NASA Podcasts

How the Space Shuttle Got 'Smarter'
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Narrator: One of the most significant updates for NASA's fleet of space shuttles was the installation of the Multi-function Electronic Display System, or MEDS, in the shuttle's cockpits, making the orbiters safer and easier to fly.

The "glass" instruments gave the cockpit a unique appearance, which suggested its well-known name, the "glass cockpit." The new display system improved the handling of the vehicle using easy-to-see flight information, such as attitude, altitude, speed -- and many indicators the astronauts need to know during liftoff, landing and for navigation.

The electronic system included 11 full-color, flat-panel display screens in the shuttle's cockpit. The screens replaced 32 gauges and electromechanical displays and four cathode-ray tube, or CRT, displays.

It's 75 pounds lighter and used less power than the older system.

NASA research eventually led to the Federal Aviation Administration certification of electronic flight displays and MEDS became mainstream equipment on all commercial aircraft.

What was important on a commercial airliner also was beneficial to the astronauts flying the shuttle.

Space shuttle Atlantis was chosen as the first orbiter to receive the glass cockpit during its 1998 modification period and lifted off with its new cockpit display on the STS-101 mission in May of 2000.

Shuttle Endeavour was the last spacecraft in the fleet to be outfitted with the electronic display and made its first flight with the improved system in August 2007 on the STS-118 mission.

The glass cockpit still remains one of the most important modifications in the orbiter fleet to safely fly out the final missions of the program.

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