From Chris Hadfield's MasterClass

Spaceships: Shuttles and Beyond

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.

Topics include: Shuttles: Reusable Reentry Modules • Buran • Winged or Wingless? • The Future of Spaceship Design


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.

Topics include: Shuttles: Reusable Reentry Modules • Buran • Winged or Wingless? • The Future of Spaceship Design

Chris Hadfield

Teaches Space Exploration

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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.

Amazing on several levels. This course isn't just about space flight, but some inspiring life insights as well. Just incredible.

I wish I could articulate into words how I feel after completing this masterclass... I have learned so much.

Amazing and inspiring. The most interesting course I've ever taken. Thanks to Chris for sharing his wisdom with us.

Love the energy and clarity of our purpose here


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.

Aaron M.

Perhaps the most efficient solution to the "drivin' and cryin'" psychological challenges that could crop up on the way to Mars has already been solved very neatly in science fiction movies like Space Odyssey 2001, Aliens and Passengers: cryogenic (induced hibernation) sleep. But is it really possible and what will the unpleasant side effects be? Worst hangover ever for 3 weeks? As Gunny Highway says: "You improvise, adapt and overcome". A holodeck will be too big and bulky - unless we are starting the trip from spacedock as Kirk and the crew do with the Enterprise in the most recent incarnations of Star Trek. Forget Mars for a minute - who among us can't wait for sub-orbital global travel in hyper-sonic lifting bodies so that trip to Kowloon takes only 4 hours instead of the eye-bleeding 14?

Jim S.

I really like the holodeck idea for interplanetary craft. I never thought of that. I think the Mars journey will be much harder that people envision.

A fellow student

Does he make a mistake in Lesson 10 at 17+:?? when he describes the inadequacy of existing equipment discussing a trip to Mars but says the moon. Also not to be petty but he keeps referring to the earth as "the world" - which to me means the universe not this planet.

Jerry R.

Interesting, in that although life support systems are mentioned, nothing is said about solar radiation, and how it affects the human body. Neil Armstrong commented just a few years before he died that this was one of the main problems that would have to be overcome before going farther out into space.

David H.

At what distance from the sun is there a positive heat gain which requires dissipation of heat from the spacecraft? Is there any requirement to generate heat in the ISS?