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Shuttle by the numbers

How big is the shuttle? How fast does it fly? And how far does it go? Get the basics about the space shuttle.
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How big is the shuttle?

  • The shuttle measures 122.2 feet long, 56.67 feet high, with wingspan of 78.06 feet. The height of the full shuttle stack, including the external fuel tank, is 184.2 feet. Gross weight is 4.5 million pounds at liftoff. That’s almost four times as weighty as the heaviest airplane ever built, the 1.2-million-pound Russian An-225 airplane. But when it returns, the orbiter weighs 230,000 pounds, about as much as a Boeing 757 jet.
  • The cargo bay measures 60 feet long and 15 feet in diameter, and can carry cargo equivalent to the size of a school bus. Maximum payload is 29.5 metric tons, or 32.5 U.S. tons. The average school bus weighs 15 tons.

How much money is involved?

  • Researchers estimated in 2005 that the average cost of a shuttle mission would be $1.3 billion over the life of the program, and roughly $1 billion for the last five years of operation.
  • NASA says that salaries for civilian astronaut candidates are based on the federal government's General Schedule pay scale for grades GS-12 through GS-13. Each person's grade is determined according to his or her academic achievements and experience. According to the figures cited by NASA, a GS-12 starts at $65,140 per year and a GS-13 can earn up to $100,701 per year. However, those figures are adjusted to reflect different localities, and civilian astronauts in Houston would receive higher pay levels. Military astronauts receive the salary associated with their rank and experience.

How fast does the shuttle fly?

  • Like any other object in low Earth orbit, the shuttle must reach speeds of about 17,500 miles per hour to remain in orbit. The exact speed depends on the shuttle's orbital altitude, which normally ranges from 190 to 330 miles above sea level, depending on the mission.
  • During ascent, astronauts feel a maximum acceleration of 3 G’s, or three times the force of gravity on Earth’s surface. Most roller coasters give riders a maximum rush of 3 to 5 G’s.

How far does the shuttle go?

  • A typical flight plan calls for 250 orbits, giving each crew member about 6.6 million frequent-flier miles.