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Shuttle Aeronautics

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  • Student Mathematics Activity: Carry That Weight

    Student Background

    The orbiter must travel through more than 60 miles of the Earth's atmosphere to reach space. The total weight of the orbiter, its crew, payload, fuel tanks, rocket fuel and other miscellaneous items must not be greater than the amount of thrust it would take to propel it to an orbit just outside the thermosphere.

    Using mathematical calculations, rocket researchers have been able to determine just how much thrust is needed to launch a certain amount of weight. With a fully loaded orbiter and fuel tanks, it takes 5 million pounds of thrust to launch the orbiter into space. To determine this amount of thrust NASA must consider the weight of every item being taken on each mission. The approximate weight of each item is listed in the chart below.

    Space Shuttle Mission Weight Chart

    Item Description Weight (in kilograms)
    Orbiter (empty) 43,092
    Payload (standard maximum weight) 24,948
    External Tank (full) 750,980
    Solid Rocket Booster (each) 589,670
    (x2 = ) 1,179,340
    Other:
  • Crew members (3-10)
  • Additional fuel for use during mission
  • Liquids & gases for electrical production & environmental conditioning
  • 14,850

    Student Math Activity: Carry That Weightstudent activities icon

    Student Math Activity: Carry That Weight - Key

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    Let's Convert - Key

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