Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Live in Orbit: Final heat shield inspection under way

Discovery's seven astronauts have begun a nearly six-hour heat shield inspection that they hope will clear the spaceship for atmospheric re-entry Thursday and a 7:05 p.m. landing at Kennedy Space Center.

The so-called "late" inspection follows an earlier one performed during the mission's first full day in orbit, the day after Discovery's Aug. 28 launch from KSC.

No serious damage was discovered then, and managers said today that there was no reason to believe any had occurred during the nearly nine days Discovery was docked at the International Space Station.

"We don't have any concerns going into late inspection," said LeRoy Cain, deputy shuttle program manager. "We haven't had any indicators that have given us cause for concern."

Discovery pilot Kevin Ford and mission specialists Pat Forrester and Jose Hernandez are taking turns sweeping a 50-foot boom across reinforced carbon-carbon panels covering the orbiter's wing edges and nose, which endure the most intense heat during re-entry.

The boom, attached to the shuttle's 50-foot robotic arm, is equipped with lasers and cameras to provide a 3-D scan that can help analysts gauge the depth of any dings.

The process begins with the right wing, moves on to the nose cone and ends with the left wing.

Cain said managers plan to review the data during a Mission Management Team meeting Thursday afternoon.

"The mission is far from complete for us, but we couldn't be more pleased with how it's gone up to this point," he said.

Discovery undocked from the station at 3:26 p.m.

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