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The Thrust of the Matter
06.07.07
 
A Rocketdyne official shows Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale a piece of the main engine. Inner workings.
NASA and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne engineers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida showed senior shuttle program managers some of the inspection techniques they use to examine the insides of space shuttle main engines. Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale looks over a component of a main engine while a Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne engineer shows critical areas that must be studied. Although the part is relatively small, it's role inthe main engine's operation is large. Photo credit: NASA/George Shelton
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An engineer shows space shuttle program officials the inner workings of the Space Shuttle Main Engines. Power source.
The space shuttle's three main engines produce about 1.5 million pounds of thrust during launch to push an orbiter into space. Each one is the peak of thermodynamic efficiency, representing a 95 percent rating. By comparison, an automotive engine typically rates a 25 percent efficiency because much of its energy produces discarded heat. But with that efficiency comes enormous complexity and it takes a highly skilled team of engineers and technicians to inspect the engines and keep them in top form. Here, a NASA engineer explains some of the inspection techniques to shuttle program managers. Photo credit: NASA/George Shelton
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The shuttle main engine turbopumps weigh about 1,000 pounds. Fueling the flames.
Though each one would fit on a desk, the two high-pressure turbopumps that feed hydrogen and oxygen into the space shuttle main engine's combustion chamber each weigh about 1,000 pounds. The engines use one turbopump to push oxygen into the engine and another to pump hydrogen into the machine. The main engines burn their fuel so fast that the turbopumps have to be incredibly strong. They produce enormous pressures, enough to shoot a column of liquid hydrogen 36 miles into the air. Photo Credit: NASA/George Shelton
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A Rocketdyne technician shows the borescope devices used to examine the inside of a main engine. Designed for humans, working on machines.
Inspections within the confined lines, ducts and passages of a space shuttle main engine means using special instruments to study the inner areas. The main tool for Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne's technicians is called a borescope. It is the same kind of instrument doctors use in some arthroscopic surgeries, basically a camera lens at the end of a long, thin articulating fiber optic tube. The operator looks through a screen to see what the camera finds. "Most of the time we are going places where we can't just see by looking," said Jessica Tandy, left, of Pratt & Whiteny Rocketdyne. Photo Credit: NASA/George Shelton
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A NASA engineer tells shuttle officials about the main engines. Detailed look.
The shuttle's main propulsion system includes great lengths of different lines, ducts and many valves to steer supercold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen from the external tank into the orbiter and the engines themselves. Michael Fore of NASA shows shuttle program managers two connectors with the fuel tank. A main engine without the nozzle is at the left. Photo Credit: NASA/George Shelton
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Steven Siceloff
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center