Shuttle’s end

Shuttle's end
Date:1 May 2011 Tags:,

The US space shuttle programme, which comes to an end in June, leaves a complicated legacy. No other craft has carried as many crew and as much cargo as the fleet of space planes, but they fell short on promises to lower launch costs. Expensive upgrades, a lapsing mission rate and two fatal accidents mar the shuttle’s record.

“People don’t recognise what an incredible piece of equipment and engineering the space shuttle was,” says Mae Jemison, an astronaut who flew on Endeavour in 1992. “The magic left after the Challenger disaster. We started thinking it’s dangerous and stopped thinking we could do difficult things.” Atlantis is scheduled to perform the final mission, resupplying the International Space Station (ISS). Nasa will then buy seats on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to get astronauts into orbit; US private companies have been tapped to deliver cargo to the ISS. – Alyson Sheppard

5 space planes

Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour

First delivered
March 1979, Columbia

Total flight time (as of January 2011)
1289 days, 36minutes, 29 seconds

Expected launches

Actual launches

Shuttles lost
2 (Challenger 1986, Columbia 2003)

Total passengers/crew

Rollbacks from launchpad
Reason for delay
Mechanical – 10
Weather – 5
Payload – 2
Bird damage – 1
Hail damage – 1


Failure rate
1 in every 67.5 missions

Rate of solid fuel consumption during takeoff
299 371 kg per minute

Speed in orbit
28 000 km/h

Time to orbit
8,5 minutes

Rate of liquid fuel consumption during takeoff
170 000 litres of liquid hydrogen per minute
64 000 litres of liquid oxygen per minute

G-Force at launch
3 G’s

Landing spped at touchdown
354 km/h

"The vast majority of the shuttle programme was a success. We learned so much about how a reusable spacecraft interacts with its environment, how it ages – and what to design next time."
– COL. EILEEN COLLINS, two-time shuttle commander and member of NASA’s Advisory Council