Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Interesting Fact (For Someone Working in Patent Law)

As I mentioned once before, I am working on a patent application for a horse racing sulky. While doing some research on the internet trying to determine how wide a horse's butt typically is1, I found this website about why the solid rocket boosters (SRBs) of the Space Shuttle are the size they are (a little under 4 3/4 feet in diameter at their largest point)2.

The company that designed the SRBs is located in Utah, and had to ship the SRBs to the Shuttle site via railroad, passing through several mountain tunnels along the way. The railroad tunnels are only slightly wider than the railroad tracks themselves, which are spaced 4 feet, 8.5 inches apart, which seems a very arbitrary width. The reason railroad tracks are 4 feet, 8.5 inches apart is because that's how wide they were in England. They were that width in England because that's how wide the Brits built the pre-railroad tramways, which were built that way because the people who built them used the same jigs and tools that were used to build horse-drawn wagons, which had the same width between wheels. Why? Because when wagons were used, the roads had ruts in them that the wheels fit in, which were... you guessed it, spaced apart by 4 feet, 8.5 inches. If a different wheel width was used, the wheels would break.

OK, so why did England have roads with ruts 4 feet, 8.5 inches apart. Because the roads were built by the Roman Empire so their War Chariots could be ridden around to subjugate their conquered lands (which included England), and the wheels of the War Chariots were 4 feet, 8.5 inches apart, and therefore formed the initial ruts in the English roads.

This still begs the question... why were Roman War Chariots built to this width? The answer is because the Chariots were drawn by two horses side-by-side (or more than two horses, but arranged in groups of two). The widest part of a horse is it's butt3, and two horse's butts, side-by-side, has a width of... anyone, anyone, anyone... 4 feet, 8.5 inches.

The interesting part4 is that the specifications for the boosters of the Space Shuttle, arguably one of the most advanced and sophisticated means of transportation built in the history of the planet, were dictated by the width of a horse's ass over 2000 years ago. Pretty cool, huh?

1 Ah...the glory of being a patent agent!
2 I swear it will become apparent how this relates to a horses butt... just read on.
3 See, I told you it would come back to a horses butt
4 At least interesting for me... super-nerd that I am


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