Press Release

NASA’s Shuttle Orbiter Columbia Ready for Next Historic Mission

By SpaceRef Editor
February 25, 2002
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NASA’s Shuttle orbiter Columbia is poised for its return to flight on the STS-109 mission after undergoing 2 1/2 years of comprehensive maintenance, modification and processing operations that have made the senior partner in the Shuttle fleet young again and more versatile and safer than ever.

And thanks to the latest streamlining, Columbia for the first time has the capability to perform limited missions to the International Space Station (ISS) that were not possible before because of the orbiter’s excess weight. After the upcoming Hubble servicing mission and the Freestar research flight in July, Columbia will undergo additional modifications before making its first flight to the ISS on the STS-118 mission in October 2003, carrying a Spacehab module and a replacement astronaut resident crew.

Although it looks about the same, today’s Columbia is a far cry from the original model that carried John Young and Bob Crippen to orbit on the historic first Shuttle flight on April 12, 1981. Records show that since 1988 more than 1,540 modification packages have been completed and, thanks to advances in thermal protection technology over the years, Columbia now flies with 5,550 less tiles than were carried on STS-1.

During its latest Orbiter Major Modification (OMM) period, Columbia underwent a substantial weight reduction with the removal of more than 1,000 pounds of Development Flight Instrumentation wiring and hardware no longer required.

“Columbia is new again after undergoing more than 100 upgrades and improvements during its OMM at the Boeing plant in Palmdale, California and follow-on processing operations by United Space Alliance (USA) at KSC,2uÔdoid Bill Pickavance, USA vice president and deputy program manager for Florida Operations. “At USA, safety is our top priority, and we have every confidence that we have an orbiter that is more capable and safer than ever thanks to an outstanding effort by the KSC team.”

NASA KSC Launch Manager, Ed Mango agrees, “This joint NASA/USA team has worked intensely to bring Columbia back to a safe, ready for flight state. The team’s dedication to excellence is evident by the pride and enthusiasm put forth throughout the entire processing flow. The spaceship Columbia has been upgraded, inspected, tested and serviced to once again fly right in America’s Shuttle fleet.”

The modifications include installation of the new “glass cockpit,” replacing the outmoded analog gauges on board with the latest state-of-the-art flat panel technology to reduce the astronauts’ workloads during critical periods. The Multifunctional Electronic Display System (MEDS) was first installed in orbiter Atlantis two years ago.

Other significant changes include a series of safety modifications and the most intensive wiring inspection and repair operation in the history of the Space Shuttle program. Because of wiring concerns throughout the Shuttle fleet, 95 percent of Columbia’s more than 215 miles of wiring were inspected and corrective action was taken to prevent the possibility of short circuits throughout the system.

During the months of structural inspections, technicians scoured Columbia from stem to stern, using the latest technology to search for possible fatigue points, corrosion and defective welds and rivets.

After returning to KSC in March 2001, Columbia still had standard post-OMM work ahead of it before the Hubble mission processing flow could begin. A newly assembled USA processing team, headed by USA Flow Director Doug Perdomo and Vehicle Operations Chief Bill Carr, was assigned the job of preparing Columbia for launch.

“The team dynamics came together right from the start and we pulled it off smoothly despite the major workload we faced,” Perdomo said. “For months, at varying times, we had more than 250 engineers, technicians and safety and quality people involved in performing the work that had to be accomplished before we could start the routine processing operations.”

That work included long hours involved in removing the orbiter nose cap to make repairs, realigning the Orbiter Maneuvering System (OMS) attach point bolt holes, changing out the vehicle cold plates in the aft, re-welding the OMS cross-feed lines, dismantling and reworking the cockpit Heads-Up Displays and carefully painting the mid-body area to meet stringent “clean room” requirements.

“We had some surprises along the way, but each time the team responded and didn’t miss a beat – – the result is one of the ‘cleanest’ vehicles you’ll ever see,” Perdomo said.

SpaceRef staff editor.