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NASA Unveils New Atlantis Cockpit
.c The Associated Press
By MARCIA DUNN
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- NASA this week unveiled a modern, Boeing
777-style cockpit inside space shuttle Atlantis, an improvement that
astronauts say could save their lives.
Instead of the usual array of dials and knobs and three old-fashioned
screens, Atlantis' cockpit now has nine high-resolution, liquid-crystal
computer screens, thus the moniker ``glass cockpit.''
Shuttle pilots say they will be able to obtain information much more quickly
during the crucial 8 1/2-minute climb to orbit. In addition, the data will be
easier to read because of its organization and color coding.
They say this will help them deal better with emergencies.
``It really helps the crew analyze and react quicker,'' said Andrew Allen, a
former shuttle commander who now works for United Space Alliance, the primary
shuttle contractor. ``And in this business, on something that's as dynamic as
an ascent, milliseconds can make a big difference.''
Reporters were granted unprecedented access into the space shuttle, being
readied in the hangar for a December flight.
It's the latest and most visible example of NASA's continuing improvements
to the space shuttle fleet, said Elric McHenry, manager of shuttle program
development. Other upgrades include lighter fuel tanks, more sophisticated
sensors, and more efficient and sturdier main engines.
``The shuttle is the most capable and reliable and safe space transportation
system in the world today, and we intend to keep it that way and we intend to
improve it,'' McHenry said Thursday.
NASA spent just over $200 million to develop and test the new cockpit system
and to install it in Atlantis and training equipment. Engineers kept some of
the switches and organized the screens so it wouldn't be too drastic of a
change for the pilots.
The three other space shuttles will be outfitted with glass cockpits over
the next two years at a cost of almost $9 million each.
NASA expects to keep flying its space shuttles for the next 10 or 20 years,
or until something better comes along. An extended life is possible only if
the shuttle systems are updated, McHenry noted.
Columbia made the first shuttle flight 18 years ago.
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP
news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise
distributed without prior written authority of The Associated Press.