The final shuttle mission planned, the STS-135 launch of Atlantis, was July 8. After that, Atlantis and the other iconic orbiters - reusable space planes- will be headed to museums to live out their lives on public display.
While in orbit, the space shuttle travels around Earth at a speed of about 17,500 miles (28,000 kilometers) per hour. At this speed, the crew can see a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes.
The space shuttle program is officially known as the Space Transportation System (STS), and so each shuttle mission is designated with the prefix "STS."
On May 11, 2009, astronaut Michael J. Massimino, a crewmember of the space shuttle Atlantis' STS-125 mission, became the first person to use the microblogging site Twitter in space
The combined mileage of all five orbiters is 513.7 million miles (826.7 million km), or 1.3 times the distance between Earth and Jupiter. Each orbiter, except for Challenger, traveled farther than the distance between Earth and the sun.
The space shuttle's Thermal Protection System, or heat shield, contains more than 30,000 tiles that are constructed essentially of sand.
Columbia, the first space shuttle to fly, weighed the most because NASA was still searching for lighter materials to use, and integrated some of these into the later orbiters.
Starting in 1983's Challenger missions, animals became a prime component of space science. On the STS-7 mission, the social activities of ant colonies in zero gravity were examined, and during STS-8, six rats were flown in the Animal Enclosure module to study animal behavior in space.
Only one president has been on hand to witness a space shuttle launch. President Bill Clinton, along with his wife Hillary Clinton, watched Mercury astronaut John Glenn's return to space on the STS-95 flight on Oct. 29, 1998 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The heaviest space shuttle orbiter, Columbia, weighed 178,000 pounds (80,700 kg), roughly the weight of 13 African Elephants.
President Obama had planned to watch the shuttle Endeavour lift off on its final mission STS-134, on April 29, 2011, but that launch was delayed.
The space shuttle isn't just a mode of transport: It's a laboratory, too. There have been 22 Spacelab missions, or missions where science, astronomy, and physics have been studied inside a special module carried on the space shuttle.