Can the Space Shuttle land on Mars if it had a paved runway?
Can the Space Shuttle use aerobraking and will its control surfaces provide attitude control?
Can the parachute and braking systems stop the vehicle down in a 4500 m / 15000 feet runway?
Ignore the delta-v and life support system constraints of getting to Mars.


2 Answers 2


Absolutely not.

Besides the minor issue that the shuttle is retired and no longer flyable, its aerodynamic performance during the descent and landing phase is dependent on the density of Earth's atmosphere. Mars' atmosphere is about 1/100 as dense, so the shuttle won't have the lift or controllability that it needs to land.

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    $\begingroup$ It would fly like a rock in the martian atmosphere, which, in actuality, isn't much different than how it flies coming into a landing on earth. :-) $\endgroup$
    – Milwrdfan
    Commented Jan 7, 2021 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ I know you’re joking, but “fly like a rock” is hyperbole in the Earth landing case, but it would be literal on Mars. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 7, 2021 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ I was thinking a similar thing ("flying brick" is what I recall), but then again, 2000 mile cross-track sounds more efficient than a brick. On Mars, nNo need for pavement because it won't help! $\endgroup$
    – JohnHoltz
    Commented Jan 7, 2021 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ It would be much like a landing on Earth, with the Shuttle encountering a runway up at 35 km altitude. Going by that comparison, it'd still be moving at about 3.5 km/s and using a combination of RCS thrusters and aerodynamic surfaces to maneuver. Sure, the pieces would eventually land... $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 7, 2021 at 23:21
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    $\begingroup$ The impact would have energy of about 100 ton of TNT so a lot would never land, becoming vapor in Martian atmosphere. There wouldn't be much left of the paved surface either. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 3:28

From an "agricultural" (i.e. using words that even I can understand) point of view:

I'm a long-time long-distance motorcyclist. People ask me why I check my tire pressures so often during a long trip. Here's how I explain that: "Let's say I top off my tires in western CO, up to their recommended pressures. A few days later, I find myself in Los Angeles. I'd better check that tire pressure again - one can't expect that thin CO air to be as powerful as thick LA air - my tires are undoubtedly down by more than a few psi."

In the same vein of thinking, one can't expect a heavy vehicle with relatively undersized wings, designed for Earth's "powerful," lift-providing atmosphere, to fly too well in that thin, "wimpy" Martian atmosphere...

  • $\begingroup$ downvoting for a metaphor that somehow works in a misunderstanding of tire pressure. Thin CO air isn't thin after you've compressed it into a tire. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 0:23
  • $\begingroup$ Long distance motorcyclists don't carry absolute pressure gauges, they carry relative ones, so I'll stand by my "thin CO air" assertion. In any event, I'm thinkin' I should pull this mostly tongue in cheek answer - prolly better as a cheeky comment. Misjudged the sense of humor around here, I guess... $\endgroup$
    – Digger
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 20:00

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