• Length:
    12 Weeks
  • Effort:
    4–5 hours per week
  • Price:

    FREE
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  • Institution
  • Subject:
  • Level:
    Intermediate
  • Language:
    English
  • Video Transcript:
    English

Prerequisites

None

About this course

Skip About this course
For 30 years the Space Shuttle enabled human spaceflight in the United States and partner nations. Learn all about the Shuttle with this unique course, which also serves as a unique historical record. Since the lecturers are the same people who designed, built and operated the Shuttle, this is a first-hand testimonial to the world’s first reusable spacecraft. 

This course examines how the Space Shuttle was designed and how its design was influenced by economics and politics. The course goes into detail on many of the Shuttle’s subsystems (e.g. rocket engines, thermal protection, aerodynamics, environmental control and life support, communications, etc.) and explains how the Shuttle was operated (launch, mission control, payloads, etc.). The course also uses the Space Shuttle to present the fundamentals of Systems Engineering.

Students will gain a systems perspective on the complexities of Shuttle development and its operations. It explores both the Shuttle’s successes and its shortcomings and has valuable object lessons for future space initiatives. The Shuttle is a valuable case study in the advantages and difficulties involved in reusable space systems - particularly relevant today as reusability is a key requirement of many rockets and spacecraft currently under development.

In addition, understanding how the Shuttle was first conceived and how it achieved governmental approval is relevant for understanding how politics and economics interact with technology on all large public programs.

The lectures are organized in three fundamental sections: history and policy, technical design of Shuttle systems, and how the Shuttle was operated. Although the sections relate to one another, students can benefit from any of the sections independently.

This course does not require advanced mathematics. It is targeted to students with a variety of interests including the history of human spaceflight, space policy, the design of human spaceflight systems, the operation of complex space systems, and principles of systems engineering. 

Image courtesy of NASA: https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/thumbnails/image/739339main_space_shuttle_challenger_04-04-1983.jpg

What you'll learn

Skip What you'll learn
  • Fundamentals of Systems Engineering
  • How a major technical program gets governmental approval
  • Design of human spaceflight systems
  • Operation of complex spaceflight systems
Section 1 – Origins of the Space Shuttle Program (4 Lectures on History and Policy)
  • Introduction to Systems Engineering
Section 2 – Space Shuttle Subsystems
  • Structures and Thermal Protection
  • Rocket Engines
  • Aerodynamics
  • Mechanisms
  • Hydraulic Systems
  • Environmental Control and Life Support
  • Guidance, Navigation and Control
Section 3 – Operating the Space Shuttle
  • Launch Operations
  • Shuttle Abort Modes
  • Mission Control
  • Payload Operations
  • Extravehicular Activity (Spacewalking)
  • Shuttle Accident Investigations
  • Flight Testing the Space Shuttle

Meet your instructors

Jeffrey Hoffman
Former NASA Astronaut, Professor
MIT
Aaron Cohen
Former Director, NASA Johnson Space Center, Space Shuttle Orbiter Program Manager
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Frequently asked questions

Q: Do I have to listen to all the lectures in order to benefit from the course?

A: No. Most lectures can be appreciated on their own.
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Q: Will this course be too technical?

A: Some of the subsystems lectures in Section 2 go into considerable technical detail. Most of these lectures begin and end with overall summaries, which should be accessible to people with little technical background. Sections 1 and 3 are non-technical.

Who can take this course?

Unfortunately, learners from one or more of the following countries or regions will not be able to register for this course: Iran, Cuba and the Crimea region of Ukraine. While edX has sought licenses from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to offer our courses to learners in these countries and regions, the licenses we have received are not broad enough to allow us to offer this course in all locations. EdX truly regrets that U.S. sanctions prevent us from offering all of our courses to everyone, no matter where they live.