Crew on shuttle Discovery settles into routine, including inspection of tiles
One day into the final mission for the space shuttle Discovery, the orbiter's systems were 'in great shape.' But the craft's heat-shedding tiles were closely inspected for post-launch damage.
After their first full day in space, the shuttle Discovery and its six-member crew have settled in to their activities with a smoothness that stands in stark contrast to the delays the mission experienced to reach this point.Skip to next paragraph
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This mission marks Discovery's final trip to space as NASA prepares to retire its fleet of orbiters after 30 years of operation. Through a series of launch postponements, sparked by unexpected problems with the orbiter's external fuel tank, it seemed as though the craft was trying to avoid the inevitable.
But with a spectacular launch Thursday, the orbiter and crew – all veterans of previous spaceflights – are back in their element.
"Everything's going really well on board," Bryan Lunney, the mission's flight director, said late Friday afternoon of the crew's performance.
And the vehicle's systems are "in great shape" as controllers and crew look forward to a rendezvous with the International Space Station Saturday, he said.
But for all the kudos mission managers are giving Discovery's launch team for its successful efforts to track down the cause for the external-tank problems that delayed the mission, the managers are keeping an eye on data the shuttle crew relayed after spending about six hours Friday inspecting the orbiter's heat-shedding tiles.
During lift-off, video cameras on the external fuel tank recorded four instances where foam insulation from the tank broke free and traveled down the length of the orbiter.
All four events happened after the shuttle had reached an altitude where the atmosphere was too thin to impart a relative velocity to the debris that would have damaged the tiles, notes LeRoy Cain, who heads the mission-management team overseeing the 11-day flight.
A hunt for damaged tiles
Still, engineers will comb through images and laser-generated maps of the tile surfaces to hunt for damage.
Of particular interest is an event that occurred 3 minutes and 51 seconds after launch, Mr. Cain says. Debris from the tank appeared to strike the underside of the orbiter, ricochet off of a strut connecting the external tank to the orbiter, then strike the side of the fuselage before vanishing.