/u/danielravennest on I am Jeff Hoffman, MIT Professor of Aerospace Engineering and former NASA Astronaut. Ask Me Anything!19 Feb 2015, 20:37 UTC
The Space Shuttle Orbiter does fly like other aircraft once it is slow enough, using flaps to control direction. However, it is covered in ceramic tiles to protect it from re-entry heat, so the joke is it has the aerodynamics of a fireplace brick. It's not quite that bad, but it is pretty bad compared to, say, a passenger airplane. The Shuttle had two 6,000 lb-thrust OMS engines, and a lot of smaller RCS thrusters. Those can be used at high enough altitude, but the final approach and landing is as a big heavy glider.