The shuttles, in contrast, turned out to be complex and delicate. They were mounted on the side of their booster rockets and fuel tank, so debris falling from them often hit the orbiter -- with fatal results in the Columbia accident in 2003.
When Ares launches the space shuttle Atlantis will be sitting on launch pad 39A, a mile away, waiting for its turn in November. It is part of a fleet that started flying 30 years ago, and while it may be an old design, it is still a remarkable vehicle, says astronaut John Phillips.
"It is still the only reusable spacecraft. No one else has one," he said. "It will fly for 30 years and do things no other spacecraft can do, and no other spacecraft in the foreseeable future can do -- carry these big things up, and grab it with a robot arm, and dock to the space station, and bolt something on the side, and send spacewalkers out, and launch satellites, and do scientific laboratory experiments, all of these things together. It is a remarkable vehicle. Designed by guys in the 1970s with slide rules and pocket protectors, it is pretty remarkable."