Monday, February 08, 2010

Endeavour Heat-Shield Inspection On Tap

Shuttle Endeavour is en route to the International Space Station after the 34th and final night launch of NASA's storied shuttle program.

Mission commander George Zamka and his crew aim to inspect Endeavour's heat shield overnight as the astronauts spend their first full day in space. The crew includes pilot Terry Virts and mission specialists Kay Hire, Steve Robinson, Bob Benhken and Nicholas Patrick.

A foot-long strip of thermal insulation peeled off the shuttle's external tank about two minutes into flight, but NASA space operations chief Bill Gerstenmaier said it did not hit the shuttle orbiter. Two other foam losses were spotted eight minutes into flight. But those are of no concern because Endeavour already was well out of the atmosphere and the foam pieces could not, as a result, generate enough kinetic energy to do damage to the orbiter.

Look for shuttle robot arm operators Hire and Virts to begin a day-long heat shield inspection just before 11 p.m. tonight. With a sensor-laden inspection boom attached to the end of the shuttle's 50-foot robot arm, the astronauts will scan the spaceship's composite carbon wing panels and its nose cap so the crew and ground engineers can spot any heat-shield damage that might jeopardize the astronauts during atmospheric reentry.

The astronauts also will use cameras on the shuttle's robot arm to inspect the two hump-like pods Orbital Maneuvering System pods that straddle Endeavour's vertical stabilizer.

You can watch the inspections live here in The Flame Trench, where we are providing round-the-clock coverage of the STS-130 mission to the International Space Station, the first of five remaining flights before the shuttle fleet is retired. Click on the NASA TV box on the right side of the page to launch our NASA TV viewer and live coverage. And be sure to refresh this page for periodic updates.

You can follow major mission milestones with the latest NASA TV schedule. Click HERE.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge the NASA image of shuttle Endeavour lifting off from Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A on a mission to deliver the U.S. Tranquility module and the Cupola to the International Space Station. You can can click the enlarged image to get a bigger, more detailed view of exhaust clouds building as Endeavour blasted off early Monday. Photo credit: NASA/Sandra Joseph and Kevin O'Connell.

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