Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ordering NASA shuttle tiles

One of the side benefits of the space shuttle program shutting down is that NASA has a surplus of shuttle tiles.  These are the heat-resistant tiles that covered the outer skin of the space shuttle.  Actually, NASA has about 7000 tiles.  They are giving them away to schools and universities that pony up $23.70 for shipping. Here's the news release from NASA.  Now, this sounds easy enough, I thought.  The press release makes it sound easy...

The lightweight tiles protect the shuttles from extreme temperatures when the orbiters re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. Schools can request a tile at: 

Turns out this is not for the faint of heart.  The gsaxcess site is an example of how not to design websites.  I finally figured out which link to click on.  Then I began hunting for my school's NCES number.  What is an NCES number?  From the GSA website:

Universities and Schools can acquire an artifact directly from NASA without the aid of the State Agency for Surplus Property (SASP). You must first Register to receive a User ID and password. To register you will need the Department of Education's statistics tracking number (an NCES Number if you are a school or an IPEDS Number if you are a University). Just follow the links provided (highlighted text) to obtain the NCES or IPEDS numbers and to register. 

After negotiating yet another website, I'm up to 4 screens now, I finally figured out how to navigate the National Center for Education Statistics site.  Looking up private schools didn't work.  So, I just clicked on the first Search for Schools link, filled in my zip code, hit return, prayed, and voilà, in the upper right hand corner of my school's information was an 8 digit NCES number.  Armed with this, I was able to register at the GSA site.  Cooking now, I hear you think.  Nope.  Turns out, I was just the "Person getting the Access Code."  I also needed an "Approving Official."  I tried filling in both blanks with my email and phone, but was told that the two could "Not be the same person."  Hmm.....time for cloak and dagger work.  I entered my administrative assistant's information, the computer accepted this, and we were off.  Once I had a temporary password (somebody super creative at GSA decided the temp password should be 12345678,) then I received an email with a user id.  This turned out to the be the first of 5 emails I received from the GSA involving space shuttle tiles.  Now I was faced with a screen which listed NASA "artifacts."  Did I want something from
 Aircraft Launching, Landing, and Ground Handling Equipment 1 / 1 )
Nonmetallic Crude and Fabricated Materials ( 0 / 0 )

How was I to tell?  Finally, I noticed a tab that said Space Shuttle Tiles, clicked it, clicked the only link on the page, and found this:

I added the Space Shuttle Tile to my cart!  This caused another email to appear in my inbox.  Time to contact my Approving Officer!  I raced downstairs to the office and before I could ask my administrative assistant, she said, "I just got mail from NASA.  Should I delete it?"  I asked her to open it, and neither of us understood what she was to do next.  Apparently, she was supposed to register first.  So, as the Approving Officer, she went through the same registration process.  This generated another 2 emails to her inbox.  Following one of them, we managed to find the correct link for her to "Sign-off" on my purchase.  Then, we followed another email link to the secure payment site (the US government only prints money, they only accept credit cards) where we entered the appropriate information, generated 4 more emails and finally had a receipt.  The whole process only took an hour!  In three weeks or so, Catlin Gabel will own a space shuttle tile which we have promised to keep in its protective wrapping, not to sell, barter, or trade it to anybody else in any country on any planet, and treat with the respect it is due.  Shuttle tiles also come with their own MSDS forms since they contain materials which are hazardous to breathe.

There are also other NASA artifacts "for sale."  Anybody need pliers, needle nose assembly M/U?  How about some used NASA medical items?  Perhaps the Ark of the Covenant?


  1. Well, if you can get your hands on the Ark of the Covenant, I've got a birthday coming up, and I'd be delighted to get it as a gift.
    As to the red tape itself, maybe you could have gotten to the right form faster via Wikileaks.

  2. Great story. I can't top the previous comment. I hope the protective wrapping is transparent.

  3. Now that you've ordered the shuttle tile, what will you do with your extra time next?