"It's not routine. It never will be."
When the Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted off Pad 39B Saturday night (Nov. 30) at 9:06 p.m. CST - on the 101st Shuttle launch - the individuals, who work for the Space Shuttle Projects Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., took a deep breath and remembered those words.
No launch is routine … even after 100," says Alex McCool, manager of the Space Shuttle Project Office at Marshall.
McCool used those same words at a recent Shuttle Projects meeting, reminding co-workers there is much more work to be done: Eight flights are planned within the next year with one to include upgrades to the Shuttle.
The Marshall Center serves as NASA's lead center for research and development of the propulsion systems that enable safe, reliable and lower-cost access to space and space exploration. Marshall is the home of the Shuttle's External Tank, Solid Rocket Boosters - which include the Reusable Solid Rocket Motor - and Main Engines.
"Our team is on top of our game --- upbeat and looking forward," said George Hopson, manager of the Space Shuttle Main Engine Projects Office. "It's exciting for the Shuttle team to have so many flights scheduled."
Hopson is one of the more than 120 people at Marshall who have worked on the Shuttle program since its inception in the 1970s. "Completing the 100th flight was a milestone. But we have a lot of work to do during the next year. We've got to meet our responsibility to the crews that fly the Shuttle -- and that means putting safety first," said Hopson.
Ongoing improvements to the Shuttle's propulsion system are one way that Marshall places safety at the forefront.
Continuous integration on the Shuttle of state-of-the-art technologies has improved safety, reliability and performance; reduced turnaround time; eliminated obsolescence and cut operations costs.
Since the first Shuttle flew in 1981, three modifications to the Main Engines have more than tripled estimates of their safety. During the next four years, the Marshall Center will implement plans for continuing improvements on all of the Shuttle elements that it maintains.
Main Engine improvements being considered include adding an optical and vibration sensor system and computer - called an Advanced Health Management System -- to the engines that will "see" trouble and shut down the system a fraction of a second before any harm can be done.
Other possible Main Engine improvements will incorporate a redesigned main combustion chamber with a larger throat to reduce pressure and temperature on internal parts without reducing thrust; and a new, more reliable engine-nozzle design to eliminate the need for more than 500 welds. Each weld is considered a weak link that could become the source of a potential leak.
Recently, the Solid Rocket Booster team recommended a safety enhancement by selecting a gaseous helium-powered auxiliary power unit to provide an updated steering power source for the boosters. Also, changes to the solid rocket propellant manufacturing process will make the workplace safer for Shuttle technicians.
In 1998, the Shuttle's redesigned Super Lightweight External Tank flew for the first time. Upcoming improvements include a new friction-stir welding technique that will produce stronger and more durable welds throughout the tank.
From the inside out, thousands of advances in technology and enhanced design will make the Shuttle a safer, more powerful and more efficient spacecraft.
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