The claim: Post implies NASA space shuttle can’t travel faster than jet due to its design
A Sept. 15 Facebook post (direct link, archive link) shows a meme made up of two images. One is a Lockheed Martin SR-71 “Blackbird” jet with a streamlined shape and proportionally large engines. The other is a NASA Space Shuttle Orbiter, which is much more bulbous and has proportionally smaller engines.
The jet is labeled: “This is the design that an airplane needs to reach a top speed of MACH 3.2.”
The space shuttle is labeled: “So if you believe this thing is able to reach a maximum speed of MACH 23, you are not thinking clearly.”
The meme was posted on a Facebook page that promotes flat Earth theory – the erroneous idea that Earth is flat instead of a globe. Flat Earth proponents often wrongly claim that space isn’t real and use purported inconsistencies in scientific narratives about space or space travel to bolster their errant claims.
The post was shared more than 1,000 times in less than a week.
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Our rating: Missing context
The implied claim is wrong. The NASA space shuttle travels much faster at top speeds than the SR-71. The space shuttle is launched with the aid of huge rocket boosters not shown in the photo and only reaches top speeds at elevations where there is virtually no air resistance. The SR-71 jet moves more slowly because it must reach its top speeds under its own power and against the friction of Earth’s atmosphere.
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird strategic reconnaissance aircraft operates under different conditions than NASA Space Shuttle Orbiter
The two flightcraft reach different rates of speed because they have different propulsion systems and operate under different conditions, David Meade, a NASA aeronautics spokesperson, told USA TODAY.
The SR-71 requires an atmosphere to generate lift and uses its high-powered engines to travel very fast at very high altitudes, roughly…