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The 21st Century Space Shuttle

A Familiar Workhorse Evolves into a Safer, More Capable Spacecraft

IMAGE: The "glass cockpit"
This is the shuttle's Multifunction Electronic Display Subsystem, known as the "glass cockpit."

Hidden beneath its familiar shape, the space shuttle has undergone a metamorphosis. From the inside out, thousands of advances in technology and enhanced designs have been incorporated into the shuttle since it first launched. Today's shuttle is a safer, more powerful and more efficient spacecraft. When the shuttle Atlantis launches this year, it will be the most up-to-date space shuttle ever. From a new "glass cockpit" to main engines estimated threefold safer, Atlantis is far different than when it first flew in 1985.

This year also will see the 100th space shuttle launch in history, a milestone for a workhorse that has taken over 600 passengers and 1.36 million kilograms (3 million pounds) of cargo to orbit. The shuttle fleet has spent almost 2 years in space. But even the most-traveled shuttles remain young in the lifetimes for which they were built. NASA is preparing for the possibility of flying the space shuttle for at least another decade. Future upgrades will make this American cornerstone of world space flight even better toward a goal of doubling its launch safety by 2005.

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Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: Amiko Kauderer | Updated: 04/06/2009
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