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The 21st Century Space Shuttle

Now Flying: Atlantis Glass Cockpit

IMAGE: Eleven new full-color, flat panel display screens in the Shuttle cockpit
Eleven new full-color, flat-panel display screens in the Shuttle cockpit replace older gauges and displays. 

Flying for the first time on Atlantis on mission STS-101, 11 new full-color, flat-panel display screens in the shuttle cockpit replace 32 gauges and electromechanical displays and four cathode-ray tube displays. The new “glass cockpit” is 34 kilograms (75 pounds) lighter and uses less power than before, and its color displays provide easier pilot recognition of key functions. The new cockpit will be installed in all shuttles by 2002, and it sets the stage for the next cockpit improvement planned to fly by 2005: a “smart cockpit” that reduces the pilots’ workload during critical periods.

On STS-101, Atlantis will fly as the most updated space shuttle ever, with more than 100 new modifications incorporated during a 10-month period at Boeing’s Palmdale, Calif., shuttle factory in 1998. Atlantis’ airlock was relocated to the payload bay to prepare for International Space Station assembly flights; the communications system was updated; several weight reduction measures were installed; enhancements were made to provide additional protection to the cooling system; and the crew cabin floor was strengthened. The shuttle Columbia is at the Palmdale factory this year receiving many of the same upgrades, including installation of the new “glass cockpit.”

IMAGE: Shuttle during ascentToday's Space Shuttle

Since 1992, not only has the cargo capacity of the shuttle increased by 7.26 metric tons (8 tons), the annual cost of operating the shuttle has decreased by 40 percent. Improvements to the main engines and other systems have reduced the estimated risks during launch by over 80 percent. And the number of all actual problems experienced by the shuttle in flight has decreased by 70 percent. Although they have flown for almost 20 years, the space shuttle fleet has used only about a quarter of the lifetime for which it was designed. Discovery, the most flown shuttle, has completed 27 trips to space out of 100 flights originally designed for each shuttle.

Upgrades Video

Former shuttle commander Andy Allen narrates video of "glass cockpit" installation at Boeing's Palmdale, Calif., facility.

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