Friday, February 25, 2011

Discovery crew to inspect heat shields today

Discovery's six-person crew is at work on its first full day in space after Thursday's 4:53 p.m. blastoff from Kennedy Space Center on the shuttle's final flight.

The mission's first wake-up song beamed up from Mission Control in Houston came at 6:53 a.m. EST Discovery flew 143 miles over the Pacific, west of Chile.

The family of mission specialist Mike Barratt, a doctor and father of five who is enjoying his 200th day in space, selected the tune: "Through Heaven's Eyes" from "The Prince of Egypt." (Lyrics here.)

"Thanks to my crazy, wonderful family," said Barratt. "It's great to be back in space again, and I wish everybody could see what we're seeing through our eyes up here too."

"Congratulations from all of us down here to you and your crewmates for making it to orbit," replied Mike Massimino, an astronaut communicating with the crew from Houston.

Today's work in space will focus on inspections of Discovery's heat shields using a 50-foot boom equipped with cameras and sensors attached to the shuttle's robotic arm. The standard post-Columbia procedure is scheduled to begin around 11 a.m..

NASA on Thursday reported at least four potential strikes by pieces of insulating foam that broke away from the shuttle's external tank during launch.

But managers said all four events happened late enough during flight, when foam hits with little relative velocity, that they posed little risk of damage.

Images taken today will be analyzed by teams on the ground for a couple of days, and a closer inspection could be ordered later in the mission if any damage is found.

The crew today also will examine the spacesuits that will be used during two planned spacewalks outside the International Space Station and prepare for Saturday's 2:19 p.m. EST docking at the outpost.

Take a look at the mission's NASA TV schedule and notes sent to the crew this morning, which include a cartoon referencing the dramatic hold by range safety officers late in Thursday's countdown. It was lifted seconds before the window would have closed, and Discovery blasted off for the 39th and last time.

There's also reference to erratic behavior by a shuttle fuel cell sensor, which is being monitored.

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