Space Shuttle Columbia Tire
This specimen comes from a mission-flown, Space Shuttle nose landing gear tire which was removed from service after the Space Shuttle Columbia's 13th mission, STS-52. The specimen is encased in an acrylic specimen jar and housed in a 4" x 3" x 1" glass-topped riker box. A small information card is also included.
The material is layered (in this case 20-ply) and highly irregular. Our target size is approximately 1x1 cm, but there will be variation in width, length, thickness, and texture. Some specimens may exhibit small metallic bands from the interior of the tire while others may be completely smooth. This makes each specimen absolutely unique!
About Shuttle Tires
"The Space Shuttle Orbiter wheel and tire design combined conventional aircraft materials into one of the most highly optimized assemblies yet developed. This is not obvious until the performance limits are compared to similarly-sized equipment on commercial aircraft, which will reveal that the Orbiter's wheel/tire load capability is nearly twice as high." ~ NASA Engineer Carlisle C. Campbell, Jr., "Orbiter Wheel and Tire Certification" NASA Johnson Space Center, 1985
Space Shuttle missions were always at high risk for failure during the 30-minute re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere and upon landing safely at Kennedy Space Center or Edwards Air Force Base.
As the shuttle would glide at velocities just below the speed of sound, the four rear main landing gear tires and two front nose tires would need to accommodate not only the weight of the orbiter (upwards of 240,000 pounds ) - but also the extreme, rapid tire heating due to surface friction as the craft made ground contact at speeds of up to 250 mph. As a result, a blown tire was always considered a probable failure upon landing, and balancing this failure with the weight requirements was a challenging task.
Yet, if you've seen a Space Shuttle in person, you've probably noticed that the tires are not much larger than a truck tire. However, they are quite different in their construction, and their performance is a testament to engineering and rigorous testing.
The chart above illustrates the typical load profile a tire is subject to during landing. It comes from the same "Orbiter Wheel and Tire Certification" study quoted at the start of this section. The intensity of the dynamic load profile tests each tire is subject to is just incredible:
"Dynamic load profile tests include 6 landings and 6 taxi tests per tire of which: 1 landing is a tire chilled to -35 ° F, 1 landing is a tire preheated to +135 ° F, 5 landings represent a 207,000 pound landing weight, 1 landing represents a 240,000 pound landing weight and crosswinds, and range of 0 to 20 knots."
The disposition paperwork which accompanied this tire did not indicate the tire's full mission history aside from the removal of the tire from the Space Shuttle Columbia (OV-102) after STS-52. However, it is possible that it was used with other orbiters. Nose landing gear tires like this one were rated for up to six landings, and though usually used just twice, tire rotation was a common practice.
STS-52 launched on October 22, 1992. The main objective was to deploy the Laser Geodynamic Satellite II (LAGEOS-II) in cooperation with the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The ashes of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry were also carried aboard the orbiter for the duration of the mission.
The flight commander was James D. Wetherbee, with Micheal A. Baker as pilot. Other payloads onboard included a Canadian Space Vision System experiment and a Tank Pressure Control experiment.
The shuttle traveled 4.1 million miles and completed 159 revolutions around Earth. On November 1, the spacecraft completed a successful landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. [NASA Press Kit for STS-52]