The California Science Center is launching virtual reality tours of Space Shuttle Endeavour later this week, giving the spacecraft a new mission: educating and
What are some lesser known facts about NASA’s Space Shuttles?
After 30 years of service, NASA’s fleet of three space shuttles is standing down for good.
The final shuttle mission planned, the , is scheduled for July 8. After that, the orbiters will be headed to museums to live out their lives on public display.
As we say goodbye to the iconic reusable space planes, here are eight surprising shuttle facts to keep in mind:
NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour appears to hang off one end of the International Space Station in this photo taken by an astronaut aboard a nearby Soyuz spacecraft on May 23, 2011 during Endeavour’s final mission. It is one of the first-ever images of a space shuttle docked at the space station.
1. Top speed
While in orbit, the space shuttle travels around Earth at a speed of about 17,500 miles (28,000 kilometers) per hour. At this speed, the crew can see a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes. [ ]
The space shuttle Endeavour glides back to Earth on Jan. 20, 1996, after nine days in space on the STS-72 mission. The orbiter is about to touch down on Runway 15 at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
2. Well traveled
The combined mileage of all five orbiters is 513.7 million miles (826.7 million km), or 1.3 times the distance between Earth and Jupiter. Each orbiter, except for Challenger, traveled farther than the distance between Earth and the sun.
President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Malia, left, Sasha, and Mrs. Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, walk under the landing gear of the space shuttle Atlantis. Astronaut Janet Kavandi and United Space Alliance project lead for thermal protection systems Terry White conduct the tour of Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Friday, April 29, 2011.
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
3. Presidential attention
Only one president has been on hand to witness a space shuttle launch. President Bill Clinton, along with his wife Hillary Clinton, watched Mercury astronaut John Glenn’s return to space on the STS-95 flight on Oct. 29, 1998 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
President Obama had planned to watch the shuttle Endeavor lift off on its final mission STS-134, on April 29, 2011, but that launch was delayed. The President and his family did visit the spaceport anyway.
The Spacelab-1 (SL-1) module in orbiter Columbia’s payload bay during the STS-9 shuttle mission.
4. Space science
The space shuttle isn’t just a mode of transport: It’s a laboratory, too. There have been 22 Spacelab missions, or missions where science, astronomy, and physics have been studied inside a special module carried on the space shuttle. [ ]
Spacelab, a reusable laboratory built for use on space shuttle flights, allowed scientists to perform experiments in microgravity . Starting in 1983’s Challenger missions, animals became a prime component of space science. On the STS-7 mission, the social activities of ant colonies in zero gravity were examined, and during STS-8, six rats were flown in the Animal Enclosure module to study animal behavior in space.
This view from a camera mounted on the external fuel tank of space shuttle Atlantis shows the spacecraft as it nears its final orbit after a successful launch from Florida on May 16, 2010. Moments later, the tank was jettisoned as planned.
Credit: NASA TV
5. Taking the heat
The space shuttle’s Thermal Protection System, or heat shield, contains more than 30,000 tiles that are constructed essentially of sand.
All of the tiles are thoroughly inspected before liftoff – they are a crucial tool that allows the space shuttle to endure the intense heat endured when the shuttle re-enters Earth’s atmosphere to land. After the tiles are heated to peak temperature, the tiles can cool fast enough to be held in your hand only a minute later.
The shuttle Columbia lifts off on the first space shuttle mission ever, STS-1, on April 12, 1981.
6. Packing on the pounds
The heaviest space shuttle orbiter, Columbia, weighed 178,000 pounds (80,700 kg), roughly the weight of 13 African Elephants.
Columbia, the , weighed the most because NASA was still searching for lighter materials to use, and integrated some of these into the later orbiters.
7. Official monikers
The space shuttle program is officially known as the Space Transportation System (STS), and so each shuttle mission is designated with the prefix “STS.”
Initially, the missions were given sequential numbers indicating their order of launch, from STS-1 through STS-9. However, because the then-NASA administrator James Beggs suffered from triskaidekaphobia (the fear of the number 13) and wanted to avoid associations with the unlucky Apollo 13 mission, the agency drew up a new numbering system for space shuttle missions, according to NASA history accounts by several astronauts at time.
What would have been STS-11 was named STS-41-B, STS-12 became STS-41-C, and STS-13 was STS-41-D. The first number was the last digit in the fiscal year (1984), the second number indicated the launch site (1 for Kennedy Space Center, and 6 for Vandenberg Air Force Base), and the letter indicated the sequence (A was the first launch of the year, and so on).
After the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster, when that orbiter and its STS-51-L mission crew were lost, the agency resumed the sequential numbering system, starting with STS-26.
STS-125 Mission Specialist Mike Massimino s helped by a suit technician to don a harness over his launch and entry suit before entering space shuttle Atlantis for a simulated launch countdown.
Credit: NASA/Amanda Diller.
8. Tweeting from space
On May 11, 2009, astronaut Michael J. Massimino, a crewmember of the space shuttle Atlantis’ STS-125 mission, became the first person to use the microblogging site .
Writing as @Astro_Mike, he tweeted “From orbit: Launch was awesome!! I am feeling great, working hard, & enjoying the magnificent views, the adventure of a lifetime has begun!”
