When Nasa’s Space Shuttle programme retires, the fleet of five space shuttles will have:
* Flown 135 missions
* Made more than 20 000 orbits of the Earth
* Carried 363 people (some multiple times)
* Spent a total of more than 1 300 days aloft.
At peak thrust, the shuttle’s engines burn nearly 300 000 kg of solid fuel and 170 000 litres of liquid hydrogen every minute, accelerating the massive craft from 0 to 28 160 km/h – and into orbit – in 8,5 minutes.
The shuttle’s longest mission lasted more than 17 days. Its shortest was, sadly, also its best-known: the doomed 1-minute, 13-second flight of the Challenger in 1986.
Between the Challenger disaster and the loss of Columbia in 2003, the shuttle programme has cost the lives of 14 astronauts.
Conceived as a practical, affordable workhorse, it turned out to be, with total costs of well over R7 billion per launch, wickedly expensive.
The programme had an overall failure rate of one per 67 missions.