10 Fastest Spacecraft Ever Built

10. Space Shuttle Columbia: 17,000 mph


Space Shuttle Columbia (Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-102) was the first space-rated orbiter in NASA‘s Space Shuttle fleet. It launched for the first time on mission STS-1 on April 12, 1981, the first flight of the Space Shuttle program. Over 22 years of service it completed 27 missions before disintegrating during re-entry near the end of its 28th mission, STS-107 on February 1, 2003, resulting in the deaths of all seven crew members.

9. Space Shuttle Discovery: 17,400 mph


Space Shuttle Discovery (Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-103) is one of the orbiters from NASA‘s Space Shuttle program and the third of five built.[4] Its first mission, STS-41-D, flew from August 30 to September 5, 1984. Over 27 years of service it launched and landed 39 times, gathering more spaceflights than any other spacecraft to date.[5]  Discovery became the third operational orbiter to enter service, preceded by Columbia and Challenger.[6] It embarked on its last mission, STS-133, on February 24, 2011 and touched down for the final time at Kennedy Space Center on March 9,[7] having spent a cumulative total of almost a full year in space. Discovery performed both research and International Space Station (ISS) assembly missions. It also carried the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit. Discovery was the first operational shuttle to be retired, followed by Endeavour and then Atlantis.

8. Apollo 10 Capsule: 24,791 mph

apollo 10 capsule

Apollo 10 was the fourth manned mission in the United States Apollo space program, and the second (after Apollo 8) to orbit the Moon. Launched on May 18, 1969, it was the F mission: a “dress rehearsal” for the first Moon landing, testing all of the components and procedures, just short of actually landing. The Lunar Module (LM) came to within 8.4 nautical miles (15.6 km) of the lunar surface, the point where the powered descent to the lunar surface would begin.[2] Its success enabled the first landing to be attempted on Apollo 11 in July, 1969.  According to the 2002 Guinness World Records, Apollo 10 set the record for the highest speed attained by a manned vehicle at 39,897 km/h (11.08 km/s or 24,791 mph) during the return from the Moon on May 26, 1969.

7. Stardust: 28,600 mph


Stardust was a 300-kilogram robotic space probe launched by NASA on February 7, 1999. Its primary mission was to collect dust samples from the coma of comet Wild 2, as well as samples of cosmic dust, and return these to Earth for analysis. It was the first sample return mission of its kind. En route to comet Wild 2, the craft also flew by and studied the asteroid 5535 Annefrank. The primary mission was successfully completed on January 15, 2006, when the sample return capsule returned to Earth.[1]  A mission extension codenamed NExT culminated in February 2011 with Stardust intercepting comet Tempel 1, a small Solar System body previously visited by Deep Impact in 2005.Stardust ceased operations in March 2011.  On August 14, 2014, scientists announced the identification of possible interstellar dust particles from the Stardust capsule returned to Earth in 2006.[2][3][4][5]

6. Voyager 1 and 2: 38,000 mph

Artist's concept of Voyager in flight.
Artist’s concept of Voyager in flight.

Voyager 1 is a space probe launched by NASA on September 5, 1977. Part of the Voyager program to study the outer Solar System, Voyager 1 launched 16 days after its twin, Voyager 2. Having operated for 38 years, 10 months and 14 days, the spacecraft still communicates with the Deep Space Network to receive routine commands and return data. At a distance of 135 AU (2.02×1010 km) from the Sun as of June 2016,[3] it is the furthest spacecraft from Earth and the only one in interstellar space.  The probe’s primary mission objectives included flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, and Saturn’s large moon, Titan. While the spacecraft’s course could have been altered to include a Pluto encounter by forgoing the Titan flyby, exploration of the moon, which was known to have a substantial atmosphere, took priority.[4][5][6] It studied the weather, magnetic fields, and rings of the two planets and was the first probe to provide detailed images of their moons.  After completing its primary mission with the flyby of Saturn on November 20, 1980, Voyager 1 began an extended mission to explore the regions and boundaries of the outer heliosphere. On August 25, 2012, Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause to become the first spacecraft to enter interstellar space and study the interstellar medium.[7] Voyager 1’s extended mission is expected to continue until around 2025, when its radioisotope thermoelectric generators will no longer supply enough electric power to operate any of its scientific instruments.

