Space Shuttle Tile
Space Shuttle Tile
Space Shuttle Tile
Space Shuttle Tile

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Collection Tier:
Tier 3

Outer Space ➔ Space Shuttle Tile

This item is a black-coated space shuttle tile used by NASA.

A key to a successful thermal protection system for the Space Shuttle depends on two things— light weight and the ability to withstand the high temperatures of reentry.

When the space shuttle de-orbits and begins to return to Earth, it faces a serious problem due to frictional heating. Protecting the shuttle and the crew from such heat is very important. When the shuttle reenters Earth’s atmosphere at about 400,000 feet or about 122 km, it is traveling at about 25 times the speed of sound (Mach 25). It uses the friction of reentry to slow the shuttle down, but in doing so it pays a price in the form of frictional heating. Temperatures on the shuttle reach several thousand degrees. If the shuttle had a metal exterior like an airplane, it would be burn up due to the heat produced by the friction.

The tiles on the shuttle provide a means for thermal protection. There are some 24,300 tiles that measure about six inches long on each side and vary in thickness depending on where they are attached. 

They are made up of what is called a porous silicon material that is very light and extremely heat resistant. There are two main types of tiles, one a black-coated tile called HRSI for High-Temperature Reusable Surface Insulation tile. These tiles can withstand up to 2,300 degrees F (1,260 degrees C). They cover the bottom of the shuttle, areas around the forward windows, and several other key areas. The densities of these tiles range from 9-22 pounds per cubic foot.

The second type are white-coated tiles and are LowTemperature Reusable Surface Insulation (LRSI). They are made to insulate the shuttle up to 1,200 degrees F (650 degrees C). These tiles are usually larger and thinner, 8 inches long on each side (20.3cm) and from less than a half inch (1 cm) thick up to 1 inch (2.54 cm) in thickness. The densities range from 9 to 12 pounds per cubic foot.

Description Courtesy of NASA.
5.5" h 4" w 2.5" d
Current Location Status:
Education Program
Museum Purchase
Virtual Discovery Kit: Space Exploration (May 2020)
Space, the final frontier! Discover what we know about outer space as well as how astronauts and astronomers explore this infinite universe

Discovery Kit: Space Exploration (October 25 2019)
Discovery Kits include a variety of artifacts and specimens from the Museum’s Collection that allow students to investigate global and local objects. The Collections support the Museum’s mission of inspiring curiosity and discovery around science, history, and culture. Each kit includes objects from the Museums archives, helpful resources and suggested activities. Discovery Kits are a great way for teachers to incorporate primary source and object-based learning into the classroom or as a way to prepare for or extend a Museum visit.        
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