Science & Technology

Spaceships: Shuttles and Beyond

Chris Hadfield

Lesson time 18:33 min

Two-thirds of those who’ve flown to space got there on a Space Shuttle. Chris outlines the design of the Shuttle, the impact of its reusability, and how spacecraft will evolve in the future.

Chris Hadfield
Teaches Space Exploration
In 28+ lessons, the former commander of the International Space Station teaches you the science of space exploration and what the future holds.
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After going to the moon, we thought let's try and make this reusable. Let's try and instead of making every single shot this enormous rocket that can only be used once, let's try and build a spaceship that's more like an airplane. And that was the genesis for the space shuttle. It's a very name, to shuttle us to space and back. It's obviously not a capsule. It has wings it has a tail. But it still has to solve the same problems coming back into the atmosphere. It's launched as a rocket. It's been in space for a few weeks, maybe docked to a space station or releasing the Hubble telescope or something. But now when it's time to come home, we basically have to solve the same problems as any previous spaceship, as any capsule. So the bottom of the space shuttle is covered with all of this thermal protection equipment-- thick heavy tile, but not something that burns off like on the capsules. In fact, this is a blown ceramic. It almost feels like that blue insulation that might be on the wall of your house. That if you poked it with your finger, you could actually stick your finger into the bottom of the shuttle. But these tiles were so thermally resistant that you could hold one end in your hand and have a blowtorch and the other end. One end of the tile could be glowing red hot, and it just would not transmit the heat through to your hand. Same on the bottom of the shuttle. The bottom could be glowing thousands of degrees, but just through to the aluminum skin just a few inches away would be protected from the heat. We had to steer the space shuttle all the way down. And you start into the atmosphere with your nose about 40 degrees high because, just as Max Faget had designed, we want to put our big flat belly into the atmosphere, so that we can spread the heat over as big an area as possible. And it's hard to fly a ship with its nose 40 degrees up. It takes some really careful computer control to be able to steer it as we're targeting coming back to land in Florida or in California, but at the same time, absorbing all of that heat and energy that the atmosphere is punishing us with. And us, here, looking out the windows-- same thing. This is steadily increasing yellow to orange to sort of a combination of red, yellow, and orange, all licking around the windows. You are riding a meteorite home, flying a meteorite back to the earth as you slow down from mach 25. We sort of call about 400,000 feet as the top of the atmosphere. We started flying the vehicle. As we got lower in the atmosphere, the air became slowly thicker and thicker. And so instead of just firing thrusters all around the shuttle to control which way it was pointing, we can start to use these big control surfaces on the back. The big elevons, and this great, big rudder started to take effect. That's why the rudder is so big, because we were going so fast, and we wanted to be able to steer through the atmosphere. We even had this big body flap on the bottom to be able ...

Explore the unknown

Impossible things happen. At age nine, Chris Hadfield knew he wanted to go to space. He eventually went there three times, becoming a commander of the International Space Station. In his MasterClass, Chris teaches you what it takes to explore space and what the future holds for humans in the final frontier. Learn about the science of space travel, life as an astronaut, and how flying in space will forever change the way you think about living on Earth.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

so many things to account for when exploring the unknown. Chris Hadfield does a terrific job breaking all of it down bit by bit and explaining it all

Chris not only has the plethora of knowledge of being an astronaut but he is able to describe and explain his wonderful experiences in a fascinating way. The main lesson I will take from this class is Chris' advice about taking satisfaction from the journey leading to your dreams and not just the enjoyment you gain from achieving the goals themselves.

Great intro - and super exciting to learn from a pro !

Chris is a great storyteller and his story is compelling, passionate and wickedly interesting!


A fellow student

Really good. When the divers reach the capsule as it lands back in the sea, is it still hot to touch and what does impact feel like to the crew inside as it hits the water> Ian Boswell

Ronald A.

Deorbiting burn over Australia, heading East toward California. Is it adequate to understand that landing needs the Earth rotation has well as in launch for energy saving.

Jeff M.

Captivating information presented in a fun, understandable way. I would greatly enjoy Commander Hadfield discussing some Shuttle normal and emergency procedures. Really great! Thx!

Scott R.

Awesome Class and Instruction. I vote to avoid a nuclear powered vehicle. After a melt down was prevented at the Hanford reactor (approximately 1958), calculations showed that would have been an extinction event if the initial lab sample had been relied upon. Risk would be kind of like tight roping. Each of the 3 V-shape containers contained plutonium. 3 critical masses = 1 extinction.


Having been associated @ Hughes Space &Com with the space program the orbiter design was most usable and efficient for the missions scheduled.

Jim C.

Would it make sense to shoot people into space in a small capsule, then dock with a large maneuverable spacecraft already in space, to fly to wherever? Like a small boat/dinghy transporting sailors to a larger ship.

Sergio N A.

Physico- chemical LS like Sabatier can be very useful for small spaceships but for larger ones for interplanetary travel will probably need a combination of Sabatier and a Controlled Ecological Life Support System to at least resemble earthlike atmosphere. Back-up system should be carried. On the astronauts psychological level, perhaps we need astronauts that are "metaphysically " motivated to prevent much of the psychological boredom and other problems that occurs in prolonged spaceflights . A rotating spacecrafts is needed to simulate earthlike gravity to prevent all the genetic, metabolic, physiologic and medical hazards of prolonged exposure to microgravity. We do not need crippled or dying astronauts landing on Mars or any moons of Jupiter or Saturn in the future . FROM DR.SERGIO ANDRES JR.

A fellow student

Enjoyed this lesson! My dad was one of the designers of the shuttle cargo bay and I appreciate your acknowledgment of the wonderful machine it was!

Judith H.

Love this lesson. I really think we may need to build better virtual reality to keep the crew engaged on the journey to mars, like he was saying. Perhaps a second life that could be lived while on board?

A fellow student

My favorite, "...because then the Shuttle went from being a bad glider to really horrible glider when we put the wheels down." Such engaging insight. Thank you.