5. New Horizons: 51,000 mph


New Horizons is an interplanetary space probe that was launched as a part of NASA‘s New Frontiers program.[1] Engineered by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory(APL) and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), with a team led by S. Alan Stern,[2] the spacecraft was launched with the primary mission to perform a flyby study of the Pluto system, and a secondary mission to fly by and study one or more other Kuiper belt objects (KBOs).[3][4][5][6][7]  New Horizons received a gravity assist from Jupiter, with its closest approach at 05:43:40 UTC on February 28, 2007, when it was 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) from Jupiter. The flyby increased New Horizons speed by 4 km/s (14,000 km/h; 9,000 mph), accelerating the probe to a velocity of 23 km/s (83,000 km/h; 51,000 mph) relative to the Sun and shortening its voyage to Pluto by three years.[86] On July 14, 2015, at 11:49 UTC, it flew 12,500 km (7,800 mi) above the surface of Pluto,[10][11] making it the first spacecraft to explore the dwarf planet.[6][12] Having completed its flyby of Pluto,[13] New Horizons has maneuvered for a flyby of Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69,[14][15][16] expected to take place on January 1, 2019, when it is 43.4 AU from the Sun.[14][15]

4. Pioneer 10 and 11: 82,000 mph


It was launched on March 2, 1972, by an Atlas-Centaur expendable vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Between July 15, 1972, and February 15, 1973, it became the first spacecraft to traverse the asteroid belt. Photography of Jupiter began November 6, 1973, at a range of 25,000,000 kilometers (16,000,000 mi), and a total of about 500 images were transmitted. The closest approach to the planet was on December 4, 1973, at a range of 132,252 kilometers (82,178 mi). During the mission, the on-board instruments were used to study the asteroid belt, the environment around Jupiter, the solar wind, cosmic rays, and eventually the far reaches of the Solar System and heliosphere.[1] Radio communications were lost with Pioneer 10 on January 23, 2003, because of the loss of electric power for its radio transmitter, with the probe at a distance of 12 billion kilometers (80 AU) from Earth.

3. Galileo: 107,955 mph


Galileo was an American unmanned spacecraft that studied the planet Jupiter and its moons, as well as several other Solar System bodies. Named after the astronomer Galileo Galilei, it consisted of an orbiter and entry probe. It was launched on October 18, 1989, carried by Space Shuttle Atlantis, on the STS-34 mission. Galileo arrived at Jupiter on December 7, 1995, after gravitational assist flybys of Venus and Earth, and became the first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter. It launched the first probe into Jupiter, directly measuring its atmosphere.[3] Despite suffering major antenna problems, Galileo achieved the first asteroid flyby, of 951 Gaspra, and discovered the first asteroid moon, Dactyl, around 243 Ida. In 1994, Galileo observed Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9‘s collision with Jupiter.[3]  On September 21, 2003, after 14 years in space and 8 years in the Jovian system, Galileo‘s mission was terminated by sending it into Jupiter’s atmosphere at a speed of over 48 kilometers (30 mi) per second, eliminating the possibility of contaminating local moons with terrestrial bacteria.

2. Helios 1 and 2: 157,078 mph


With speeds this fast, they could fly from New York to Los Angeles in just over 1 minute!  These pair of probes were launched December 10, 1974 and January 15, 1976, respectively, to a heliocentric orbit around our sun, where they studied solar processes for 9 years.  The final transmission came in 1985, 5 years after mission completion to study solar processes.  Though they are no longer functional, these speed racers continue to orbit the sun to this very day.

1. Juno: 165,000 mph


Our record winner is currently our eyes on Jupiter.  Formerly referred to as JUpiter Near-polar Orbiter, Juno was launched August 5, 2011 and spent the next 5 years reaching our king of planets.  It will continue to gather data until 2018, at which point, it will sadly spend 5.5 days on a planned crash course to the planets surface.  Space Probe Plus, planned for launch in 2018, will likely break this record with anticipated speeds of 450,000 mph!



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