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Nothing But The Facts - Space Shuttle

written by: Sean Fears•edited by: RC Davison•updated: 4/1/2009

The Space Shuttle is the world's first reusable spacecraft as well as the workhorse on which the International Space Station depends. Learn a little of what makes this machine such an incredible accomplishment.

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    Facts About The Shuttle:

    800px-151883main ISS013E48791 hi nasa 

    Official Name: While that name is the one that almost everyone recognizes, the full name is the Space Transportation System, or STS. The STS is comprised of the Orbiter, Solid Rocket Boosters, and External Tank.

    Date started: The program was officially announced by President Nixon on 5 January 1972, and contracts were awarded for the major components that same year.

    Contractors: North American Rockwell/Rockwell International (Orbiter), Rocketdyne (SSMEs) Morton Thiokol (SRBs), Martin Marietta/Lockheed Martin (ET).

    Wingspan: 78 feet

    Length (STS): 184 feet

    Gross Take-Off Weight: 4.4 Million pounds

    Empty Weight, Shuttle: 165,000 pounds

    Thrust, Solid Rocket Booster: 2,650,000 pounds

    Thrust, Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME): 375,000 pounds

    Fuel consumption, SSMEs: 3,105 pounds per second at 100% of rated thrust

    Payload capability: 50,000 lbs to low-Earth orbit

    Velocity at Main Engine Cut-Off (MECO): 17,500 miles per hour

    Maximum aerodynamic heating on atmospheric entry: 2,750 degrees Fahrenheit

    First Flight: 12 April 1981

    Longest mission: 17.5 days

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    Amazing Facts

    • The Space Shuttle's Thermal Protection System is comprised of over thirty thousand tiles, all of which are inspected following a mission. Though they can withstand remarkably high temperatures, they are essentially constructed of (very pure) sand! In fact, one can be heated to peak temperature, yet become cool enough to be held in a bare hand within a minute of being removed from the heat source.
    • While the Shuttle's general purpose computers were state of the art at the time of their design, the average PDA today has far more raw computing power. The integrated data processors used for the Multifunction Electronic Display System ("glass cockpit"), for instance, employ 80386 processors running at 16 MHz, and the dedicated hard drive is a 300 MB model.
    • The cost of the Shuttle program, while far less than that of the Apollo program, still works out to an average of $1.1 billion per launch, high enough to counter the cost effectiveness argument for Shuttle. For comparison, the Delta IV Heavy, a USAF launcher with a comparable payload, has a cost of approximately $250 million, but it is not man-rated and cannot carry humans.