Science: Hot-Spot Plastic

The nose-cone problem—how to bring a missile's warhead down through the atmosphere without too much heat damage—can be approached in very complicated or in very simple ways. A simple way that looks promising for even the fastest-falling missiles: sheathe the cone with Astrolite, a plastic made by H. I. Thompson Fiber Glass Co. of Los Angeles. Astrolite looks like the familiar brownish material used in workers' hard hats, but the fibers that reinforce the plastic are silica (quartz) instead of glass.

When Astrolite is exposed to a blast of high-temperature gas, a thin layer of the plastic on the surface burns off,...

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