HOUSTON - The orbiting Discovery crew started the meticulous inspection of
the shuttle's heat shield on Sunday, looking for any possible damage from
Mission specialist Nicholas
Patrick maneuvered the shuttle's 50-foot robotic arm and similarly long boom
with cameras and sensors as the exam began on the spacecraft's right wing.
The space shuttle Discovery is seen
in this televised view from a camera mounted on the external fuel tank as
it separates from the orbiter after launch from the Kennedy Space Center
in Florida December 9, 2006. [Reuters]
"Last we heard, they haven't found anything," said NASA spokeswoman Brandi
Dean, as the crew prepared to scan the left wing - the final step in the
The thorough sweep included the wings and nose cap for chips and other damage
from foam, a procedure made mandatory after the deadly Columbia accident in
2003. The survey began 3:08 p.m. and was expected to last 5 1/2 hours.
During tests late Saturday, the robotic arm's latching mechanism was not
working automatically, so Patrick manually ordered the arm to grasp the boom.
Otherwise, the inspection was without incident. Engineers are examining the
camera images in real time and also will review them in greater detail later on.
Preliminary radar reports from Discovery's Saturday night launch also showed
nothing of concern, NASA spokesman Kyle Herring said.
Meanwhile, the other crew members checked on the spacesuits that will be used
during the mission's three spacewalks.
Discovery fired its engines Sunday to raise its altitude to 216 miles above
Earth, nearly level with the international space station, where it will dock
Then the real work begins.