John F. Kennedy Space Center - Frequently Asked Questions

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Q. How fast does a Space Shuttle travel? What is its altitude? How much fuel does it use?

A. Like any other object in low Earth orbit, a Shuttle must reach speeds of about 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 kilometers per hour) to remain in orbit. The exact speed depends on the Shuttles orbital altitude, which normally ranges from 190 miles to 330 miles (304 kilometers to 528 kilometers) above sea level, depending on its mission. Each of the two solid rocket boosters on the Shuttle carries more than one million pounds of solid propellant. The Shuttles large external tank is loaded with more than 500,000 gallons of supercold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, which are mixed and burned together to form the fuel for the Shuttles three main rocket engines.

Q. Is the flag still on the Moon?

A. Yes. Although not visible to the naked eye from Earth, the American flag is still on the Moon.

Q. What is a launch window?

A. A launch window is the precise period of time, ranging from minutes to hours, within which a launch must occur for a rocket or Space Shuttle to be positioned in the proper orbit.

Sometimes, this window is determined by the passing of an orbiting spacecraft with which the Shuttle must rendezvous, such as the International Space Station or an ailing satellite. At other times, the Shuttle or an unmanned rocket must be launched within a certain window so that it can release its satellite payload at the right time to place it in an orbit over a certain region of Earth.

Q. Who was the youngest astronaut to date?

A. Sally Ride was 32 years, 23 days old when she flew on STS-7 in June 1983.

Q. Who was the oldest astronaut to fly on the Space Shuttle?

A. John Glenn was 77 when he flew on STS-95 in October/November 1998. Until then, the record was held by Story Musgrave who was 61 when he flew on STS-80 in November 1996.

Q. How much does it cost to launch a Space Shuttle?

A. Generally, the cost averages out to be about $450 million per mission.

Q. When are we going to Mars? And when are we going back to the Moon?

A. NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin has stated that we must accomplish at least four objectives before we are prepared for a Mars mission. We must successfully build and operate the planned International Space Station, gain working-level experience with other nations in space cooperation, develop an affordable mission scenario that can be accomplished in about one decade, and allow time for the world economy to improve substantially. With these goals in mind, NASA currently plans to operate the Space Station for at least the first decade of the next century, sending astronauts back to the Moon or on to Mars during the second decade of the new century. This time frame could change with technological breakthroughs.

Q. Can I apply to take a ride on the Space Shuttle? Can I be the first kid in Space?

A. NASA has no immediate plans to send children, teenagers or any other general citizens into space. For the near future at least, spaceflight remains too risky and too expensive for anyone but highly trained astronauts and payload specialists to take part in. However, one of our goals is to help industry develop new rocket systems that would make spaceflight much more simple and routine, so that many more people could go into orbit in the future.

Q. Is there any chance for a school to run a science experiment on the Shuttle?

A. NASA's Get Away Special (GAS) program allows science and engineering-oriented experiments to fly aboard the Space Shuttle for as little as $3,000, often funded by private industry. If you or your school are interested in this program, more information may be obtained by contacting: Shuttle Small Payloads Project, Customer Support Office, NASA/GSFC/740; Greenbelt, MD 20771; Telephone (301)286-3388; Fax: (301) 286-1694; E-Mail:

Q. What are the names of the Space Shuttle orbiters?

A. Their names, in the order they were built, are Enterprise, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. The Enterprise was flown only within Earth's atmosphere, during Shuttle approach and landing tests conducted in 1977. Columbia flew the first five Shuttle missions, beginning in April 1981, and was modified to fly extended duration missions as long as 16 days. Challenger was built as a vibration test vehicle and then upgraded to become the second operational Shuttle. The Challenger and her seven-member crew were lost in a launch accident on January 28, 1986. Discovery made her first flight in August 1984, and Atlantis followed in October 1985. Endeavour, built to replace Challenger, made its debut in May 1992 with a dramatic mission that featured the rescue of a stranded Intelsat 6 commercial communications satellite.

Q. How much does the Space Shuttle cost?

A. The Space Shuttle Endeavour, the orbiter built to replace the Space Shuttle Challenger, cost approximately $1.7 billion.

