NASA space shuttles have traveled more than 513 million miles since 1976


The space shuttle Atlantis is seen on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on June 17, 2011. Atlantis' upcoming STS-135 mission will signal the end to NASA's most successful and longest running space program. (JEAN-LOUIS SANTINI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
July 4, 2011

The first space shuttle to roll out was Enterprise, on Sept. 17, 1976. But that was just a test vehicle. The first spaceflight — by Columbia — began on April 12, 1981.

The five space shuttles — Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour — have flown 134 times, carrying 355 people, some of them multiple times, and traveling more than 500 million miles.

Of those 355 shuttle astronauts, 306 were men and 49 were women.

Sixteen countries have been represented on shuttle crews, including Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Russia, Sweden and Italy.

Among the shuttle “firsts”: first reusable spacecraft into orbit, the Columbia, which made two flights in 1981; first American woman into space, Sally Ride, in 1983, and the first African American, Guion Bluford, also in 1983; first spacecraft to put non-pilots into orbit, including physicians, chemists, biochemists, astrophysicists, veterinarians and dozens of engineers. The shuttle also had the oldest person in space, John Glenn, who was then 77 and who had been the first American to orbit Earth 36 years earlier.

Brian Vastag and Charity Brown

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