BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: April 14, 2000
By the completion of this servicing work in September, Columbia will sport over 100 major modifications aimed at making the shuttle safer and more reliable.
The biggest upgrade will be installation of a $9 million "glass cockpit" on the shuttle's flight deck, replacing 1970s displays with the latest high-tech gadgetry.
Known officially as the Multifunction Electronic Display Subsystem, or MEDS, the cockpit features eleven full-color, flat-panel display screens that replace 32 gauges and electromechanical displays and four archaic cathode-ray tube screens. The advanced displays with MEDS will give astronauts more information while helping the crew deal with emergencies and problems.
"Whenever we can reduce the workload or give the opportunity for increased margin for crew, it is something that is advantageous to take," said Andy Allen, former astronaut and currently the associate program manager of space shuttle upgrades for United Space Alliance. "It is something that gives the crew better time and better recovery for in case they have to work other issues or malfunctions as the flight progresses."
"(MEDS) gives us an opportunity to bring in color and some other types of graphics to quickly focus a crews' eyes on the problem at hand," Allen says. "Sometimes seconds are the difference between survival and not survival in some of the cases we have to run."
Honeywell Space Systems of Phoenix developed the cockpit using technology incorporated in the state-of-the-art Boeing 777 aircraft. The new shuttle cockpit will be as advanced as some commercial airliners and military fighter jets.
MEDS saves 75 pounds over the old cockpit and needs less power to run, savings shuttle mission planners welcome.
The new equipment also takes away concerns about finding replacements when the old pieces broke. Many companies that built the 1970s cockpit parts have either moved on to new technologies or have gone out of business, Allen said.
The cockpit should be bolted into Columbia by Memorial Day, with testing to follow in mid-June.
MEDS will make its debut later this month when shuttle Atlantis launches to the International Space Station. Atlantis underwent a similar servicing at Palmdale in 1998.
Step aboard the space shuttle Columbia for a virtual reality tour of the spaceship midway through its maintenance and modification period.
Tip to tail checkout
Mired in wire
Columbia weight loss plan
Finishing the job
Flying into the future
Birthplace of the shuttle
Special report home
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