Space Shuttle Columbia mission-flown tyre
The left-hand nose-gear tyre flown on Space Shuttle Columbia mission STS-52 in 1992.
Mission STS-52 was the 51st NASA space shuttle mission and the 13th by Columbia.
Headed by Commander James Wetherbee, it launched on October 22, 1992 and successfully touched down on November 1, 1992 at Kennedy Space Center following 10 days in orbit.
The mission saw the launch of the LAGEOS-II satellite – a mirrored ball that scientists use to predict earthquakes.
NASA’s space shuttle programme ran from 1981 to 2011, ending after 135 missions.
This is an incredibly rare opportunity to own a mission-used space-flown tyre from NASA’s space shuttle programme.
The tyre flew 4 million miles, 159 times around the Earth, in an orbit 190 miles above our planet, but rolled just 10,000 feet on the ground.
It travelled most of the 10-day mission retracted in Columbia’s forward fuselage, enclosed by two doors. Approximately 15 seconds before touchdown, Pilot Michael Baker deployed the landing gear. Then, under the control of Commander James Wetherbee, the tyre touched down at 225 mph and slowly rolled to a stop.
The tyre displays significant mission use, with worn rubber on the tread and a rough 10-inch x 3-inch skid mark that shows exactly where the space shuttle touched down on landing.
This is one of only two nose-gear tyres used in the mission. Columbia was configured with a conventional aircraft style left and right main landing gear and a nose landing gear. Each of the landing gears was fitted with two tyres – meaning each mission used just six tyres.
Made from 100% natural rubber by then NASA-tyre supplier BF Goodrich, it is 32 inches in diameter and 8.8 inches wide – roughly the size of a truck tyre. It is a surprisingly light 51 pounds (23kg) – vital for keeping the shuttle’s weight down. It features three deep groves along the tread, used for extra grip had the landing been in rain. As such, it makes an extraordinary display piece.
The tyre has superb authenticity and provenance. The serial number (1135N00960) stamped upon its side tallies exactly with the STS Orbiter Landing/Deceleration Flight Data Sheet which logs flown tyres for every space shuttle mission (a copy is included with the tyre). Although the tyre states “MAXIMUM 6 LANDINGS”, the data sheet reveals the tyre was only used on mission STS-52, ensuring the tyre’s unique place in the history of the US space programme. It was originally bought by a NASA historian at an auction of NASA items compiled by salvage professional Charlie Bell. It last appeared in 2005, when it auctioned at a Boggs Spacebooks sale.
Space shuttle tyres are the most valuable tyres in the world. Each cost NASA $6,000 to buy. That’s because they have to withstand a rapid change in temperature from -40 Fahrenheit (-40 Celsius) in space to above +130 Fahrenheit (+54 Celsius) during landing. Such is the size and weight of the shuttle, the tyres have to withstand 142,000 pounds when landing (three times more than a Boeing 747), at a speed of 225mph – double the average landing speed of an airliner. That’s why they are inflated to 300psi.
Space shuttle tyres are hugely rare on the private market. NASA has loaned the vast majority to museums and educational organisations, with just a handful appearing for sale.
The tyre comes with a wealth of documentation in a presentation ring binder, featuring the flight logo on the cover. Documents include a copy of NASA’s official flight plan, and the US and Canadian press kits.
Also included is a framed photo featuring the signatures of each crew member.
With NASA’s space shuttle programme now consigned to history, pieces of the space shuttle story are increasingly poignant and desirable.
Please note: due to the size and weight of this item, the buyer is responsible for shipping costs - roughly £150 ($200) to US/Australia from the UK.
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