GREENVILLE, S.C. (July 22, 2011)—With the touchdown early today of the space shuttle Atlantis, it's more than just the end to an era of U.S. space travel—it's the end of a tire supply pact for Michelin North America Inc., which has been the sole provider of tires for the spacecraft.
Michelin has been manufacturing space shuttle tires at its Norwood, N.C., aviation tire plant since the U.S. shuttle program began more than 25 years ago.
Ron Olds, vice president of sales for Michelin Aircraft Tires, called the final landing for the shuttle “a proud moment for Michelin and NASA to watch the close of the space shuttle era. The final landing closed a 30-year chapter in American history that showcased some of the greatest technological advancements spurred on by the American spirit.
“Every aspect of the shuttle program—down to the tires designed to dependably return the spacecraft safely to earth—is a tribute to the American 'can do' attitude.”
A Michelin press release described how the space shuttle's tires functioned under extreme conditions, including handling landings at speeds up to 288 mph and carrying loads as much as three times that of a Boeing 747 tire, which the Greenville-based tire maker said “is the equivalent of a 40-car starting line-up at a NASCAR race.”
Each shuttle tire weighs about 230 pounds and takes about six hours to build. The space shuttle takes six tires—four main-landing gear and two nose-landing gear tires—to land. The shuttle tires are inflated up to 373 psi and use nitrogen, which best maintains pressure in varying altitudes and extreme temperatures, according to Michelin.
With the U.S. shuttle fleet now retired, the vehicles will become museum pieces at various locations, including in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.