July 29, 2009

Shuttle’s thermal shielding OK after check

U.S. space shuttle Endeavour astronauts found no evident flaws in their ship's thermal shielding Wednesday after inspecting it, NASA officials said.

Everything appears on track for Friday morning's planned landing, flight director Tony Ceccacci said after the astronauts beamed down images of their inspection.

But he said NASA would need 20 hours to analyze all the data.

The crew used a 50-foot boom extension to the shuttle's robotic arm to ensure no micrometeoroid or other damage occurred while the shuttle was docked with the International Space Station.

NASA added the safety check after the Feb. 1, 2003, Columbia shuttle disaster. The Columbia disintegrated over Palestine, Texas, during re-entry, killing all seven crew members.

NASA blamed damage sustained during launch when a piece of foam insulation the size of a small briefcase broke off the shuttle's external tank.

The seven-member Endeavour crew was awakened Wednesday morning to the song Yellow by the band Coldplay, uplinked for pilot Doug Hurley in honor of his space station fly-around, NASA said.

The crew left the station Tuesday afternoon after a busy assembly mission that completed Japan's Kibo laboratory.

An unmanned Russian Progress resupply vehicle docked at the station at 7:12 a.m. EDT Wednesday carrying 2 1/2 tons of food, fuel and supplies, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said.

Station Cmdr. Gennady Padalka had to take over manual control of the docking when the Progress's automated approach system oriented the ship incorrectly, Aviation Week reported.

NASA officials said their Russian counterparts would investigate what went wrong.

Mission Control praised Padalka for his tremendous effort.