Interesting Facts about Space Shuttles

Space shuttles are not only very useful for traveling to space but are also known for the several records that they have broken over the years. [5] Space shuttles have been used by so many countries all over the world because of their uniqueness and wide range of uses that are not found in other modes of transportation.

Here is a list of 20 most interesting facts about space shuttles that makes them so popular with science, space, and aviation lovers:

1. A Space Shuttle’s Load Carrying Capacity

Each Space Shuttle can carry a payload of about 65,000 pounds into orbit. They can carry up to seven astronauts at one time plus equipment such as life support systems, science experiments, and other supplies needed for long-duration missions into space. [1]

2. A Space Shuttle has Three Main Engines

There are three main engines located at the back of each shuttle. These are called “SSMEs,” which stands for “Space Shuttle Main Engines.” Each SSME has two nozzles that turn 90 degrees towards each other when fired so that they create thrust in opposite directions. This helps push the shuttle forward through space by blowing air out of them at high speed! [2]

3. The Firsts in Space Shuttles

The first shuttle flight was in 1981. The last shuttle flight was mission STS-135 in 2011. There were 5 orbiters built, each with different capabilities: Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour.

The first launch of the Space Shuttle was STS-1 on April 12th, 1981, at Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) in Florida. There were 135 space shuttle launches total over the course of 30 years.

The first landing of a space shuttle was STS-2 on May 24th, 1982, at Edwards Air Force Base in California. There were 68 landings total over the course of 30 years. [7]

4. A Space Shuttle is the World’s First Reusable Spacecraft

The Space Shuttle was the world’s first reusable spacecraft. It was designed to be launched like a rocket, go into orbit like a satellite, and land like an airplane. The shuttle carried astronauts into orbit and back to Earth on missions lasting up to two weeks.

5. Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

The Space Shuttle Challenger was destroyed 73 seconds after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986, killing all seven astronauts aboard, including New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe. The cause of the accident was determined to be a faulty O-ring seal in one of the solid rocket boosters that caused a breach in the external tank resulting in the explosion of the shuttle. [12]

6. Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster killed all Astronauts aboard

The Columbia disintegrated during reentry on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard when a piece of foam insulation broke off and damaged the leading edge of its left-wing at launch 16 days earlier during launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station (ISS). [12] [13]

7. Space Shuttles Have Never Been Attacked by Enemies

The Space Shuttles have never been attacked by enemy forces or terrorists during their time in space, although some astronauts have reported seeing UFOs during missions. [14]

8. You Can Lose Weight in Space

An astronaut can be expected to lose 1% of their body weight each day spent in space due to loss of water through sweat or respiration out of the nostrils or mouth due to low atmospheric pressure in space vehicles. [15]

9. The Beginning of the Space Shuttle Program

The Space Shuttle program was a human spaceflight program operated by NASA, the space agency of the United States. The program was born out of a desire to recover from the tragedies of the Apollo 1 fire and other accidents caused by logistical failures. NASA has been launching unmanned spacecraft since 1958, but the launch of astronauts into space did not start until 1961 with Yuri Gagarin’s space flight. However, it wasn’t until 1972 that NASA began regularly launching manned missions into orbit.

The Space Shuttle Program began in 1972 with Columbia’s first launch on April 12th and concluded in 2011 with Atlantis’ final flight on July 8th. Since then, no manned missions have been launched into space by NASA or any other agency in the US or Europe. [16]

10. The Youngest and Oldest Astronauts to Fly on a Space Shuttle Mission

The youngest astronaut to fly on a space shuttle mission was Oliver Daemen, who was only 18 years old when he flew aboard Blue Origin NS-16, which launched on July 20, 2021. [3]

On the other hand, astronaut John Glenn was the first American to orbit Earth in 1962. He became the oldest person to reach space 35 years later when he flew aboard a space shuttle mission at 77. [4]

11. The Longest Orbital Flight of a Space Shuttle

The longest mission by an orbiter was the STS-80 Columbia, with a duration of 17 days and 15 hours. This flight was also the longest orbital flight in history. It took place on December 19 November 1996, and landed on December 7, 1996. [5]

