NASA's Space Shuttle, officially named the Space Transportation System (STS), is the spacecraft currently used by the United States government for its human spaceflight missions and is scheduled to be retired from service in 2010. At launch, it consists of a rust-colored external tank (ET), two white, slender Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs), and the orbiter, which is a winged spaceplane in the narrowest sense.
The orbiter carries astronauts and payload such as satellites or space station parts into low earth orbit, into the Earth's upper atmosphere or thermosphere. Usually, five to seven crew members ride in the orbiter. The payload capacity is 22,700 kilograms (50,000 lb). When the orbiter's mission is complete it fires its Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) thrusters to drop out of orbit and re-enters the lower atmosphere. During the descent, the shuttle orbiter decelerates from hypersonic speed primarily by aerobraking and then for the landing phase it acts as a glider, making a completely unpowered (deadstick) landing.
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