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Space Shuttle Missions Ended in the Ultimate Deadstick Landings

There Was Always a Whole Lot More Going On Than You Probably Thought

Night shuttle landing at Kennedy. Image via NASA

This video, titled “How to Land the Space Shuttle…from Space” was shot during a Stack Overflow event in Philadelphia. The subject can be expressed simply enough. As Bret, who is not an astronaut but sure can explain things, says, “Let’s say you’re traveling at about 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 km/h) in low earth orbit, your main engines are out of fuel, and it’s your job to guide the spaceship through a fiery re-entry without burning up or skipping out of the atmosphere, navigate to your landing site, and arrive with just enough energy to make an unpowered landing on a runway which is halfway around the planet from where you started. And, of course, either you succeed on your first try, or everyone dies. So, no pressure…. In this talk, I’ll show you how space shuttle designers, pilots, and autopilots managed to do just that.” The video was uploaded to YouTube by Bret Copeland. Enjoy!

The first shuttle mission landing. Image via NASA

Of course orbital dynamics being what they are, landing the Space Shuttle was a far more complicated undertaking than Bret made it out to be. Between STS-1 in 1981 and STS-135 in 2011, Space Shuttle landings occurred at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in California and at the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. STS-3 landed at White Sands in New Mexico- the only time a Space Shuttle flight landed anywhere other than Edwards or Kennedy. But there were no fewer than 81 designated alternate landing sites scattered all over the globe. Most of these sites came equipped with a runway at least 12,000 feet long but the minimum required runway would have been 9,800 feet- 1.86 miles to you and me.

STS-3 lands at White Sands. Image via NASA


The final flight of Discovery- STS-133 lands at Kennedy Space Center. This nice HD NASA video was uploaded to YouTube by Spacevidcast. History comes alive.

Atlantis lands at Edwards. Image via NASA

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Bill Walton

Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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