If you’re a space nut like me, then you are going to love what I am about to tell you. You can now own a piece of history buy purchasing a thermal tile from the Space Shuttle Columbia.
Several retailers carry these cool collectibles. You can see an example pictured above. This particular tile was found at Space.com in their store section. It is a 1.65 inch square section cut from thermal tile material used in the Space Shuttle Columbia program. It comes with a nifty display case and certificate of authenticity.
Space shuttle tiles were an amazing invention. Lockheed Missiles and Space company were the first company to introduce the material. Because of the extreme heat generated by atmospheric reentry, something had to be done to insulate the aluminum construction of the shuttle or else it would fail. These thermal tiles were a great solution. They were very lightweight composed mostly of air, believe it or not. As a matter of fact, only 10% of the tile is composed of the insulating material which is silica fiber. Pictured below, you can see a breakdown of the tile with its components labeled.
Of course, for many of us, these tiles cause us to remember the Columbia disaster in which the thermal protection system failed on reentry due to damage done at launch. Space.com makes a point on their site that none of these tiles were a part of the destroyed shuttle. There is no doubt that the invention of these tiles were a significant reason the Space Shuttle program could achieve all it did. Lockheed has since developed material that can withstand more than 2 times the heat of the originals.