This is “Chemical Reactions and Equations”, chapter 4 from the book Beginning Chemistry (v. 1.0).
This book is licensed under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa 3.0 license. See the license for more details, but that basically means you can share this book as long as you credit the author (but see below), don't make money from it, and do make it available to everyone else under the same terms.
This content was accessible as of December 29, 2012, and it was downloaded then by Andy Schmitz in an effort to preserve the availability of this book.
Normally, the author and publisher would be credited here. However, the publisher has asked for the customary Creative Commons attribution to the original publisher, authors, title, and book URI to be removed. Additionally, per the publisher's request, their name has been removed in some passages. More information is available on this project's attribution page.
For more information on the source of this book, or why it is available for free, please see the project's home page. You can browse or download additional books there. You may also download a PDF copy of this book (40 MB) or just this chapter (3 MB), suitable for printing or most e-readers, or a .zip file containing this book's HTML files (for use in a web browser offline).
The space shuttle—and any other rocket-based system—uses chemical reactions to propel itself into space and maneuver itself when it gets into orbit. The rockets that lift the orbiter are of two different types. The three main engines are powered by reacting liquid hydrogen with liquid oxygen to generate water. Then there are the two solid rocket boosters, which use a solid fuel mixture that contains mainly ammonium perchlorate and powdered aluminum. The chemical reaction between these substances produces aluminum oxide, water, nitrogen gas, and hydrogen chloride. Although the solid rocket boosters each have a significantly lower mass than the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tanks, they provide over 80% of the lift needed to put the shuttle into orbit—all because of chemical reactions.
Chemistry is largely about chemical changes. Indeed, if there were no chemical changes, chemistry as such would not exist! Chemical changes are a fundamental part of chemistry. Because chemical changes are so central, it may be no surprise that chemistry has developed some special ways of presenting them.