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Shuttle crew begins first full day of work
(AP)
Updated: 2005-07-27 16:26

Discovery's astronauts awoke Wednesday for their first full day of work and their first order of business was a grueling, seven-hour inspection of the shuttle's wings and nose, Associated Press reported.

The carefully orchestrated maneuvers, to find damage that may have occurred during Tuesday's launch, are performed with a sensor attached to a 50-foot extension of the shuttle's 50-foot robotic arm.


The space shuttle Discovery lifts off from pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, July 26, 2005. [Reuters]

Once complete, three of the seven astronauts planned to remove the extension and use a camera attached to the robotic arm to inspect tiles near the crew cabin and tail.

Astronauts Andy Thomas (L) of Australia and Soichi Noguchi (R) of Japan work with the shuttle Discovery's robotic arm orbital boom sensor system as they prepare to inspect the shuttle's nose and wing leading edges after a launch in which falling debris brought worrisome reminders of the Columbia disaster two years ago July 27, 2005. The image is from a sequential still video camera aboard Discovery's flight deck.
Astronauts Andy Thomas (L) of Australia and Soichi Noguchi (R) of Japan work with the shuttle Discovery's robotic arm orbital boom sensor system as they prepare to inspect the shuttle's nose and wing leading edges after a launch in which falling debris brought worrisome reminders of the Columbia disaster two years ago July 27, 2005. The image is from a sequential still video camera aboard Discovery's flight deck.[Reuters]
If the robotic arm or its extension were to bump the vehicle, it could damage the vehicle's fragile exterior. Flight director Paul Hill considers the inspections among the most hazardous of the new procedures put in place since the 2003 Columbia tragedy.

"If we make contact with the orbiter while we're doing this, I'm looking for another job," Hill said in the months leading up to the 12-day mission.


Space shuttle Discovery astronauts (L-R) pilot James Kelly, Wendy Lawrence, Commander Eileen Collins and Charles Camarda depart their crew quarters for the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida July 26, 2005. [Reuters]
Astronauts Stephen Robinson and Soichi Noguchi also planned to prepare the shuttle's airlock for three spacewalks they will conduct.

During the spacewalks, the pair will test new repair techniques for the shuttle's tiles and delicate carbon panels; replace a gyroscope, which helps steer the international space station; and install a storage platform on the station.

Commander Eileen Collins and Pilot James Kelly were set to reposition the shuttle twice to make sure the vehicle is positioned correctly to catch up with the international space station for its docking Thursday.

The crew spent most of Tuesday turning their "rocket into a Winnebago," said astronaut Daniel Tani, who flew aboard the shuttle in 2001.

"It is a big reconfiguration," Tani said of the work Discovery's crew had to do to turn the shuttle from rocket into orbiting vehicle.

Two chase planes and more than 100 cameras documented Discovery's trip to orbit. NASA wants to document any sign of flying debris that could threaten the shuttle.

NASA officials said Tuesday an object that may have been a 1 1/2-inch piece of thermal tile appeared to break off from the Discovery's belly during liftoff. It came from near a particularly vulnerable spot, close to the doors to the compartment containing the nose landing gear.

Also, a large object perhaps a piece of foam insulation seemed to fly off from the giant external fuel tank but did not hit the shuttle itself, NASA flight operations manager John Shannon said.

But Shannon stressed it was too early to say whether there was any danger to the shuttle or its crew.

"There is no question that we have more data now than we have ever had before," Flight Director LeRoy Cain told The Associated Press. "We are going to see things when we look and so one of the things we have worked really hard on is to make sure we understand what are we looking at."

The new cameras and inspections are part of safety procedures put in place for NASA to return to space following the grounding of its shuttle fleet after the breakup of space shuttle Columbia in 2003.

Columbia was brought down by a suitcase-size piece of foam insulation, which broke off the external fuel tank during liftoff and struck one of the shuttle's wings. The resulting gash allowed hot gases into the wing during Columbia's return to Earth 16 days later on Feb. 1, 2003.

All seven astronauts aboard died as the shuttle disintegrated over Texas.

NASA officials said they could barely make out the foam strike in the photographs because of the poor quality of the images they had.

The new cameras and lasers will provide the space agency with more detailed images than it has ever seen before, Shannon said. But it is unclear if the debris spotted so far represents anything out of the ordinary.

Shannon said the tiles on NASA's shuttle fleet have sustained thousands of dings over the years.

"One of the things that is going to be critical for us is to give the experts opportunity and time to bring the data in, review it, analyze it and bring it forward and have that in a cohesive way, so that we don't have folks running off in different directions without the full story," Cain said.



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