The NASA space shuttles, which ceased operation in 2011, orbited Earth at 17,500 miles per hour, according to SPACE.com. At this speed, the space shuttle traveled more than 5 miles every second. During operation, the space shuttle fleet traveled more that 500 million miles.
While effective rocket designs were essential in launching space shuttles, slowing the shuttle during re-entry was even more difficult. As space shuttles entered the atmosphere, they created a high-pressure zone in front of them where temperatures were hot enough to melt most materials. By using ceramic tiles that shed material as they heated up, space shuttles were able to decelerate to speeds acceptable for standard aircraft-style landings.