Celebrate the anniversary of the first space shuttle launch with these five facts

April 12th is the 37th anniversary of the first ever space shuttle launch. In honor of the occasion here are five facts about the space shuttle you might not know:

  • In orbit, the space shuttle’s top speed was 17,500 miles per hour. At that speed, the astronauts saw a sunset or sunrise about once every 45 minutes.
  • During the total of the shuttle program, which went from 1981 to 2011, the combined mileage of all five orbiters was 513.7 million miles.
  • The space shuttle contained 30,000 heat shielding tiles that were made essentially out of sand. Even when they were heated to their maximum capacity due to friction from the Earth’s atmosphere, they’d be cool enough to touch with your hand one minute later.
  • The heaviest orbiter, Columbia, weighed 178,000 pounds, or about as much as 13 full grown elephants.
  • Lots of strange things were brought into space on the shuttle including cans of soda, home plate for the New York Mets, and even Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber.

The space shuttle program has since been retired as NASA looks to explore the further reaches of the solar system, but its giant place in space history will be with us forever.