Have you ever wondered who makes the tires for the space shuttle? Tires weren’t exactly necessary in the early days of the NASA space program. The first NASA space vehicles such as the Titan II and Saturn V rockets were just that — rockets. After returning from space these rockets would literally fall into the ocean and were retrieved by NASA afterward. When NASA launched the space shuttle program in 1981 it was clear that they were missing the one thing that rockets didn’t need – landing gear. Unlike NASA’s earlier rockets, the Space Shuttles were designed to make a standard airport landing after returning from space. But NASA knew that they would need something stronger than the average tire. So they turned to famous tire maker Michelin Tires to design and manufacture the tires for the Space Shuttle. Before Michelin could secure the contract to equip Space Shuttles with their tires, they had to create tires that could pass NASA’s rigorous tests and stand up to the stresses of space travel and a reentry landing. Since every ounce of weight counts for the Space Shuttle, the tires had to be as light as possible; the rocket boosters which launch the Shuttle into space are only capable of carrying so much weight. NASA has often had to sacrifice vital scientific packages because these weight requirements so the tires couldn’t be significantly heavy. To make the Shuttle tires as light as possible Michelin gave them as very little tread and in the end they only weighed about 205 pounds (for the landing gear tires).
And before any dealerships were putting Nitrogen in tires, Michelin was filling their aircraft tires with it including the Space Shuttle tires. Nitrogen is ideal for the inflating the tires of the Space Shuttle because it remains stable at the high altitudes, pressure, and temperatures that the Shuttle is exposed to. Speaking of extreme temperature, the Space Shuttle tires are exposed to temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in space to above 130 degrees Fahrenheit when the Shuttle is landing. Furthermore, to handle the excessive speeds of a landing Space Shuttle, the tires are rated for a maximum speed of 259 miles per hour.
Unbeknownst to many, the tires on the space shuttle are actually about the same size as a truck tire. Though the main landing gear tire on the Space Shuttle can hold three times the load of a Boeing 747; in fact, the landing gear tires (44.5×16.0-21 MLG) can hold up to 142,000 pounds. To handle this immense amount of weight the tires are inflated beyond 300 psi. Furthermore, NASA actually only uses the main landing gear tires on the Space Shuttle once before replacing them with a new set. Today, Michelin or specifically Michelin Aircraft Tire Corporation remains the sole tire supplier for the NASA’s Space Shuttles.
Via Michelin & NASA
Photo by By Ad Meskens & By NASA/Jim Ross via Wikimedia Commons