BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: April 14, 2000
Columbia will receive an advanced navigation system relying on the U.S. Air Force's Global Positioning System satellite network -- a constellation of 24 spacecraft orbiting 11,000 miles above Earth. The GPS system will allow the shuttle to more accurately pinpoint its precise location during flight. If NASA becomes comfortable with the GPS system, it could one day replace the current shuttle navigation system.
For safety, the shuttle's radiators located on the payload bay doors are being beefed up to protect against micrometeorite impacts. The radiators will now seal off areas punctured by a micrometeorite, stopping freon from escaping into space and allowing the shuttle mission to continue.
The freon is used to cool the shuttle's electronics, and the old system would have forced an immediate emergency landing if a radiator was damaged.
Also, sections of the crew compartment floors are being strengthened to protect the astronauts during a "hard" landing. The upgrade will allow the floors to withstand 20g's, or 20 times Earth's gravity.
Boeing is also installing a new radio and wireless video system to permit additional communications relay during spacewalks.
As for Columbia's wings, which have a unique design with "USA" on one and an American flag on the other, there is conflict about what will be done. Boeing says they have not been told to remove Columbia's special look, giving it the same design as the other shuttles. But NASA said last year that Columbia must appear like its sisterships.
NASA is looking at even more upgrades for the future to reduce the risks of flying the space shuttle in half by 2005.
"The exploration of space never be without risk. But it is mandatory that we use the best technology, human expertise and human dedication available to minimize that risk at all times," said astronaut John Young, commander of the first space shuttle mission aboard Columbia.
Plus, the space agency wants to keep the shuttle around for another decade or two and developing new systems will replace obsolete parts that won't be available anymore.
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
21st century cockpit
Columbia weight loss plan
Finishing the job
Flying into the future
Birthplace of the shuttle
Special report home
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