Didn't the Astronauts Already Have Enough to Think About?By Kent Shocknek

As the last Space Shuttle arrives in Southern California, we get a last chance to think about more than 30 years of memories, among the locals who put the fleet together. (I’m talking to you, Palmdale and Downey).

So whose bright idea was it, to call the shuttles “Flying Brickyards”? We may never find out ‘who’,  but the real reason is less sinister than the title sounds.

Actually, there are two reasons:

#1, The shuttle does indeed drop like a brick. If your standard commercial flight descends at a rate of about “1 foot down, for every 22 feet forward,” the shuttle plummets in at “1 foot down, for every 4 feet forward.”  Roller-coaster drops, anyone?

#2, Shuttles are covered in those protective heat tiles, making-up the orbitors’ “Thermal Protection System.”  — They were designed to keep the Shuttle from burning up on re-entry. Every shuttle had its underside and wing-edges covered in these tiles that were about the size of a brick (but a fraction of the weight). “Flying Brickyard.” Get it? It would take one worker, one day, to put on one tile. They were extremely delicate, and I remember hanging around the Kennedy Space Center’s Orbitor Processing Facility, when they’d get word that one was broken, or damaged, or late, or didn’t fit. Problems with the tiles were one of two big issues, leading to delays in the first flight in 1981. (The other was the main-engine system.)

Good and bad, it was always exciting reporting on the Space Shuttle program. (See plucky young reporter at KSC’s Launch Control Center, above). Where else could you be paid for nosing around inside the shuttles? But I still wish they’d come up with a better nickname than Flying Brickyard.

Welcome home, Endevour.


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