A technician installs a heat shield tile on a space shuttle at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Such tiles are now being made available to schools and universities for a shipping and handling fee.
NASA is offering 7,000 space shuttle tiles for the sweet price of $23.40. There are a couple of catches, though: You have to be a school or a university to buy one. Also, it's first come, first served, starting today -- so this deal may not last long.
Here's the news release from NASA:
"WASHINGTON -- As the Space Shuttle Program nears retirement, NASA is looking for ways to preserve the program's history and inspire the next generation of space explorers, scientists and engineers. Beginning Wednesday, NASA is offering 7,000 shuttle heat shield tiles to schools and universities that want to share technology and a piece of space history with their students.
"The lightweight tiles protect the shuttles from extreme temperatures when the orbiters re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. Schools can request a tile at: http://gsaxcess.gov/NASAWel.htm
"Click on the tile icon to log on to the request page. A login ID and password may be obtained by registering on the link provided. A Department of Education statistics tracking number (NCES for schools or IPEDS for universities) is needed to register. Hyperlinks are available to these sites to find a specific institution's tracking number. The requests will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Only one tile will be given per institution.
"Because the tiles are government property, a transfer protocol is observed. Recipients will be responsible for a shipping and handling fee of $23.40, which is payable to the shipping company through a secure website. For more information about artifacts also available to museums and libraries, visit: http://gsaxcess.gov/htm/nasa/userguide/NASA_SSPA_Pamphlet.pdf
"For information about the space shuttle, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle"
Sounds like the perfect holiday gift for your school's classroom...
Update for 8:50 p.m. ET: NASA spokeswoman Ann Marie Trotta told me that there should be plenty of tiles to go around. About 100 tiles were snapped up on the first day of availability, she said. "Seven thousand is going to take a while," she said. But she does expect that all the tiles will be given away eventually.
During our chat, it came out that these tiles have been stockpiled as replacements -- but have gone unused. With the retirement of the shuttle fleet, NASA judged that its tile stockpile is larger than necessary, and that it could afford to part with these 7,000 ceramic-fiber tiles. If Trotta can dig up any more details, I'll pass them along.
The shuttles themselves will be given away as well, but the shipping and handling charge is a bit higher: $28.8 million. Several museums have put in their bids for a used shuttle. However, at last report, even the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum is having a hard time coming up with the money.