The space shuttle itself was a scientific marvel. It required scientists and engineers to tackle tough problems, and their solutions led to advances in technology. The material used to insulate shuttles from extreme heat, for example, now protects NASCAR drivers. The shuttle's fuel pump inspired doctors to create a new device that helps people in heart failure. A lighting system used to help grow plants on the shuttle is now used to help treat brain tumors in children. Science on the shuttle is now used in infrared cameras, jewelry design and safety devices.
Science projects on the shuttle "showed people what was possible, and then people could improve equipment on the ground," says astronaut Janice Voss, who went on five shuttle missions, during which she circled the Earth 779 times.
Astronaut Crippen says the shuttle program gave science a boost. "People going to war drives technology, but it's better to do it with a peaceful endeavor like flying people into space," he says. "It brings the world together. The more we work together with other nations, the better off the world will be."
The shuttle played an important role in two of the biggest space projects to date: the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station (ISS).