Saturday, May 21, 2011

NASA clears Endeavour's dinged tile for landing; spacewalk nears

NASA's space shuttle mission managers on Saturday cleared several small nicks to the tiles on the belly of Endeavour, allowing the craft to land on June 1.

Earlier in the day today, shuttle astronauts Roberto Vittori and Drew Feustel used the space stations robotic arm to grapple the the orbiter boom sensor on the shuttle's payload sill. They then lifted the boom into a position to allow for the shuttle's fifty foot arm to then grapple the boom extension so that a detailed inspection of a specific tile could be performed.

Stretching down underneath the over side of the port side of Endeavour, the shuttle's arm with the boom extension attached began taking focused images (right) of the region.

Today's focused inspection gave mission managers a high quality, 3-D view of the damaged section.

The damaged tile in question, located on the ship's belly between the right landing door and the external tank door, did not pose as much of a threat for burn through as the shuttle hits reentry during landing, allowing for hot gases to enter the ship's aft compartment and payload bay.

Meanwhile, two astronauts slept in the space station's Quest airlock tonight, prebreathing an oxygen rich atmosphere in preparation for the second spacewalk of Endeavour's flight.

Astronauts Feustel and Mike Fincke will begin their spacewalk at 2:16 a.m. EDT on Sunday, and leave the station's airlock to begin six hours of work outside.

The duo will begin rerouting cables to allow for coolant flow from the Port 1 Truss segment of the station over to the Port 6 segment. The pair will refill cooling lines with ammonia, and later vent several lines of any remaining ammonia.

Fincke will then move over to the Port 3 segment and the Solar Alpha Rotary joint and add extra lubrication to the left side of the rotary joint; install a camera cover on the robot, DEXTRE, and lubricate it's grapple snares; and install stowage beams on the Starboard 1 Truss.

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