Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Live in Orbit: Atlantis Appears in Good Shape

After today's early inspections of shuttle Atlantis' heat shields, NASA managers say the odds are extremely low that Endeavour will be called upon to launch a rescue mission.

"If we needed to, we could launch Endeavour on Monday," said LeRoy Cain, NASA's deputy shuttle program manager, during a mission briefing early this evening. "We have not seen anything in our early assessments that make us think that that's in any way going to be necessary, so we are not doing anything to try to accelerate that."

Analysts in Houston will review imagery overnight that the Atlantis crew took today during the first full day of the final mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

A string of four tiles on a forward section of the right wing, called the "chine," showed signs of surface damage from a debris hit about 104 seconds into flight Monday.

But the damage is considered minor and unlikely to prompt a call for a more detailed inspection.

A decision on whether to request that "focused" inspection is expected during Wednesday afternoon's Mission Management Team briefing.

If necessary, the inspection would be done Friday and have a minimal impact on that day's planned spacewalk - the second of five.

Endeavour is standing by on Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39B because Atlantis won't be able to reach the International Space Station for shelter during its 11-day mission.

Cain said Endeavour and its launch pad systems appeared unaffected by two lightning strikes reported at pad 39B overnight Monday. He also said that damage to pad 39A's flame trench from Monday's launch would not delay Endeavour's targeted June 13 liftoff, assuming the shuttle isn't needed for rescue duty.

Early this evening, Atlantis used thrusters to adjust its orbit and put it on track to hook up with Hubble on Wednesday. Hubble's aperture door has been commanded closed.

The crew is scheduled to capture the orbiting observatory around lunchtime Wednesday, some 340 miles above the northeast coast of Madagascar.

IMAGE NOTE: Click to enlarge the image of shuttle Atlantis launching Monday from launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, viewed from behind launch pad 39B. On pad 39B is shuttle Endeavour, which can launch, if needed, for rescue of Atlantis' crew during its STS-125 mission to service NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Photo courtesy of Scott Andrews, Canon.

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