Space Shuttle Thermal Protection System Tile Exhibit Project

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NASA's "Tiles for Teachers" Custom Display Case and Graphics for Solvay Elementary School

In early 2011, I learned that NASA was offering 7,000 surplus Space Shuttle heat shield tiles to schools and universities through a program called “Tiles for Teachers”.  After failing to convince NASA that I deserved a tile for myself; I contacted Paula Kopp, the Principal of my daughter’s school, and assisted her in securing a tile for Solvay Elementary School.


The paperwork was formidable, but the “brick” soon arrived from NASA to much excitement and curiosity.  It was accompanied by a postcard and the tile itself was wrapped in Saran wrap. 


We immediately noticed that when people handled the irreplaceable tile (adults and children alike), they exhibited a common tendency to try and mark or damage our pristine “brick”.  People would involuntarily dig at it with their finger nails or bang the corners and edges on a table to gauge its toughness.


This was totally unsatisfactory and we realize that our priceless NASA artifact would soon be reduced to its elemental particles if long exposed to an elementary school environment.


I offered to build a custom display to properly protect and exhibit the Shuttle tile and the end result is documented in the photos below.  The design incorporates recommendations from Principal Kopp and my own ideas and hopefully it fulfills the stated goals of NASA’s “Tiles for Teachers” program which is “To preserve the (Space Shuttle) program's history and inspire the next generation of space explorers, scientists and engineers”. 

Please contact me if you would like more information about this display.  I can help you with part sources, or I can build you one for around $2,000.00 (negotiable).

Click on photos to enlarge. 

Pedestal Display, Descriptive Graphic and Teachers Manuals from NASA

Front View of Pedestal

View of the quick disconnect feature which turns the pedestal display into a classroom table-top discussion piece.

The base is made of 3/4" plywood cut into the distinctive shape of the shuttle orbiter and provides a wide footprint to resist tipping. On the bottom are non-scuff glider feet.  The Solvay school colors are orange and blue (the same as nearby Syracuse University). 

Posing with the tile at home.  I had the tile in my possession for a few weeks to measure it up and to make sure it fit into the display.  

The display was carefully designed to be accessible to elementary school students.

This is a screen shot from a proprietary NASA "Tile Locator" program which catalogs the location of each of the 34,000 individual Space Shuttle thermal tiles.  This is a view of the exact location of the tile NASA sent to Solvay Elementary School.

Side View of Pedestal

Close-up of the top unit as a table display.

Behind the tile is a model of the shuttle orbiter with a pin denoting the exact location of the tile on the Space Shuttle - Bottom left inboard elevon.  The silver square item in the display floor is an air dessicant canister which creates a dry environment to help preserve the tile.

The finished display on exhibit in the lobby of Solvay Elementary School.  The display will be loaned to other Solvay schools and may also may be made available for exhibit at the New York State Fair.

As an adjunct to the official unveiling of the new Space Shuttle thermal tile display for Solvay Elementary School, I donated some other items from my personal collection for them to display; including Moon, Mars and Mercury meteorites, a piece of the Apollo 11 Command Module, and my prized Space Shuttle Main Engine Main Fuel Valve Actuator.

This is a very curious find!  On the very last flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis, the "After Flight Report" noted damage to the very same tile sent to Solvay Elementary School.  If Atlantis was not destined for retirement, our tile may have been utilized to replace this damaged tile! 

Pedestal display with graphic.

NASA Resources:

"Tiles for Teachers" tile request portal:

NASA "Tiles For Teachers" educational resources, shuttle tile MSDS and other information: