ANSWERS: 3
  • The Space Shuttle does land on its own when returning. Or do you mean "why does it need help from a control tower when it lands?" Although the astronauts are highly trained, like any good pilots they still need ground control to guide them in upon landing. Perhaps you mean "Why can't the Space Shuttle take-off on its own when leaving Earth?" In that case you must look towards the extremely large amount of force needed to overcome the pull of gravity on such a large object as the Space Shuttle. It takes a tremendous amount of thrust to propel something that large out of the Earth's atmosphere. You can therefore think of the Space Shuttle in two parts: the Shuttle itself (which need very little propulsion to move in the vacuum of space) and the "rocket" it rides on to escape the Earth's atmosphere (lots of thrust and engine and fuel). Essentially this "rocket" is made up of fuel tanks and engines. Once the fuel runs out the tanks and engines are released and fall to Earth (carefully choreographed to fall into an empty patch of ocean and be recovered by NASA.)
  • I going to guess the question has to do with why the Space Shuttle makes a "dead stick" glider landing, rather than a powered landing as a jet. That non-powered landing is inconvenient at times, and means that there is only one pass to get it right, no wave off and try again. It's a matter of weight and other practical factors. In order to use the Shuttle's rocket engines for landing power, it would be necessary to carry a supply of fuel and oxygen into orbit, probably equivalent to that huge drop tank used for launch. That would probably eliminate the capacity for any payload. That fuel is actually rather troublesome to handle in that quantity for the length of a flight; that's why the tank is filled only in the final hours before launch. To equip the Shuttle with jet engines and fuel sufficient for the purpose would also cost an enormous amount of weight and space. The shuttle is about Getting Big Loads Into Orbit. The existing system has found a way to land for free, in terms of weight and space.
  • The US space shuttle requires pilots to operate equipment during landing and does not have a full "autopilot" capability. The Soviet / Russian Braun space shuttle was capable of fully automatic landing without human aid - but this program was abandoned for cost cutting reasons after just one mission.

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