The Corner

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Chariots of Fire


Here’s a fun little piece to put you on the right track for Christmas week. What’s the connection between the Roman war chariot and the Space Shuttle? The standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches, that’s what. Here’s the key point:

Bureaucracies live forever. So the next time you are handed a Specification/Procedure/Process and wonder “What horse’s ass came up with it?” you may be exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. (Two horses’ asses.) 

Here’s the twist. When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRB’s. The SRB’s are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRB’s would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRB’s had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site.

The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRB’s had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses’ behinds.

So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over 2,000 years ago by the width of a horse’s ass. And you thought being a horse’s ass wasn’t important? Ancient horse’s asses control almost everything. And current Horses Asses are controlling everything else.

Read the whole thing. As an aside, the column appears in the Spring Hope Enterprise, a weekly newspaper in Eastern North Carolina where I got my first journalism job 22 years ago.