It's amazing to think that they initially re-enter @ approx. 17,000 mph too! When I was working the shuttle program back in the early 90's, some of the shuttle astronauts were @ Edwards AFB for training and they ran into some of the SR-71 pilots. The SR-71 pilots had patches on their flight suits that said "MACH 3+". Well the shuttle astronauts got together had some patches made for their flight suits that said "MACH 17+"!!
The shuttle astronauts are some of the most fearless and dedicated people you will ever meet.