The underside of a space shuttle is covered with about 24,300 unique silica tiles that have to be individually fitted onto the vehicle. Though extremely fragile, they sufficiently protected the aluminum frame of the spacecraft from the searing heat of reentry. The landing gear remained tucked behind the protective heat shield until just before landing when a triple-redundant system guaranteed their deployment.
Credit: Gigapan by Jon Brack
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More Space Shuttle Coverage
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'Live From Space' March 14
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