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Thermal Protection Tile

Missions: STS-6 Challenger
STS-7 Challenger
STS-8 Challenger
STS-41B Challenger
STS-41C Challenger
STS-41G Challenger
  STS-51J, Atlantis
STS-61B, Atlantis
STS-27, Atlantis
STS-30, Atlantis
STS-34, Atlantis
STS-36, Atlantis
STS-38, Atlantis
STS-37, Atlantis
STS-43, Atlantis
STS-44, Atlantis
STS-45, Atlantis
STS-46, Atlantis
STS-66, Atlantis
STS-71, Atlantis
STS-74, Atlantis
STS-76, Atlantis
STS-79, Atlantis
STS-81, Atlantis
STS-84, Atlantis
STS-86, Atlantis
First Launch: April 4, 1983  
Last Landing: October 6, 1997  
Total duration: 191 days, 6 hours,
53 minutes, 46 seconds
on 26 shuttle flights
Comment: Logged 2,950 orbits of the Earth.

This 4.75- by 6- by 1.5-inch space shuttle thermal tile first flew to orbit affixed to the body flap below the main engines at the rear of the space shuttle Challenger on that orbiter's maiden mission in 1983. The tile flew five more flights with Challenger until October 1984, when the body flap, with this tile still attached, was removed from Challenger (OV-099) and installed onto Atlantis (OV-104) for its maiden mission one year later. The tile then flew 19 more flights on Atlantis until the orbiter's second maintenance down period in 1998, when this tile was removed and scrapped.

In addition to flying on both Challenger's and Atlantis' first flights, this tile also flew with several other historic firsts in the course of its 26 missions, including: the first American woman in space; the first shuttle night launch and landing; the first untethered spacewalk; the first satellite rescue; the first mission with two women, first Canadian in space and first American spacewalk by a female astronaut.

Developed by Lockheed Missiles and Space Company as an insulation designed to survive at least 100 space flights, this thermal protection tile, like the roughly 31,000 installed on each orbiter, was formed from basic silica material that sheds heat so quickly, it can be held with a bare hand even while still red hot. Each tile is of a different size, shape and thickness, such that it forms a level surface along the body of the orbiter.

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