The three Space Shuttle Main Engines, in conjunction with the Solid Rocket Boosters, provide the thrust to lift the Orbiter off the ground for the initial ascent. The main engines continue to operate for 8.5 minutes after launch, the duration of the Shuttle's powered flight.
After the solid rockets are jettisoned, the main engines provide thrust which accelerates the Shuttle from 4,828 kilometers per hour (3,000 mph) to over 27,358 kilometers per hour (17,000 mph) in just six minutes to reach orbit. They create a combined maximum thrust of more than 1.2 million pounds.
As the Shuttle accelerates, the main engines burn a half-million gallons of liquid propellant provided by the large, orange external fuel tank. The main engines burn liquid hydrogen -- the second coldest liquid on Earth at minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 252.8 degrees Celsius) -- and liquid oxygen.
The engines' exhaust is primarily water vapor as the hydrogen and oxygen combine. As they push the Shuttle toward orbit, the engines consume liquid fuel at a rate that would drain an average family swimming pool in under 25 seconds generating over 37 million horsepower.
Credits: @nasa Via @spectacularsphere
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