Digital thermometer joins space shuttle team


A digital thermometer from Fluke Corp. joined the crew of the U.S. space shuttle Discovery to help demonstrate space-based repair of the thermal protection system (TPS) tiles during the shuttle’s recent “ Return to Flight ” voyage. Testing emergency inspection and repair techniques was one of the primary goals of Discovery’s August 2005 mission.

Adapted for work in space by Swales Aerospace , Beltsville, MD, the Fluke 54 Series II digital thermometer and a Fluke 80PK-27 surface probe accompanied crewmembers Steve Robinson and Soichi Noguchi in their space walk on day five of the mission. The thermometer was used to check surface temperatures during testing of a “space spackle” type of sealant material called NOAX (non-oxide adhesive experimental) that may be used to patch small cracks in the thermal tiles if they are damaged during launch or in flight.

The instrument performed so well it was left with the crew of the international space station instead of returning to earth. The device was said to need few changes to ready it for space duty. It was enclosed in a protective aluminum chassis with a plastic window over the thermometer screen and wrapped in a multi-layer blanket of reflective Mylar. With the protective coating, the device stays within its operating range outside the shuttle for up to 8 hr. An external switch was added to disconnect the unit’s battery and automatically reset the software.

—Jeanine Katzel, senior editor, Control Engineering,

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