Shuttling into space Spacecraft: for 15 years, NASA'sshuttles have journeyed into space. Next week its first -- Columbia -- is scheduled to lift of agian.



If all goes well, the Space Shuttle Columbia will be in orbit again tomorrow.

Think of it: A boxy, stubby-winged, tempermental craft that weighs 181,000 pounds, in service since 1981. You might think twice before driving cross-country in a 1981 car. Columbia has logged 77.5 million miles during its previous 20 flights, has orbited the earth 2,944 times and is booked for use through 2002.

Columbia and its three sibling shuttles are best known for their distinctive shape and for the program's low-point the shuttle Challenger exploding Jan. 28, 1986 in a fireball caused by a leak in one of its solid-fuel rocket boosters.

Their high-point came in Dec. 1993, when the crew of Endeavour successfully repaired the faulty vision of the Hubble Space Telescope. That mission helped resurrect NASA's "right-stuff" image and may have saved the the space station program, now NASA's top priority.

Shuttles have lofted satellites, scientists, honey bees, candles, frogs, seeds and legislators into orbit. The crew of Columbia is this time scheduled to be busy for 16 days retrieving and deploying satellites.

Operating shuttles:





Original NASA estimate of cost of each shuttle flight: $60 million

Current NASA estimate of cost of each shuttle flight: $550 million

Sticker price of orbiter: $2.1 billion

Height of orbiter with external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters: 184 feet

Height of Statue of Liberty (without pedestal): 151 feet

Weight at takeoff, with external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters: 4.5 million lb.

Weight of orbiter alone: 173,000 to 181,000 lb.

Ounces of gold used in each orbiter: more than 5,000

Weight saved when NASA stopped painting the external tank white: 1,100 lbs.

Top speed during flight: 17,500 mph

Maximum thrust: 7.3 million pounds, at liftoff

Number of Corvette automobiles it would take to equal horsepower of one of the main shuttle engines: 64,000

Temperature of exhaust gases of main engine: about 6,000 degrees F

Temperature of surface of the sun: about 9,000 degrees F

Cargo capacity: 50,000 lbs. (about the weight of one of the larger plant-eating dinosaurs)

Cargo bay: 60 feet by 15 feet (about the size of a school bus)

Weight of material the shuttle has left in space: about 545 tons

Weight of material the shuttle has retrieved: about 18.5 tons

Satellites and planetrary probes deployed include: Hubble Space Telescope, Gaama Ray Observatory, Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, Magellan mission to Venus, Galileo mission to Jupiter, Ulysses mission to the sun

Longest flight: 17 days (Columbia, June-July 1996)

Shortest flight: 74 seconds (last flight of Challenger)

Crew: carries two to eight astronauts; up to ten in an emergency

Cumulative shuttle crew time in space, since April 1981: about 10 years

Approximate crew preparation time for each flight: one year

Number of active astronauts: 100

Number of retired astronauts: 159

NASA civilian employees: 21,000

Number of NASA ground personnel necessary for each flight: 450

Time needed to prepare orbiter for flight: 65 days, 40,000 person-hours

Nations contributing guest astronauts: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom

Insects that have flown aboard the shuttle: honey bees, moths, house flies.

Number of IMAX movies filmed mostly by astronauts: three

First flight of Columbia: April 12, 1981

Number of flights by Columbia: 20

Miles logged by Columbia: 77.5 million

Orbits logged by Columbia: 2,944

Days in space by Columbia: 177

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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