NASA Donation a Part of Space Shuttle History
Contact: Jeff Murphy
WARRENSBURG, MO (May 2, 2011) – As NASA begins to retire its space shuttle fleet, the University of Central Missouri will have a momento of the world’s first winged spacecraft to share with students and others visiting the T.R. Gaines Technology Building.
Bill Rankin, chair of UCM’s Department of Aviation, displays a space shuttle heat shield tile that was donated to the university by NASA..
NASA has donated to UCM one of the spare replacement heat shield tiles that help protect the shuttle during extreme temperatures encountered when entering the Earth’s atmosphere from space. The tile came from NASA’s parts inventory and was distributed by Capital Exhibit Services, an organization NASA has charged with dispersing such items for educational purposes.
“This is unique. They have a limited number of these tiles that they are making available to colleges and universities. The rest will go to the Smithsonian Institution,” said Bill Rankin, chair of the Department of Aviation.
Rankin said the department plans to display the tile in the Gaines Building. It measures about five inches by four inches, and is made of molten sand and has a silicon coating.
Such tiles are part of the space shuttle’s thermal protection system, which must be able to withstand temperatures up to 3,000 degrees F. According to NASA, there are over 27,000 tiles on the shuttle, all of equal importance. Each of the titles are inspected before and after each flight, and are replaced as needed to ensure the safety of the orbiter for future missions.
Rankin said the tiles insulate heat so well that a person can hold one bare-handed even while one side is still red hot.
NASA is making the tiles available as it plans to phase out the space shuttle program in 2011 after 30 years of service. Its focus will be on development of heavy lift vehicles for deep space exploration by 2015.