NASA studies landing unmanned shuttle

April 18, 2005|By ORLANDO SENTINEL

CAPE CANAVERAL - NASA engineers are studying options for returning a space shuttle from orbit and landing with no one aboard if astronauts took refuge on the international space station.

Shuttles already have a system that can automatically perform most landing functions. However, some key tasks - such as lowering the landing gear and deploying a pair of probes that collect airspeed, altitude and temperature data during the last moments of flight - require an astronaut at the controls.

The potential changes would allow the flight team on the ground to land an unmanned shuttle by remote command.

"All of those things in a theoretical sense can be automated, but they are not currently connected to the computer system," said Wayne Hale, deputy director of the shuttle program.

"When we designed the shuttle years ago, they weren't [connected] for a variety of reasons," he added. "The modifications to allow that capability to be automated are going to take some time."

If that capability becomes a reality, it could give NASA an alternative to scuttling a damaged orbiter. Plans developed after the 2003 Columbia accident raise the possibility that future shuttle crews might seek safe haven at the space station if there is evidence their ship needs repairs, rather than risk the fiery plunge home through Earth's atmosphere.

The Orlando-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.