shuttle gets facelift for its last voyage

When the space shuttle Discovery finally gets off the ground (the latest estimate, as of this writing, is tomorrow) for its last voyage, it will be cleaner, tougher and much improved than the one that rolled of a California assembly line back  in 1983.

NASA says that for its upcoming mission to the International Space Station, Discovery will feature 33 new and improved heat-protection tiles placed over critical areas of the ship and new ceramic bolt covers that won’t come undone in flight. Additionally, it will be equipped with instrumentation and controls to measure heat buildup when the orbiter makes its return back home in about two weeks.

What is interesting is that these upgrades were installed for the spacecraft’s final flight. Discovery will be the first of NASA’s remaining three orbiters to be decommissioned when it returns to Earth.

NASA said it has made improvements on the shuttles before every flight, including installing harder heat-protection tiles in critical areas of the orbiter’s underside. This flight is no different, NASA said, even it if is Discovery’s last voyage.

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The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

November 2010
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