Space Shuttle Columbia - Flown Nose Landing Gear Tire
Space Shuttle Columbia - Flown Nose Landing Gear Tire
This specimen is a mission-flown nose landing gear tire fragment from the Space Shuttle Columbia (OV-102). Serial number verification against public information indicates the tire was removed from service after Columbia's 13th mission (STS-52).
Note: This specimen was acquired at auction after decommissioning.
FIRST LAUNCH: April 12, 1981 - TOTAL DISTANCE TRAVELED: 125,204,911 miles
SPACE SHUTTLE COLUMBIA
"The powered flight took a total of about eight and a half minutes. It seemed to me it had gone by in a flash. We had gone from sitting still on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center to traveling at 17,500 miles an hour in that eight and a half minutes. It is still mind-boggling to me. I recall making some statement on the air-to-ground radio for the benefit of my fellow astronauts, who had also been in the program a long time, that it was well worth the wait." ~ Bob Crippen, STS-1 astronaut, regarding first flight of the Space Shuttle, April, 12 1981
Above: A stylized view of NASA image S81-30498. Taken on April 12, 1981, during the first mission of the Space Shuttle Program (STS-1).
On April 12, 1981, the Space Shuttle Columbia roared to life on the pad at the Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A. Solid rocket boosters and Columbia’s own engines delivered more than 6,600,000 pounds of thrust, lifting the crew of two and 4,500,000 pounds (2,000,000 kg) of dreams into orbit at more than 17,500 miles per hour (28,163 kmh).
📸 Space Shuttle Columbia Nose Landing Gear Tire
MISSION-FLOWN SHUTTLE TIRE
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 here 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."
📸 Picture of the serial number on the tire and its position on the orbiter tire public data showing it was used on STS-52.
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.
"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
As shown, 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.
Please Note: 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!
Front of the Specimen Card
Back of the Specimen Card
More about the Space Shuttle Program and Columbia (OV-102)
Above: A classic cutaway drawing of the Space Shuttle created by NASA artists in February, 1981. We desperately wanted to include this image in the Fourth Edition Companion Guide but we ran out of space. (Source NASA S81-30630)
NASA's Space Shuttle program delivered 133 successful missions during its three decades in operation, beginning with Columbia's inaugural launch in 1981 and concluding with Atlantis' final flight in 2011. Missions involved many vital tasks, such as maintaining the International Space Station, repairing the Hubble Space Telescope, and deploying satellites. Scientific experiments featured heavily in the rotation, using the reusable Spacelab developed by the ESA.
📸 STS-52 Lands at KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility. Our tire on the left side. (NASA Image STS052-S-099 November 1, 1992)
The successful launch and return of Columbia heralded a new age in space exploration. Envisioned in the 1950’s as a fleet of reusable spacecraft, Columbia was joined by Challenger, Discovery, Endeavor, and Atlantis.
Over the course of 135 missions, the fleet delivered hundreds of astronauts and thousands of tons of materials into orbit. They also deployed satellites and served as a platform for the advancement of science while traveling more than half a billion miles during three decades of operation.
STS-107: The Tragic End of Columbia and Her Crew
Above: The crew members of STS-107 pose for the traditional in-flight crew portrait. This picture was on a roll of unprocessed film later recovered by searchers from the debris. Members of the Crew: From the left (bottom row), wearing red shirts to signify their shift’s color, are astronauts Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist; Rick D. Husband, mission commander; Laurel B. Clark, mission specialist; and Ilan Ramon, payload specialist. From the left (top row), wearing blue shirts, are astronauts David M. Brown, mission specialist; William C. McCool, pilot; and Michael P. Anderson, payload commander. Ramon represents the Israeli Space Agency.(Source: NASA Image STS107-735-032 taken between January 16th and February 1st, 2003)
On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia was lost when the craft disintegrated due to an undetected puncture in the wing. The damage occurred during liftoff but did not present a problem until re-entering the atmosphere. All seven members of the crew perished, a powerful reminder of the dangers humanity faces as they move boldly toward the stars.
Each year, NASA holds a Day of Remembrance to honor those who lost their lives while furthering the space exploration. We welcome you to visit their site to learn more about men and women of Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia.
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Lamoreux, James C., James D. Siekierski, and JP Nick Carter. "Space Shuttle thermal protection system inspection by 3D imaging laser radar." Laser Radar Technology and Applications IX. Vol. 5412. SPIE, 2004.
Harris, Richard, Michael Stewart, and William Koenig. "Thermal Protection Systems Technology Transfer from Apollo and Space Shuttle to the Orion Program." 2018 AIAA SPACE and Astronautics Forum and Exposition. 2018.
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Jenkins, Dennis R. Space Shuttle: Developing an Icon: 1972-2013. Specialty Press, 2016.