NASA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY NASA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Artist's impression of a space shuttle re-entering the Earth's atmosphere nose-up at an angle of 30 degrees. The nose and belly of the orbiter bear the brunt of the intense heat generated by the spacecraft's passage through the outer atmosphere. The orbiter enters the atmosphere in a characteristic flat plate flight profile flying at supersonic speeds. At around 50,000 feet the shuttle slows down to subsonic speeds and levels off. The remainder of its descent is a controlled glide with a final approach and landing very similar to that made by present day airliners.
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