The shuttle programme was remarkably successful given the enormous complexity of designing, building, maintaining and operating the orbiter, and its unique power system.
By the 25th flight, in 1986, the images of take-off from Kennedy Space Centre had become comfortably familiar. Yet this flight lasted only 73 seconds before a solid rocket booster shot a lethal plume of flame which ignited the external tank containing liquid hydrogen and oxygen. The seven astronauts, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, all perished.
From the very beginning, compromises and conflicting demands on the shuttle orbiter sowed the seeds that led to the loss of both Challenger and, in 2003, Columbia. This programme follows the space shuttle programme from 1968 when design and procurement decisions were being made, through to 2003, as the investigation into Columbia discovered that the astronauts might, in fact, have been saved