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Southern California played major role in space shuttle technology

July 5, 2011 | 11:06 am

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When the nation’s last space shuttle blasts off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Friday, it will mark the beginning of the end of a four-decade-long program steeped in American ingenuity.

In an article in Tuesday’s Times, we take a look at the shuttle program's high technology and its lasting imprint on Southern California’s economy.

Work on the shuttle program began in 1972 as the Apollo moon landings were coming to an end. The shuttle program marked a new era in human spaceflight and called for a quantum leap in space technology, as the article says:

Before the shuttle, astronauts reached space by squeezing into a small capsule launched atop a massive rocket. By the time the shuttle was in design, the space program was looking for ways to keep as many as seven astronauts in orbit for weeks at a time in relative comfort.

To do this, scientists and engineers had to rethink nearly every aspect of the endeavor, notably flight controls, rocket engines and protection from searing heat generated by reentry.

Along with the story, there’s an interactive graphic that showcases some of the California companies that built parts of the shuttle. There’s also a photo gallery with historic pictures of the shuttles and three panoramas of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne’s rocket engine assembly plant.

The countdown has begun for the last space shuttle, Atlantis, which is slated for launch Friday at 8:21 a.m. Pacific time. If you’re interested, you can watch the shuttle launch on NASA’s website.

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-- W.J. Hennigan

twitter.com/wjhenn

Photo: Space shuttle Discovery is rolled down Avenue M in Palmdale from its assembly plant at Air Force Plant 42 to Edwards Air Force Base in preparation for its piggy-back flight to Florida in 1983 atop a 747. Credit: George R. Fry / Los Angeles Times

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