NASA’s Tire Assault Vehicle →

James Gilboy, writing at The Drive, about a NASA project I was not aware of until recently:

The TAV’s story begins in 1993, when NASA was upgrading the Space Shuttle’s landing gear. After gliding down through the atmosphere, the 240,000-pound Space Shuttles would land at speeds up to 288 mph, placing enormous stress on their tires. They had to endure triple the load of a Boeing 747 tire, so they weighed 230 pounds apiece according to Michelin, and were nitrogen-filled to as high as 373 psi.

That’ll make anyone who has worked with truck tires shudder—semi tires can kill you when they blow out. Bigger, more pressurized Shuttle tires were even more dangerous, bursting with force equivalent to 2.5 sticks of dynamite, according to NASA. That’s enough to injure people as far as 50 feet away, or deafen you from 100 feet. NASA’s test process of landing a modified airliner on one of the tires could make them pop on landing, but the ones that didn’t were more dangerous. Apparently, even a person’s touch could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, so to speak.

NASA tried multiple ways of popping dangerous tires, notably a bomb disposal robot, but it was imperfect. The bot was expensive, too bulky to drive easily under the test plane, and it wasn’t always available. At some point though, a NASA radio contractor by the name of David Carrott had an idea—presumably while browsing a toy catalog.