Astronauts forced into shorter shuttle survey

May 15, 2010 By MARCIA DUNN , AP Aerospace Writer
Space shuttle Atlantis lifts-off from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Friday May 14, 2010. Atlantis' 12-day mission will deliver a Russian built storage and docking module to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

(AP) -- A pinched cable forced Atlantis' astronauts to resort to a more inconvenient and less comprehensive method of inspecting their space shuttle Saturday as they sped toward a weekend rendezvous with the International Space Station.

Flight controllers, meanwhile, were monitoring a piece of that was threatening to come too close to the space station. They were going to decide Saturday evening whether to move the station into a slightly lower orbit. Even if the station has to dodge out of the way, it won't delay Sunday morning's scheduled docking by Atlantis.

A spokesman said the stalled shuttle survey also would not affect the docking.

The inspection is a standard - and essential - procedure the day after liftoff. A 100-foot boom is used to survey the heat shield on both wings and the nose in a hunt for launch damage. On Saturday morning, however, the could not tilt the bundle of laser sensors and TV camera on the end of the pole.

After zooming in with a handheld camera, the astronauts discovered that one cable was pinched by camera equipment at the end of the boom. They didn't think they could free it.

"Oh come on, man, we've got faith in you," Mission Control said. "Can't crack the whip with a little centrifugal acceleration?"

"Need to pull some G," replied commander Kenneth Ham, referring to gravity forces. "Spin her up," joked Mission Control.

The six astronauts used cameras and binoculars to beam down close-up pictures, so engineers on the ground could see what was wrong. The cable was dented where it was being squished, Ham reported.

Finally, after several hours, Mission Control had the astronauts use the backup set of lasers and camera on the boom, which took longer and left out some potential problem areas. They were limited to the daytime side of Earth because of the digital camera equipment.

The crew focused on the most vulnerable areas - the on the wings and nose. It was questionable whether they could complete the abbreviated job Saturday.

The day-after-launch shuttle inspections were put in place following the 2003 Columbia disaster. Columbia shattered during re-entry because of a hole in the left wing; it was left there by insulating foam that broke off the fuel tank during liftoff.

Only a few small pieces of foam were spotted coming off Atlantis' tank Friday. Nonetheless, the wings and nose still needed to be checked.

This is Atlantis' last planned flight after a quarter-century of service. It's hauling fresh batteries and a new Russian compartment to the space station. Three spacewalks are planned to plug in the batteries and other equipment.

Only two more shuttle flights remain, by Discovery and Endeavour. NASA is ending the program so it can focus on presidential-ordered trips to asteroids and Mars.

Explore further: Virgin crash sets back space tourism by years: experts

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA says space station safe from debris

Mar 16, 2009

(AP) -- NASA gave the all-clear to the international space station Monday, telling its astronauts they would not need to steer away from an orbiting piece of satellite junk.

Astronauts inspect space shuttle for launch damage

Jul 16, 2009

(AP) -- Space shuttle Endeavour's astronauts inspected their ship Thursday as engineers on Earth pored over launch pictures that showed debris breaking off the fuel tank and striking the craft.

Discovery Crew Completes Heat Shield Inspection

Oct 24, 2007

The STS-120 crew members completed the day's scheduled inspections of Space Shuttle Discovery’s heat shield before noon EDT. They used Discovery’s robotic arm and an attached boom extension to check the ...

Recommended for you

China completes first mission to moon and back

4 hours ago

China completed its first return mission to the moon early Saturday with the successful re-entry and landing of an unmanned probe, state media reported, in the latest step forward for Beijing's ambitious ...

Tracking a gigantic sunspot across the Sun

4 hours ago

An active region on the sun – an area of intense and complex magnetic fields – rotated into view on Oct. 18, 2014. Labeled AR 12192, it soon grew into the largest such region in 24 years, and fired off ...

Cassini sees sunny seas on Titan

Oct 30, 2014

(Phys.org) —As it soared past Saturn's large moon Titan recently, NASA's Cassini spacecraft caught a glimpse of bright sunlight reflecting off hydrocarbon seas.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.