Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Live In Orbit: Crew Begins Spaceship Inspections

BLOGGER UPDATE, 1:51 PM: The Atlantis astronauts are stowing the shuttle's inspection boom after completing a lengthy survey of the ship's wing leading edges and its nose cap. Data from the inspection will be beamed down to Mission Control for analyses. No significant damage was immediately apparent.

The Atlantis astronauts are setting out to inspect their spaceship today as the shuttle continues a ground-up rendezvous that will culminate Wednesday with a docking at the International Space Station.

With a sensor-laden boom latched to the end of the shuttle's 50-foot robot arm, the astronauts will survey the wings of Atlantis as well as its nose cap. The nose cap and the leading edges of the wings are made of a composite carbon that is susceptible to damage from falling external tank foam, ice or micrometeorites.

The all-day inspections have been standard operating procedure on Flight Day 2 since NASA returned the shuttle fleet to service in the wake of the 2003 Columbia accident. Columbia and seven astronauts were lost after damage to its left wing went undetected. Hot gasses blowtorched through a breach in the wing during atmospheric reentry and the ship disintegrated over east Texas 16 minutes before a planned landing at Kennedy Space Center.

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Coming up today:

The survey of the starboard wing just began at 8:13 a.m., and the astronauts also will be checking out spacesuits that will be worn during three spacewalks planned for the mission.

The nose cap survey will begin shortly after 11 a.m. and the left wing inspection will begin about an hour later. The inspection boom, which is outfitted with two TV cameras and a laser sensor, will be berthed back in the shuttle's cargo bay about 2:13 p.m.

The astronauts will use the shuttle's robot arm to grapple one of two large spare parts pallets from the ship's cargo bay about 3:08 p.m., and a survey of the two hump-like Orbital Maneuvering System pods will take place around 3:30 p.m.

Data from the inspection boom's laser sensor will be beamed back to Earth late this afternoon, and then docking preps will begin with the extension of the shuttle's docking ring and a checkout of rendezvous tools.

The six-man crew launched from Kennedy Space Center at 2:28 p.m. Monday. Docking at the space station is slated for just before noon Wednesday. The astronauts are due back at KSC's shuttle runway on Nov. 27.

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