For decades, humans have been building objects that are robust and capable enough of achieving high speeds to reach distant targets. For instance, a space shuttle in orbit can travel at a speed of 17,500 mph. NASA has launched several space probes, such as Helios 1, Helios 2, and Voyager 1, that have enough power to reach the Moon in just a few hours. Below is a list of the ten fastest man-made objects.
10Rocket Sled, 6453 miles per hour
Rocket sleds are the testing platforms for accelerating experimental objects. They have reached a record-breaking speed of 6,453 mph during tests. Rocket sleds use sliding pads instead of wheels to achieve such high speeds and are propelled by rockets. This external force initially accelerates the experimental object.
Rocket sleds have long, straight tracks that stretch over 10,000 feet, and their tanks are filled with lubricants such as helium gas to ensure that the object reaches sufficient speed. These sleds commonly accelerate missiles, aircraft parts, and emergency rescue sections of aircraft. Recently, the USAF’s 846th Test Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico successfully recovered a reusable rocket sled traveling at a recorded speed of 7,022.6 km/h.
9NASA X-43 A, 7000 miles per hour
NASA X-43A is an unmanned hypersonic aircraft designed to test air-breathing engine technology for hypersonic flight at speeds above Mach 5. It is part of NASA’s Hyper-X program, which began in the 1990s, and has set several airspeed records for jet aircraft, with a top speed of 9.6 Mach.
In 2005, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized it as the fastest jet-powered aircraft ever made, with a top speed of 7,000 miles per hour, or about 8.4 times the speed of sound. NASA X-43A uses drop launch technology, which first carries to a high altitude by a larger aircraft and then drops. A booster rocket then helps it reach the target speed. Finally, the aircraft’s engine balances it at the target speed.
8Space Shuttle Columbia, 17000 miles per hour
In 1981, the Space Shuttle Columbia became the first successful space shuttle to reach space. It has completed 27 successful missions since then, with a top speed of 17000 mph in its lower Earth orbit. At this speed, the crew was able to witness multiple sunrises and sunsets in a single day.
Sadly, during its final mission in 2003, the shuttle and its seven-member crew lost control over Texas and burned up during reentry. The Space Shuttle Columbia crashed down at a speed exceeding its normal limits on February 1st, 2003, resulting in a tragic disaster. According to NASA, the shuttle was named after the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe and the command module for the Apollo 11 moon landing.
7Discovery Space Shuttle, 17400 miles per hour
The Space Shuttle Discovery was a spacecraft from NASA’s Space Shuttle program, and it was one of five fully operational orbiters ever built. It has set the record for the most successful missions of any other spacecraft. Its first mission, STS-41-D, took place in 1984, and since then, it has completed 30 successful flights.
The Discovery also holds the record for the highest speed ever recorded by a spacecraft, reaching 17400 miles per hour, five times faster than a bullet. The Space Shuttle launch vehicle had three main components: the Space Shuttle orbiter, a single-use central fuel tank, and two reusable solid rocket boosters. Additionally, the orbiter was covered in nearly 25,000 heat-resistant tiles to protect it from high temperatures during reentry.
6Apollo 10 Capsule, 24791 miles per hour
Apollo 10 was NASA’s rehearsal mission for the lunar landing. It confirmed all aspects of the lunar landing mission precisely as they would be performed, except for the actual landing. On the return journey, May 26, 1969, the Apollo 10 capsule achieved a blazing speed of 24791 mph. The Guinness Book of World Records recognized this as the highest speed ever achieved by a manned vehicle.
A major difference in this mission compared to the previous Apollo missions was the inclusion of a fully configured lunar module. It was essential to test descent and return operations during the missions. However, the lunar module was too heavy to return to orbit from the lunar surface, so it couldn’t accomplish the landing. Apollo 10 completed the mission within 56 hours.
5Stardust, 28856 miles per hour
Stardust was a remarkable space probe that NASA launched in 1999 with a mission to collect samples from Comet Wild 2 for laboratory analysis. During the mission, this 300-kilogram robotic probe achieved a maximum speed of 28856 mph, six times faster than the speed of a bullet. Stardust successfully completed its primary mission in 2006, having traveled 2 billion miles to meet the comet Wild 2.
The space probe’s inbuilt rockets powered it to make a swing in space to reach the comet. One of the most significant instruments in Stardust was the aerogel dust collector, specifically designed for sample collection. This silicon-based apparatus had a porous and sponge-like structure that enabled the collection of dust particles without altering their shape and chemical composition. Stardust’s mission ended in 2011.
4New Horizons, 36373 miles per hour
On January 19, 2006, NASA launched New Horizons, the fastest spacecraft ever in its Frontiers space program. The mission’s objective was to study Pluto, its moons, and other objects in the Kuiper Belt, located about 50 AU from the Sun, near the orbit of Neptune. On July 14, 2015, New Horizons flew 7800 miles above Pluto, making it the first space probe to explore the dwarf planet.
At that time, it set a record for the highest launch speed of any space probe, attaining a speed of 36373 mph. Mono propellants and gravitational assists propelled the New Horizons space probe to attain such blazing speed. The mission is currently proceeding with its exploration of various icy objects, including Quaoar, Eris, Makemake, and Haumea, in the Kuiper Belt region.
3Voyager 1, 38610 miles per hour, 38610 miles per hour
The Voyager I is the farthest man-made object in space. It is the third spacecraft to travel past all the planets within our solar system and enter the outer solar system. On August 25, 2013, Voyager 1 successfully reached interstellar space. Throughout its mission, the Voyager 1 space probe attained an impressive top speed of 38610 mph and has covered an astonishing distance of 520 million kilometers every year. The spacecraft will continue its mission until 2025.
Interestingly, the Voyager carries a message designed for extraterrestrial life. A phonograph record on a gold-plated copper disk contains sounds and images that reflect the diversity of life and culture on Earth. For this reason, NASA appointed a committee chaired by Carl Sagan. They selected the record contents, including various images, musical notes from different cultures, and spoken greetings in fifty-five languages.
2Helios 1, 142000 miles per hour
On December 10, 1974, NASA and the German space agency launched the Helios 1 space probe as part of their joint deep-space mission program. The mission aimed to study solar processes and solar-terrestrial relations. The space probe reached the elliptical orbit of the Sun, traveling at a speed of 142,000 mph during the journey.
It orbited the Sun at 1 AU (149,597,871 kilometers) from the surface, sending back data until 1982. Helios 1 passed within 29 million miles (47 million kilometers) of the Sun on March 15, 1975. Throughout its mission, the spacecraft distributed the heat from the Sun evenly, and about 90% reflected by optical surface mirrors. Its data revealed 15 times more micrometeorites near the Sun than near Earth.
1Helios 2, 157078 miles per hour
The NASA Helios 2 space probe holds the title of being the fastest man-made object ever. It was the second joint deep space mission program of NASA and FRG to investigate various solar processes. During its mission, it achieved a record speed of 157078 mph. Helios 2 even got closer to the Sun than its predecessor, looping around at a record distance of 0.29 AU from the surface.
It reached the Sun’s orbit on April 17, 1976, sending back data about solar plasma, solar dust, cosmic rays, and the electrical field to Earth until December 23, 1979. Both Helios 1 and 2 remain in the Sun’s orbit, but Helios 2 flew about 1.9 million miles closer to the Sun, setting the record for the closest spacecraft to the Sun.