Since then, many astronauts from NASA and other space agencies have posted Twitter messages from space. One, NASA spaceflyer Doug Wheelock, won a Twitter Shorty Award earlier this year for the posts and photos he shared from space using the website during his months-long stay aboard the International Space Station.
For NASA’s final space shuttle mission, all four of Atlantis’ crewmembers have Twitter alias. They are: commander Chris Ferguson (@ ), pilot Doug Hurley (@ ), mission specialist Sandy Magnus (@ ) and mission specialist Rex Walheim (@ ).
Atlantis’s final mission is STS-135 and will fly a 12-day mission to deliver vital supplies and spare parts to the International Space Station. NASA is retiring all three of its shuttles after 30 years to make way for a new program aimed at sending astronauts on deep space missions to an asteroid and other targets.
9. $209 Billion: The estimated total cost of NASA’s 30-year space shuttle program from development through its retirement.
10. 3,513,638: The weight in pounds of cargo that NASA’s space shuttles have launched into orbit. That’s more than half the payload weight of every single space launch in history since 1957 combined.
11. 229,132: The amount of cargo (in pounds) that NASA’s shuttles have returned to Earth from space through 2010.
12. 198,728.5: The number of man-hours NASA shuttles spent in space during their 30-year history. That’s about 8,280 days of manned spaceflight, NASA officials said.
13. 20,830: The number of orbits of Earth completed by NASA shuttles before the last 13-day mission of Atlantis during the STS-135 flight. Atlantis will add another 200 orbits to that tally.
14. 3,000: The scorching hot temperatures (in Fahrenheit) experienced by NASA shuttles in the hottest moments of atmospheric re-entry during landing.
15. 1,323: Number of days in space spent during NASA shuttle flights between April 1981 and July 2011. That includes the 13 days of the final shuttle flight, as well as the other 31,440 hours, 59 minutes and 33 seconds of all 134 other missions.
16. 833: The total number of crew members of all 135 space shuttle missions, with some individuals riding multiple times and 14 astronauts killed during the Challenger and Columbia accidents.
17. 789: The number of astronauts and cosmonauts who have returned to Earth on a NASA shuttle. Some spaceflyers actually launched into orbit on Russian Soyuz vehicles and returned home on a shuttle.
18. 355: The actual number of individual astronauts and cosmonauts who have flown on the space shuttle. That breaks down to 306 men and 49 women hailing from 16 different countries.
19. 234: The total number of days space shuttle astronauts spent at the International Space Station between 1998 and 2011, the construction phase of the orbiting laboratory.
20. 180: The total number of satellites and other payloads, including components for the International Space Station, deployed by NASA space shuttles.
21. 135: Total number of NASA space shuttle missions that will have flown between 1981 and 2011. NASA added the prefix of “STS” (Space Transportation System) to each shuttle mission. Of the 135 missions, 133 flights went as planned, with two ending in disaster.
22. 52: The total number of satellites, space station components and other payloads returned from orbit on NASA shuttle missions.
23. 37: The number of times a NASA shuttle has docked at the International Space Station during the outpost’s lifetime.
24. 14: The numberastronauts killed during the space shuttle Challenger accident of 1986 and Columbia accident in 2003. They are: (Challenger’s STS-51-L Crew) Commander Francis “Dick” Scobee, pilot Mike Smith, mission specialists Judy Resnik, Ellison Onizuka and Ron McNair, and payload specialists Greg Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe; (Columbia’s STS-107 Crew) Commander Rick Husband; pilot William McCool; mission specialists Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla and Laurel Clark, and payload specialist Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut.
25. 9: The number of times a NASA shuttle docked at Russia’s space station Mir between 1994 and 1998.
26. 8: The largest number of astronauts to fly on a NASA shuttle at one time. It happened at least twice: during the STS-61A shuttle mission in 1985, then again in 1995 during the STS-71 flight’s return from the Russian Space Station Mir.
27. 7: The total number of missions by shuttle astronauts to retrieve, repair and then redeploy a satellite in orbit.
28. 5: NASA’s final tally for the number of spaceworthy vehicles built for the space shuttle fleet. The shuttles that have launched into space are: Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. Challenger and Columbia were lost during spaceflight tragedies.
Another shuttle prototype, the Enterprise vehicle, only flew in Earth’s atmosphere and never launched into orbit.
29. 3: The number of main landing sites for NASA space shuttles at the end of their missions. They are: the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (primary site), Edwards Air Force Base in California (backup), White Sands Space Harbor in White Sands, New Mexico (backup).
In addition to these three sites, NASA has a long list of airport runways that could be suitable for a shuttle landing in an emergency.
30. 2: The final number of female space shuttle commanders after 30 years of shuttle flight. They are: U.S. Air Force Col. (retired) Eileen Collins and U.S. Air Force Col. (retired) Pamela Melroy.
31. 1: The number of NASA’s Original Seven Mercury astronauts to fly on a NASA shuttle. In October 1998, Mercury astronaut John Glenn launched on the space shuttle Discovery during the STS-95 mission. At age 77, Glenn (then a U.S. Senator) was the oldest person ever to fly in space. Glenn celebrated his 90th birthday this week during NASA’s final shuttle flight.
NASA is retiring the space shuttle fleet to make way for a new exploration program aimed at sending astronauts on deep space missions to an asteroid and, eventually, Mars.