The Shuttle

The Shuttle

Oct 11
The Shuttle

Ah, modern technology, it is changing everything about our lives. Or is it? Is it possible that the foundations of our modern world are really built on pillars from the past? What of the space shuttle, the epitome of, and culmination of, our advances in propulsion! Or again, is it?

The shuttle itself, with those three giant engines in the tail, was not strong enough for the initial push to escape the Earth’s gravity; booster rockets were needed. So NASA, the vaunted National Aeronautics and Space Administration created by President Eisenhower in 1958 and responsible for the development of memory foam, microchips, cochlear implants, LEDs, GPS, freeze dried food (NO, they didn’t invent Tang) and those little winglets on the end of every jet wing nowadays, designed reusable solid fuel rocket boosters to be built by Morton Thiokol of Ogden, Utah.

So the Space Shuttle takes off from Florida and the solid fuel rocket boosters are made in Utah; how did they transport the booster rockets to Florida? By rail car. The booster rockets had to fit on rail cars and make it through railroad tunnels in the mountains to get to the Kennedy Space Center. The U.S. Standard railroad gauge (the distance between the rails) is 4 feet 8 ½ inches. That standard came from the English as that was the gauge of their railroads. Those railroads took their gauge from early tramways. The tramways had to co-exist with horse drawn wagons. The horse drawn wagons trace their usage back to ancient societies, such as the Greeks and the Romans. But the Romans, unlike other ancient cultures, were road builders (hence the expression “all roads lead to Rome”). Some of these Roman roads are not only visible today, but still in use (some covered over with asphalt). The top layer of these roads was composed of meticulously carved and shaped marble stones making a very solid roadbed. OK, actually NOT THAT SOLID a roadbed. Over time the wooden and metal reinforced wheels of the chariots and wagons made ruts in the marble.

So what have we got here? The Shuttle depends on booster rockets. The booster rockets depend on railroads to be delivered. The railroads get their gauge, or dimensions, from horse drawn wagons. The horse drawn wagons had to fit in the ruts dug into the Roman roads over time. So have you figured this out yet? The Space Shuttle, the height of human achievement in transportation, is constrained in size by the width of a couple of horse’s asses! Think about that the next time you are wondering what horse’s ass created whatever problem you are then confronting.

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