NASA is rolling out a moving-map display for its Space Shuttle orbiters under its 33rd operational increment (OI33), the penultimate software update before the retirement of the Shuttle fleet.

On the display the pilot-astronaut and mission commander will see a top-down view of the orbiter and locations relating to abort sites during ascent.

Endeavour is the first orbiter to receive the software upgrade and the moving map will be used for the first time for its upcoming STS-126 mission, scheduled for October this year.

STS-126 will see the delivery of a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module and will deliver a NASA ISS flight engineer and return one home. The next orbiter to use the moving map will be Discovery for STS-119.

"The mission [STS-126] is scheduled to conduct four [extra-vehicular activities] but two of them are yet to be decided. We may have one to inspect or swap out the starboard solar array rotary joint [SARJ]," says NASA pilot-astronaut and STS-126 mission commander, US Navy Capt Christopher Ferguson.

The SARJ enables ISS solar arrays to rotate in a paddlewheel-like fashion to follow the sun as the station orbits the Earth. In September and October 2007 the SARJ had shown increased friction for more than 30 days. Problems with the SARJ could mean reduced power from the arrays as they would be unable to completely track the sun.

During EVAs by the ISS Expedition 16 astronauts in January this year and December 2007 contamination was found in the SARJ and metal shavings collected. The SARJ has been locked after vibrations were noted and increased power consumption seen.

Speaking about training for his upcoming mission, Ferguson estimates "dynamic flying" for off-nominal situations as about 60% of the work. Contingencies planned for include losing one or more Space Shuttle main engines during ascent.

Such a loss of thrust results in suborbital trajectories returning the orbiter to the continental US, Canadian or European landing sites.