Space Shuttle Atlantis

Photograph courtesy NASA

Space shuttle Atlantis takes flight on December 2, 1988, reaching a speed of over 17,000 miles an hour (27,000 kilometers an hour) in just 8.5 minutes. It will need such a velocity to defeat gravity and stay within the launch window—the time or set of times during a given day that the shuttle can launch, still meet mission objectives, and stay within safety guidelines.