MICHELIN TOOK FLIGHT
When NASA developed the Shuttle Transportation System (STS) 1981, it knew that it would a special tire. The specifications were that an ordinary over the road vehicle tire would be insufficient due to the enormous weight that the spacecraft would be carrying. Because of Michelin’s reputation for peak tire performance among conventional and military aircraft, and tire manufacturing design, NASA approached iconic tire brand at its Norwood, N.C. aviation tire plant with producing a prototype based on NASA’s requirements.
The tires on the STS would have to be lighter than normal. This came as a trade off from the STS carrying large payloads in which the weight on non-essential components would have to be sacrificed. Furthermore, the tire would have to capable of operating under the harsh conditions of outer space, as well as the grueling heat of reentry, and of course landing akin to a conventional aircraft. To meet this requirement, Michelin engineers designed the tires with reduced tread. The result was a tire weighing 205 pounds.
A distinct manufacturing design by Michelin was filling their aircraft tires with Nitrogen. This was due to the fact that Nitrogen remains stable at the pressure, high altitudes, and extreme temperatures that the Shuttle would be operating in and exposed to. While in space, the tires would be exposed to temperatures of -40° Fahrenheit as well as +130° Fahrenheit upon landing coupled with landing at a maximum speed of 259 miles per hour. Now even though the tires are the equal size of a 18-wheeler, the tire can capacitate for a load three times that of a Boeing 747. The landing gear tires can hold a maximum weight of 142,000 pounds. To accomplish this feat, the tires were filled beyond 300 psi. The STS consisted of 6 tires. The four main landing tires were designed with 34 ply and perform at 263 mph. The 2 nose landing tires were designed with 20 ply and be operable at maximum speed of 250 mph.