the NASA Shuttle Program

Fish-eye view of the Space Shuttle Atlantis as seen from the Russian Mir space station during the STS-71 mission.

Fish-eye view of the Space Shuttle Atlantis as seen from the Russian Mir space station during the STS-71 mission.

During the 1970s, the focus of the American space program shifted to the development of a national space transportation system, the central element of which would be a fleet of reusable space shuttles.

In 1972 Rockwell International (renamed from “North American Rockwell” that same year) was awarded a key contract, and the Downey plant once again had an historic role to play in the space program: the subassembly and component manufacture and testing of the first reusable spacecraft – the Space Shuttle orbiters. Over the next 13 years, six orbiters were constructed at the Downey plant: The Enterprise (test craft), the Columbia, the Challenger, the Discovery, the Atlantis, and the Endeavor.

The Space Shuttle Discovery touches down following one of its many missions.

The Space Shuttle Discovery touches down following one of its many missions.

Boeing bought Rockwell’s aerospace and defense business in 1996 and continued on a smaller scale at the Downey plant to provide design support for the next generation of missiles, customer-required shuttle modifications and payload-cargo integration, until 1999, when the remaining activities were relocated to other sites and the NASA site was closed.