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Facts about the Size of the Space Shuttle

written by: •edited by: George Adcock•updated: 6/21/2010

You’ve probably seen the Space Shuttle launch a dozen times, and have seen images of it as it approaches or leaves the International Space Station, but it is difficult to get a perspective on how big the shuttle is. Read on for some information on the size of the Space Shuttle.

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    Anatomy Of The Shuttle

    The Space Shuttle, or the Orbiter, as it commonly referred to, can be divided into three main sections:Space Shuttle Main Sections - Image courtesy of NASA 

    1) The Forward Fuselage, which contains the crew cabin and is about 44 feet (13.4 m) long.

    2) The Mid Fuselage, which contains the cargo bay is about 60 feet (18.3 m) long

    3) The Aft Fuselage, which contains the OMS, or Orbital Maneuvering System and is 18 feet (5.5 m) long.

    To sum up the overall size of the space shuttle:

    • The length of the Orbiter is 122 feet (37.2 m).
    • The height to the top of the rudder when the craft is on the ground is 57 feet (17.4 m).
    • The overall wingspan of the Orbiter is 78 feet (23.8 m).
    • Empty, the shuttle weighs in at 151,205 lbs (68,586 kg).

    The width of the shuttle varies from 17 feet (5.2 m) at the Mid Fuselage to 22 feet (6.7 m) at the Aft Fuselage. The payload bay doors stretch 22.7 feet (6.9 m) when they are open and serve as heat radiators to keep the shuttle cool while in orbit.

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    How Big Is That?

    So just what is the size of the space shuttle? Well, a typical city bus is about 40 feet (12.2 m) long, so the Forward Fuselage is just about the size of a city bus. The payload bay could hold about one and a half city buses, while the Aft Fuselage is only about as long as half a bus. Or, if you know your passenger planes, it’s about the size and weight of a DC-9.

    Shuttle in Orbit - Image courtesy of NASA 

    The original concept for the Orbiter had a smaller cargo bay and wingspan, but due to the need to have the military help fund the development of the shuttle program they required some changes. The satellites the Pentagon and Air Force wanted to put into orbit were much larger than what NASA had planned, and they also had launch and orbital requirements that dictated the need for the larger delta-wing structure. Ultimately, these modifications have come in handy for launching the larger elements needed for the International Space Station.

    When you consider that the Hubble Space Telescope is 43.5 feet (13.2 m) long and 14 feet (4.2 m) wide, you can see that it almost filled the payload bay, which can handle a 15 foot (4.6 m) diameter object. Some of the components brought up to the ISS left only inches to spare on either side of bay.

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    Sizing It All Up

    For its size, the space shuttle has lifted an amazing array, and total mass of objects into space. It is not a perfect transportation system, but it has proven itself competent as a cargo carrier to low Earth orbit.

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    References and Credits

    http://www.nasa.gov/returntoflight/system/system_Orbiter.html

    http://skywalking1.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/space-shuttle-an-astronaut-looks-at-its-legacy/