Atlantis crew begins inspecting space shuttle's thermal skin for potential damage
Sunday, September 10th 2006, 10:31 am
By: News On 6
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ Early results from an inspection of space shuttle Atlantis using sensors attached to a boom showed no evidence of damage to the shuttle's thermal skin as it soars to the international space station, a flight director said Sunday.
``I have not seen a single problem with the vehicle,'' said flight director Paul Dye. ``So far, everything has gone exactly according to plan except for the fact that we're a little bit early.''
A decision won't be made for a couple of days on whether NASA will use an extra day to do a ``focused inspection'' on areas of the space shuttle that could look suspicious, Dye said.
``I haven't seen anything that's caught my eye,'' Dye said.
Atlantis' six astronauts already are on a tight schedule to take three spacewalks, attach a 17 1/2-ton truss segment to the space station by robotic arm and remotely unfurl two solar arrays from the new addition during the 11-day mission. The spacecraft arrives at the space station on Monday.
The shuttle crew awoke early Sunday to a version of ``Moon River'' sung by Audrey Hepburn in the movie ``Breakfast at Tiffany's,'' a request of commander Brent Jett's wife.
``It really is a beautiful day up here,'' Jett said after the wake-up greeting. ``We're awake and ready to get to work with the inspection.''
More than 100 cameras were focused on Atlantis during liftoff to capture any signs of foam breaking off its external fuel tank, the problem that doomed space shuttle Columbia. NASA's cameras spotted three possible hits _ two small foam streams and one ice chunk _ but they came so late that the debris wasn't moving fast enough to do much damage.
Still, the imagery review was preliminary. NASA hoped to get a better look of the spacecraft's nose cap and wings from the crew using the shuttle's 50-foot robotic arm, attached to a 50-foot boom with sensors and a camera at the end. The inspection was expected to last more than five hours.
The inspection technique was introduced after the Columbia disaster in 2003, and Atlantis was to be the third flight to try it out.
In 2003, Columbia's heat shield was damaged by flyaway foam from its external fuel tank during liftoff, allowing fiery gases to penetrate its wing and tear the shuttle apart as it later re-entered the atmosphere. Since then, NASA has struggled to find ways to prevent the hard foam from breaking away.