Q. What happens to used spacecraft? Where is the Enterprise, the first Space Shuttle?

A. In early human space flight programs such as Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, the spacecraft underwent detailed post-mission analysis that often yielded important new information on the rigors of traveling in space. Most of these vehicles are displayed for the public at NASA Centers and science museums across the country. For example, the Apollo 11 command module is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. The Enterprise, which was not designed to fly in space, made a series of appearances at air shows in the United States, Europe and Canada before being turned over to the Air and Space Museum. It is now in storage awaiting the construction of a museum annex that would house it and numerous other large historic aircraft.

Q. Where in the sky can I see the Internation Space Station or the Space Shuttle?

A. The naked-eye visibility charts for the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle during a mission can be found through the Space Flight home page at NASA's Liftoff! home page also has an automated prediction e-mail service which will e-mail you about the times when you can see the International Space Station, the Space Shuttle or any of 500 satellites at

Q. Can the Space Shuttle fly to the Moon?

A. No, the Shuttle is designed to travel to low-Earth orbit (within a few hundred miles of the Earth's surface). It does not carry enough propellant to leave Earth orbit and travel to the Moon. The Shuttle also is not designed to land on the Moon since it lands like an airplane and the Moon has no atmosphere. The Shuttle could be used to carry pieces of Moon or Mars vehicles to low-Earth orbit, where they could be assembled prior to beginning their mission.

Q. How do astronauts in space go to the bathroom and take care of their personal hygiene?

A. Astronauts brush their teeth just like they do on Earth. There is no shower on the Shuttle, so astronauts must make do with sponge baths until they return home. Each Space Shuttle has a toilet that can be used by both men and women. Designed to be as much as possible like those on Earth, the units use flowing air instead of water to move waste through the system. Solid wastes are compressed and stored onboard, and then removed after landing. Wastewater is vented to space, although future systems may recycle it, such as they do on the Space Station Mir. The air is filtered to remove odor and bacteria and then returned to the cabin.

Q. What is the temperature in space?

A. Temperatures in space depend on whether the thermometer is in sunlight or darkness. Near the Earth and the Moon, objects in direct sunlight can heat up to temperatures of about 250 degrees F (121 degrees C). In the shade, objects can cool down to around -250 degrees F (-156 degrees C). This extreme range is the reason why the thermal designs of spacecraft and space suits are so important.

Q. How much does a spacecraft weigh when it is in space?

A. An object in space is said to be in a state of weightlessness, although its original mass remains the same. (Mass can be understood as a measurement of inertia, the resistance of an object to be set in motion or stopped from motion.) Objects in space near the Earth, the Moon, or other large bodies retain a small amount of weight due to the tiny amount of planetary gravity that continues to pull on them. However, orbital motion reduces this condition to an extremely low level of gravity known as microgravity (about one-millionth of the normal gravity we feel at the Earth's surface). When an object is in orbit about a large body like a planet, it is traveling just fast enough to fall in a continuous curved path around the planet, without flying off or falling down to the planet's surface. This free fall results in microgravity. Thus, when a Shuttle crew wants to land, they fire the Shuttle's engines directly into its forward path, slowing the Shuttle enough that it drops out of orbit. Close to the Earth, the wispy upper atmosphere drags on some satellites enough through friction that the satellites must be boosted periodically into higher orbits. Most spacecraft that are sent on long voyages to other planets are actually in a looping orbit around the Sun during their long outward trips.

Q. How can I watch a Shuttle launch in person? Can I get a car pass??

A. Due to recent world events, NASA has suspended the issuance of car passes for Space Shuttle launch viewing from inside of the Kennedy Space Center. Therefore, we cannot accept any requests for future launches at this time.

However, a limited number of bus tickets to view the shuttle launches may be available through Delaware North Park Services of Spaceport. Visitors to the Kennedy Space Center may inquire about these tickets by contacting Delaware North at (321) 449-4400.

To aid in your planning, a recorded manifest of anticipated launch dates is available by calling (321) 867-4636. During countdown, a recorded launch status is available on (321) 867-0600. The Space Shuttle Launch Schedule is also available online.

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