Math in the News: Issue 55


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In this issue of Math in the News, we look at the last flight of the Shuttle Discovery on a 747 and compare the weight of this freight and that of a 747 with passengers. Which is heavier? For more media resources, go to

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Math in the News: Issue 55

  1. 1. Visit this page on the NASA site to learn more about the Space Shuttle 747 ferry.
  2. 2. Transporting the ShuttleWhile the Shuttle can fly in space, it wasn’t built to fly on Earth. It onlyglides. This is why it needs to piggyback on the 747.
  3. 3. Transporting the ShuttleNASA outfitted two 747 jets for the sole purpose of transporting SpaceShuttles from one location to another on Earth.
  4. 4. Transporting the ShuttleBecause its only “passenger” is the shuttle, the inside of the 747 has noseats or any other equipment normally found inside a passenger plane.
  5. 5. Transporting the ShuttleThe Shuttle is anchored in place on top of the 747, a process that takeshours to complete.
  6. 6. Transporting the ShuttleSo, the combined weight of the 747 and the Shuttle is made up of two fixedquantities, the individual weights of the two aircraft.
  7. 7. Transporting the ShuttleWith a passenger plane, there are more parts involved, some with variableweights.
  8. 8. Transporting the ShuttleFirst, there is the 747 itself, as well as the seats and other equipment tohold the passengers and luggage.
  9. 9. Transporting the ShuttleNext, there are two variables: (1) the number of passengers, with amaximum of 500; (2) the combined weight of the passengers andbaggage.
  10. 10. Transporting the ShuttleTo compare the weights of the two 747s, we need to make someassumptions.
  11. 11. • Assumptions: • Full capacity (500 seats) • Average weight of a passenger: 100 lbs • Average weight of baggage: 150 lbsTransporting the ShuttleTo compare the weights of the two 747s, we need to make someassumptions.
  12. 12. 747 with 747 with Shuttle Passengers 747 300,000 450,000 Shuttle 165,000 Passengers 50,000 Luggage 75,000 Total 465,000 575,000Transporting the ShuttleComparing the weights of the two 747s, you can see that the one carryingthe Shuttle weighs less. (Note: The weight of fuel isn’t included, since itwould be common to both scenarios.)
  13. 13. Transporting the ShuttleNot only does the 747 with the Shuttle weigh less, it flies at about half thealtitude, meaning much less energy required. It also travels at a slowerspeed, which also saves fuel.
  14. 14. Transporting the ShuttleA passenger with one carry-on, itself, arrives home.
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