Final shuttle launch for Discovery: Was shuttle program worth it?

For 30 years, the space shuttle launch has served as the centerpiece of the US space program. But Feb. 24 will mark the last shuttle launch of Discovery, with the final flight of Endeavour to follow in April and – if there's enough money – Atlantis's last flight of the entire program in June. Here are five questions about what the shuttles have – and haven't – accomplished.

John Raoux/AP/File
Space shuttle Discovery begins its journey from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39a at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Jan. 31.

1. Why did the US build the shuttle?

Visionary rocket scientist Wernher von Braun explains the model of a manned spaceship to be used for flying to the moon in 1957. He was an early proponent of a space shuttle program.

For many space enthusiasts, including Wernher von Braun, who headed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Marshall Space Flight Center from 1960 to 1970, a shuttle of some sort was part of an overall long-term vision for the US human-spaceflight program that dated to the early 1950s.

The vision included a winged craft that could carry crews and cargo and be used to loft and repair satellites, and a space station as a jumping-off point for exploring the moon and eventually Mars. Proponents also argued that reusable shuttles would be more economical than rockets that were good for only one launch.

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