"Science and science fiction, how do you even distinguish the two?"
The Nautilus, a passenger spacecraft, was in orbit around Venus. What was the best way for a passenger like Don Harvey to get to the surface?
And how could such a ship find its way safely back to a designated landing site on the surface of the planet? By using, as Heinlein points out, the energy it had already built up in gaining orbit:
(Space Shuttle Columbia)
Note that in Heinlein's "design" the shuttle ship uses a catapult to reach ramjet speed; rocket engines are used only in the last part of the launch. The actual Space Shuttle uses a large external fuel tank with solid fuel boosters to reach orbit.
Thanks to Larry for pointing this one out, and supplying the references.
Compare to this entry, the first use of the phrase "space shuttle", in Hell Ship of Space (1940) by Frederic Arnold Kummer, Jr..
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