Saturday, May 21, 2011

Damaged Endeavour tile cleared for re-entry

NASA today said a damaged heat shield tile inspected by Endeavour's crew this morning posed no danger to the shuttle's final re-entry through the atmosphere.

As the graphic at left shows, all the areas of interest examined for potential damage have turned from yellow to green, including the final one examined today numbered "2-001."

"All these items have been cleared," said LeRoy Cain, the deputy program manager and chairman of the mission managent team.

Around 3:30 a.m. today, Endeavour's crew lowered a boom equipped with cameras and laser sensors beneath Endeavour's right wing to look at a gouged tile behind the right landing gear door.

The detailed images and scans allowed analysts to improve their 3-D modeling of the damage.

"Essentially what they did is they verified how much tile remains in the cavity," said Cain.

The results showed the orbiter structure beneath the tile would be heated well below its maximum capacity -- an estimated 219 degrees Fahrenheit with a margin for up to 350 degrees.

Cain said the management team's decision to clear the tile was unanimous.

The Endeavour crew still will perform one more standard inspection of the ship's wing leading edges and nosecap next week before departing the International Space Station. Not until those results are in will the shuttle be given clearnace for a final re-entry and landing planned early June 1.

The shuttle crew was informed before going to sleep around 1:30 p.m. today that the tile damage was likely to be cleared, though the analysis wasn't final.

The crew plans to awake at 9:26 p.m. to get ready for the mission's second of four spacewalks, set to start at 2:16 a.m. Sunday.

Mission specialists Drew Feustel and Mike Fincke aim to refill a leaking ammonia cooling loop and lubricate a joint that rotates solar array wing's on the left side of the station.

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