Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Astronauts examine shuttle on way to space station


Endeavour's astronauts inspected their ship early Tuesday for any launch damage as they raced toward a meeting with the International Space Station.

Scarcely a day after blasting into orbit, the space shuttle crew used a 15-metre, laser-tipped boom held by the Canadarm to check the thermal shielding on the wings and nose.

A few pieces of foam insulation broke off the exterior fuel tank during Monday morning's launch, as well as a narrow 30-centimetre strip. But there was no indication anything strike the shuttle.
A foam strike brought down Columbia in 2003, and orbiting astronauts have carried out thorough inspections ever since. Commander George Zamka and his crew performed the custom survey to ensure the launch cameras did not miss something.

The long, arduous process got underway late Monday and prolonged into Tuesday morning. The astronauts were in the home extend — surveying Endeavour's left wing — when the screens rapidly went black. Mission Control worked with pilot Terry Virts to get all back in order. The disruption lasted just a half-hour.

Flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho said nothing of concern was jumping out in the survey, but strained that the data needed to be analyzed by experts.

Endeavour will catch up with the space station early Wednesday, performing a slow-motion spin for the cameras before docking. The close-up pictures of the shuttle's belly — impossible to see any other way in such detail — will provide even more information concerning Endeavour's health.

The shuttle is delivering a new room to the space station, as well as the largest window ever launched, part of a fancy vaulted compartment. Collectively, the additions are worth more than $400 million US.

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