Saturday, July 09, 2011

Astronauts inspect shuttle Atlantis for thermal damage

Astronauts scanned Atlantis today for thermal damage. (NASA)

Astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis spent Saturday surveying their spacecraft for possible damage on her thermal skin and maneuvering to a higher orbit to prepare for Sunday's docking to the International Space Station.

Atlantis' commander Chris Ferguson and pilot Doug Hurley moved the ship's 50-foot robotic arm over to grapple an extension boom to assist in performing scans of the tiles and blankets which cover Atlantis.

Attached to the end of the robotic arm, the orbiter boom sensor system allows laser sensors and intensified television camera are used to look for any nicks or damaged tiles underneath the wing leading edges, over the nose region and across the spacecraft.

As the robotic operations occurred,
mission specialists Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus worked to set up an exercise bicycle on the shuttle's middeck.

Magnus then floated up to the flight deck to assist Hurley with the inspections of the starboard wing's trailing edge
and reenforced carbon-carbon survey by the OBSS at 7:46 a.m.

Earlier in the morning,
Ferguson and Hurley performed a few burns by Atlantis smaller engines to keep the spacecraft on course for an 11:07 a.m. docking to the space station on Sunday.

Once docked, Atlantis' crew on Monday will grapple and swing a bus sized cargo module from the shuttle's payload bay over to and dock it to the station.

Crews will then begin unloading the several tons of supplies and equipment off the
21-foot long Raffaello module, and later store several hundred pounds of packing supplies and trash into the cargo carrier.

Flight controllers could elect to keep Atlantis docked to the space station one additional day, thereby extending the mission one day so that the shuttle's crew of four can assist the station's crew of six with unloading of the cargo module and the storage of trash and old equipment for the return to earth.

Atlantis lifted-off yesterday at 11:29 a.m. to begin this final space shuttle mission, and the 135th flight in the program's thirty year history.

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