaunch terminal countdown demonstration test, or TCDT. The TCDT at NASA's Kennedy Space Center provides astronauts and ground crews an opportunity to participate in various launch preparation activities, including equipment familiarization and emergency training. The STS-120 mission will deliver the U.S. Node 2 module, named Harmony, aboard space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station. Discovery is targeted to launch on its 14-day mission at 11:38 a.m. EDT on Oct. 23. Photo credit: NASA/George Shelton KSC-07pd2789

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. -- In the white room on Launch Pad 39A, STS-120 Mission Specialists Daniel Tani (left) and Doug Wheelock are ready to enter space shuttle Discovery for a simulated launch countdown. The countdown is the culmination of the prelaunch terminal countdown demonstration test, or TCDT. The TCDT at NASA's Kennedy Space Center provides astronauts and ground crews an opportunity to participate in various launch preparation activities, including equipment familiarization and emergency training. The STS-120 mission will deliver the U.S. Node 2 module, named Harmony, aboard space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station. Discovery is targeted to launch on its 14-day mission at 11:38 a.m. EDT on Oct. 23. Photo credit: NASA/George Shelton

The Space Shuttle program was the United States government's manned launch vehicle program from 1981 to 2011, administered by NASA and officially beginning in 1972. The Space Shuttle system—composed of an orbiter launched with two reusable solid rocket boosters and a disposable external fuel tank— carried up to eight astronauts and up to 50,000 lb (23,000 kg) of payload into low Earth orbit (LEO). When its mission was complete, the orbiter would re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and lands as a glider. Although the concept had been explored since the late 1960s, the program formally commenced in 1972 and was the focus of NASA's manned operations after the final Apollo and Skylab flights in the mid-1970s. It started with the launch of the first shuttle Columbia on April 12, 1981, on STS-1. and finished with its last mission, STS-135 flown by Atlantis, in July 2011.

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10/10/2007
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Kennedy Space Center, FL
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NASA
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