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Sat, Jun 09, 2007

NASA Engineers Examine Torn Thermal Blanket On Atlantis

Heat Shield Inspections Underway

ANN REALTIME REPORTING 06.09.07 1445 EDT: It's not an area of significant concern just yet... but NASA is keeping a close eye on an exposed segment of the space shuttle Atlantis' aluminum skin, located atop the left orbital manuevering system pod near the shuttle's vertical stabilizer.

NASA discovered the 3.5-inch tear in a thermal blanket Friday night, as astronauts used a camera mounted on the shuttle's robotic arm to examine Atlantis for signs of post-launch damage. Those blankets, comprised of woven glass and silica, cover the areas of the shuttle least susceptible to damage from the high heat of atmospheric reentry.

"There's not a whole lot of concerns just yet," NASA spokesman Louis Parker said Saturday morning.

CNN reports engineers are analyzing if -- and how -- the blanket should be repaired. There is also the question of how that section of the shuttle may have been damaged.

So far, there are no other signs of damage to the orbiter. A camera mounted on the shuttle's external fuel tank did pick up a chunk of insulating foam falling away from the shuttle 135 seconds after launch, safely past what NASA considers to be the aerodynamically-critical segment of the launch procedure. The camera shows the foam falling harmlessly to starboard, with no indication it contacted the orbiter itself.

"The tank performed in a magnificent way, despite having several thousand repairs to it," shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said in a Saturday press briefing. "(The debris) should not be a hazard that late in the flight."

Original Report

Preparations are now underway for Atlantis' rendezvous Sunday with the International Space Station.

NASA reports that during their first full day in orbit, the crew onboard space shuttle Atlantis will inspect the orbiter's heat shield and prepare for Sunday's arrival at the International Space Station.

Just as on the three preceding shuttle missions, crew members will use Atlantis' robotic arm and an orbiter boom extension to check out the spacecraft's underside, nose cap and leading edges of the wings for signs of damage to the orbiter's heat shield that may have occurred during Friday's launch and climb to orbit.

A small hole in the space shuttle Columbia's heat shield, caused by a falling chunk of insulating foam from the external fuel tank, was responsible for the loss of that orbiter in February 2003.

In preparation for Sunday's activities, the crew will extend the shuttle's docking ring and prepare tools they will use to rendezvous and link up with the station. Docking is set for 3:38 pm EDT Sunday.

The crew members are also slated to check out the spacesuits they will use during the mission's three scheduled spacewalks at the station. The major objective of the spacewalks is the installation and activation of the station's newest component, the Starboard 3 and 4 (S3/S4) truss segments. The S3/S4 is riding to the international outpost inside the shuttle payload bay.

Frederick Sturckow, a Marine colonel, is the commander of STS-117. Pilot Lee Archambault, an Air Force colonel, joins Sturckow in the Shuttle's cockpit. Mission specialists James Reilly II, Ph.D., Patrick Forrester, Steven Swanson, Ph.D., and John D. Olivas, Ph.D., round out the crew.

STS-117 is also delivering Flight Engineer Clayton C. Anderson to the station, to relieve astronaut Sunita Williams.

(Photo courtesy of NASA)

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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