April is a very historic month for NASA
...and Chesley Bonestell!
Artist’s representation of Ingenuity flying over the Martian surface
After travelling almost 300 million miles, the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover touched down on the Red Planet on February 18.  On board was not only an electronic boarding pass made out to Chesley Bonestell…
…but stashed underneath Perseverance was a small, rotor-winged craft named Ingenuity.  With its solar batteries charged up and everything else good-to-go, the Ingenuity helicopter is poised to fly above the surface of Mars. When it takes off, it will achieve the first controlled, powered flight on another celestial body. Besides making history, Ingenuity itself is carrying a piece of history: a tiny bit of muslin fabric taken from the Wright Flyer - the very plane Wilbur and Orville Wright used when they accomplished the first controlled, powered flight on our own planet in 1903.
Orville Wright pilots the Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk, NC on December 17, 1903


Forty years ago today, on April 12, 1981, America’s first Space Shuttle orbiter, Columbia, successfully lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center. It marked the beginning of an ambitious 30-year program that included the building of four other Shuttles that went into space: Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. The Shuttle was a radical departure from three previous NASA crewed space flight programs: Apollo, Skylab, and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.
Each Shuttle was designed to carry a crew of eight astronauts, and the Shuttles were the only reusable, crewed space vehicles with wings that have ever made multiple flights into orbit. The two solid rocket boosters seen here under the Shuttle’s wings were recovered and also used again.
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Way back in 1952, Chesley joined forces with rocket engineer Wernher von Braun to illustrate a series of articles in Collier’s magazine, called “Man Will Conquer Space Soon!” This painting is called Separation of the Third Stage of the Manned Ferry. It too, envisioned winged spacecraft with crews aboard.
The Shuttle was built as a tough, re-usable workhorse. Each vehicle had a projected lifespan of 100 launches and could carry as much as 25 tons of payload per flight. Space Shuttles were used for numerous scientific experiments and to put satellites and space probes in orbit as well as to recover ones that needed to be brought back down. In total, there were 102 Shuttle-related missions where satellites were launched, repaired, or retrieved.
The Hubble Telescope photographed above Earth
Among the program’s most notable accomplishments was the installation of the Hubble telescope in space. Incidentally, the Hubble celebrates its 31st birthday this month, having been launched on April 24, 1990.
Servicing the Hubble Telescope
To remedy design flaws in the Hubble that became evident once it was up in space, the Shuttle returned to correct them. The Shuttle was also used for four additional service missions on the Hubble.
The Whirlpool Galaxy M-51
The Hubble’s extraordinary photographs, taken without the interference of the Earth’s atmosphere, have provided views of the universe unparalleled in the history of astronomy.
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Our Galaxy, the Milky Way (1970) by Chesley Bonestell
Chesley Bonestell made this painting two decades before the Hubble found its home among the stars.
The International Space Station Under Construction
The Shuttle also played vital roles in the numerous missions that ferried astronauts and materials to help build and service the International Space Station, now 20 years old.
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In this 1952 painting, called Space Station, Ferry Rocket and Space Telescope 1,075 Miles above Central America, astronauts are depicted servicing a telescope in space. This illustration was a part of the Collier’s magazine series by Bonestell and von Braun.
The Space Shuttle’s wings allowed it to glide down from space and land at either Edwards Air Force Base in California or back at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it would be used again in future missions.
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Re-entry of the Third Stage over the Cape of Good Hope (1952)
by Chesley Bonestell
In a similar fashion, Bonestell and von Braun saw the advantages of using wings to glide back down through Earth’s atmosphere following the completion of space missions.
Atlantis landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California’s Mojave Desert
If a Shuttle landed in California, it needed to get back to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was accomplished by mounting the Shuttle on the back of a specially modified 747.
The finaI chapter of the Space Shuttle program came on July 21, 2011 when Space Shuttle Atlantis landed on Runway 15 at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility.
Endeavour on display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles
During the course of the 135 missions that encompassed the Space Shuttle Program, two orbiters were tragically lost: Columbia and Challenger. We remember and honor the fourteen brave astronauts who lost their lives in the fearless pursuit of space exploration.

All three remaining Shuttles that flew in space are now on display in museums.
- Atlantis is in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Discovery is in Virginia at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
- Endeavour is in Los Angeles at the California Science Center.
- Enterprise, built for testing purposes and never went into space, is in New York City at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

We congratulate NASA on the invaluable research the Space Shuttle Program provided and the great milestones it accomplished. With the Hubble, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the International Space Station and other spacecraft still in operation today, its legacy lives on.
-The Chesley Bonestell Team          
Post Script: Bonestell’s close brush with the Shuttle Program:

In the early 1970s, NASA asked aerospace companies and individual engineers to submit concepts for a reusable space plane. The engineering team of Rudi Beichel and Robert Salkeld proposed a large (171-feet-long), single-stage-to-orbit spacecraft nicknamed “The Flying Flatiron.”  Salkeld commissioned Chesley Bonestell to illustrate their space shuttle concept that would have been capable of carrying either passengers or cargo to low earth orbit.  
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Orbital Rocket Airplane over Novaya Zemlya (1976) by Chesley Bonestell
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All Chesley Bonestell images courtesy of Bonestell LLC
Copyright © 2021 Chesley Bonestell: A Brush With The Future, All rights reserved.

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