Shuttles Will Return to Flight Upgraded With Added Technology: "When the next space shuttle lifts off, perhaps as early as September, an upgraded model of the decades-old spaceship will be doing the flying. Packed full of additional technology intended to make the astronauts safer, most of the improvements won't be obvious when you watch the launch on television. Those changes will be included as the direct result of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's final report, released in August, which detailed 15 recommendations NASA must do before resuming shuttle flights. Another 14 must be adopted as soon as possible."
"Chief among those: incorporating the ability to detect damage to the shuttle's heat protection system of tiles and reinforced carbon-carbon (RCC) material and then repair that damage while still in space. Another major task: redesigning the shuttle's external tank so large chunks of insulating foam won't fall and threaten the shuttle's heat shield in the manner that led to the Columbia tragedy in February."