Returning to Earth

Space shuttle hovering above earth with a “Reduced Speed Ahead” sign below it.
Credit: National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

To return to Earth, an orbiting spacecraft must lose a tremendous amount of energy. It must slow down from about 8 kilometers (5 miles) per second to landing speed (about 100 times slower). To accomplish this, it uses shock waves and friction with the Earth’s atmosphere to slow it down, which creates a tremendous amount of heat. The spacecraft must be designed to protect the occupants from this extreme heat.

Categories: Flight Dynamics