NASA Space Shuttle Program – 40th anniversary of STS-1



© by Harald Kraenzel, March 2021

As part of the NASA Space Shuttle Program -officially called the Space Transportation System (STS)-
a total of five reusable space shuttle orbiters were built with which the USA entered low-earth orbit over a period of just over 30 years.

While many different tasks were carried out in the first few years -e.g. launching and capturing satellites or research in Earth orbit in the reusable Spacelab built by ESA in Europe- only flights to the ISS were made in the last years of service. In addition, the cost per flight turned out to be higher than originally hoped. In addition, the up to 55 planned flights per year could not be realized.

The main reason for this was the much higher maintenance effort between two flights. Several components played a crucial role here:

A total of 135 flights were launched, for which the following orbiters were used:

Unfortunately Challenger in 1986 during ascent into earth orbit and Columbia in 2003 during re-entry into earth’s atmosphere were destroyed. A total of 14 astronauts lost their lives.

Beside space travel I am also interested in building and constructing LEGO models myself and it came to my mind to create certain components of the Space Transportation Systems using LEGO bricks.

The LEGO IDEAS Set 21321 „International Space Station“ [ISS] uses the scale 1:220 which is a good scale for my Space Shuttle LEGO MOCs and furtheron a good desk scale.

After the correct sizes had been calculated in studs, we (the redesign of the orbiter was a project of Ralf and me) took the orbiter from the "Lego Creator 31091 Shuttle Transporter" set and changed some parts according to our ideas:
April 12, 2021 will mark the 40th anniversary of the launch of the first space shuttle mission, known as STS-1 (Fig. 1).
The orbiter used was named Columbia - easy to recognize by the black tiles in the front areas of the wings.

The last mission, STS-135 (Fig. 2), was carried out in July 2011. The orbiter used for this mission was called Atlantis.
STS-1 STS-135

MOC dimensions in Fig. 1 + 2: W=29,6 cm, H=50,9 cm, L=34,4 cm. W=width, H=height and L=length
          number bricks in Fig. 1: total=2093 different: 235
          number bricks in Fig. 2: total=2227 different: 266

In order to launch a mission into earth orbit, the space shuttle consisting of two reusable solid rockets (SRB), a large external fuel tank (ET) and the orbiter was mounted on the so-called Mobile Launch Platform (MLP - Fig. 3).
Another hallmark of the first mission was the large white ET. From the 3rd mission (STS-3) onwards, the white color for the ET was omitted -therefore the ET appears orange- which saved several hundred kilograms in weight. This enabled more payload to be transported.
The first space shuttle mission was rated a great success.
However, the data analysis after the mission revealed a problem: 16 heat protection tiles were destroyed and 148 more damaged.
The reason for this was quickly found: sound. During the take-off process, the engines (3 main engines on the orbiter and one each on the bottom of the solid rocket boosters to the left and right of the ET) generated sound waves that were reflected from the launch site floor and returned to the space shuttle through the MLP openings. These sound waves generated strong vibrations that destroyed or damaged the tiles.
The solution to the problem was relatively simple: water. The sound suppression system was supposed to control that, in which large amounts of water were pumped onto the MLP. Since this was not sufficiently successful at the start of STS-1, an additional water injection system (wis) was installed on the MLP, which pumped water into the three openings to prevent the reflected sound waves from reaching certain components of the space shuttle, which could be successfully used from the second mission (STS-2) (Fig. 4).

MOC dimensions in Fig.s 3 + 4: B=17,8 cm, H=4,7 cm, L=26 cm.
          number bricks in Fig. 3: total=771 different: 83
          number bricks in Fig. 4: total=898 different: 100

With the help of a NASA crawler (Fig. 5 + 6), the space shuttle mounted on the MLP was driven to the launch site 39 A or 39 B, from where the missions were launched into an earth orbit -i.a. to the ISS-.
crawler crawleri

MOC dimensions in Fig. 5 + 6: B=21 cm, H=9,3 cm, L=26,4 cm.
          number bricks in Fig. 5 + 6: total=797 different: 90

Notes regarding the MOCs:

In order to remember the entire space shuttle project (1981 - 2011) with all the orbiters used, I created the following MOC (Fig. 7 + 8).
all all

MOC dimensions in Fig. 7 + 8: B=64 cm, H=26,8 cm, L=12,3 cm.
          number bricks in Fig. 7 + 8: total=1812 different: 177

Over here in Germany a company exists which makes prints on LEGO bricks on demand (
All but two printed bricks in the above MOCs I ordered from that company.