Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Shuttle Atlantis, seven astros start trip home

Shuttle Atlantis fired has fired its thrusters to distance itself from the International Space Station, after undocking and flying a loop around the outpost this morning.

The thrusters first fired at 6:05 a.m. EST, a little more than an hour after undocking, to propel Atlantis away at a rate of 1.5 feet per second.

A second and final separation burn came at 6:32 a.m., adding another 1.5 feet/second. The gap between the two spacecraft will increase by roughly 4.5 miles each orbit.

The thruster firings begin a two-day journey home to Kennedy Space Center for seven astronauts that is scheduled to conclude with a 9:44 a.m. Friday landing, if weather permits.

But the shuttle will remain within range of the station today as it conducts a final, or "late," inspection of the orbiter's heat shields.

If a serious problem were discovered, the shuttle could still return to the station to take shelter. However, inspections on the 11-day mission's second day did not show any damage from Nov. 16 the launch that caused concern.

Using a 50-foot boom equipped with cameras and laser sensors attached to the shuttle's 50-foot robotic arm, the crew will slowly scan the wing leading edge panels, nose cap and some of the underside tiles.

The survey focuses on the areas exposed to the most intense heat during atmospheric re-entry, approaching 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

That activity is scheduled to begin at 8:13 a.m. with the boom's removal from the payload bay and end at 1:33 p.m.

You can watch the entire inspection and other mission activity live. Click here to open a NASA TV video player.

No comments: