Has a shuttle’s landing parachute ever failed?
Fortunately not – though the shuttle would probably have been fine even if it had. The Space Shuttle orbiters touched down at speeds of around 355 kilometres (220 miles) per hour – about 30 per cent faster than a jet airliner – and since it was effectively a giant glider, it didn’t have engines that could be reversed to slow it down. Instead, the Shuttle initially relied on good old-fashioned tyre brakes and a lot of burnt rubber, with the ‘parabrake’ as an emergency fallback. After the 1986 Challenger disaster, a safety review recommended using a modified version of the parabrake on landing to increase stability and reduce wear on the tyres and brakes. The parabrake system, consisting of a 2.8-metre (nine-foot) pilot chute and a 12.2-metre (40-foot) main chute, was used successfully on 84 occasions.
Answered by Giles Sparrow.