The shuttle was going to replace all US rocket launch programs. Want to send a Direct TV sat to space? We’ll hand deliver it! The shuttle system is often argued to be the most complex machine ever built, and they did in the 70s, and then didn’t put any launch escape system on it. Something goes wrong? You’re dead.
They designed the things with the idea that we’d be flying to space constantly with only quick checkups in between. It would be faster and cheaper. Up until Challenger, they were steadily approaching that vision. They flew shuttles in much faster succession until then.
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