Monday, March 07, 2011

Astronauts Wrap Up Heat-Shield Checkout

Discovery's astronauts have completed an extensive inspection of shuttle heat-shield components in advance of the crew's planned atmospheric reentry and landing on Wednesday, and no obvious critical damage was detected.

Discovery skipper Steve Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe and mission specialist Al Drew used the shuttle's 50-foot robot arm and an equally lengthy, sensor-tipped boom to inspect the orbiter's starboard wing, nose cap and port wing.

The 44 U-shaped panels that serve as thermal armor for the wings are made of a lightweight composite carbon that absorbs heat but also can be damaged rather easily.

The nose cap of the spaceship is made of the same Reinforced Carbon Carbon, or RCC, material.

Two laser sensors and a television camera on the end of the boom were used to scan the heat-shield components and the data from the inspection has been beamed down to Mission Control in Houston so engineers there can analyze it.

The Discovery astronauts stowed the boom and are pretty much done for the day. However, they are beaming back some amazing images of the International Space Station, captured during a shuttle flyaround earlier today.

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