12. John Young Was the First Person to Fly On a Space Shuttle

The first person to fly on a Space Shuttle was John Young on STS-1 in 1981. The second person to fly on a shuttle was Robert Crippen on STS-2 in 1982. The last person to fly on a shuttle was Chris Ferguson on STS-135 in 2011. [17]

13. The Manufacturer of the Original Space Shuttles

The five original shuttles were built by Rockwell International’s Space Transportation Systems Division. The space shuttle Atlantis was built by Martin Marietta Corporation, Challenger was built by Lockheed Martin Corporation, and Discovery and Endeavour were built by the Boeing Company. [19]

14. Seven Astronauts Can Easily Ride in Each Orbiter at One Time 

However, usually, only four would fly to orbit during each mission: two pilots and two mission specialists (who might be pilots on future missions). The payload specialist would not fly with the crew for that mission but would arrive at launch or reentry with them and return to Earth with them.

If there was an extra seat available, it could be taken up by an additional crew member during launch or reentry but not during other phases of the mission because of time constraints associated with those phases of flight and because they require full concentration from everyone involved in order to avoid any potential problems that might arise due to distractions.

15. Solid Rocket Boosters Play an Important Role during Takeoff

Solid Rocket Boosters were used on the Space Shuttle, and they burned a mixture of solid propellant and liquid oxygen. These boosters were made up of several segments, which were joined together in the orbiter’s Vertical Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They were then transported to the launch pad, where they were attached to the External Tank. 

The SRBs provided most of the thrust during the launch and powered the Shuttle into Earth orbit. When they ran out of fuel, they would be jettisoned so that they could not fall back to Earth with the remaining parts of the spacecraft. [11]

16. Space Shuttles are a Combination of a Rocket and an Airplane

Space shuttles took off like a rocket and landed like a plane. This meant that the shuttles could be reused instead of being destroyed in the atmosphere like rockets usually are. [10]

17. Top Speed of a Space Shuttle

The space shuttle travels at about 17,500 miles (28,000 kilometers) per hour. This speed allows crew members to see a sunrise or sunset almost every 45 minutes. [10]

18. Space Shuttle or Space Laboratory?

The space shuttle is much more than a mode of transport: it’s also a laboratory. The Spacelab module, which was carried into space on 22 missions, allowed scientists to conduct experiments in artificial weightlessness. [9]

Starting with the 1983 Challenger mission, animals became an integral part of experiments in microgravity. The STS-7 mission featured a reusable laboratory called Spacelab that allowed scientists to perform experiments on ants in a zero-gravity environment. And on STS-8, six rats were flown in the Animal Enclosure module to study animal behavior in space. [8]

19. Discovery has flown the Most Missions Compared to All the Other Orbiters

The Discovery has been involved in 39 missions since 1983. The Atlantis comes in second with 33 flights; The Endeavour comes in at third with a total of 25 missions.


In 2011, NASA made a historical moment when it retired the Space Shuttle fleet. The shuttle program had started more than 30 years before and spanned more than 135 launches, with an estimated cost of $209 billion. [7] [8]

Space shuttles can now be viewed in museums all over America. They’re an important and interesting part of our history, so we should check out some exhibits in order to learn more about space exploration.


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  2. Administrator, N. (2013, June 5). History of the Space Shuttle Main Engines. NASA.
  3. Johnson, L. (2021, December 2). 9 Youngest Astronauts to Ever Go to Space.
  4. Slotnik, D. E. (2021, October 13). At 90, William Shatner becomes the oldest person to reach “the final frontier.” The New York Times.
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  10. Magazine, S., & Edwards, O. (n.d.). The Day Two Astronauts Said They Saw a U.F.O. Wearing a Red Suit. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from
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  13. The First Space Shuttle: 40 Years Since STS-1. (n.d.).
  14. Kennedy, J. F., & Space Center. (2012). National Aeronautics and Space Administration.‌
  15. Shuttle. (n.d.).