First Look Finds Shuttle Atlantis' Heat Shield in Good Shape
A video camera aboard Atlantis captured this view of the Earth and the shuttle's payload bay.
Credit: NASA TV.

HOUSTON ? An orbital inspection of the shuttle Atlantis by astronauts today revealed little damage to the orbiter?s heat shield after launch, and NASA mission managers say they are not overly concerned about a small piece of torn insulation near the rear of the spacecraft.

The seven STS-117 astronauts spent their first full day in space performing a detailed, five-hour inspection of heat shielding on the wings and nose of their vehicle following its Friday liftoff.

?With Flight Day Two activities, you?re just going around and assessing how the vehicle performed during ascent, and I am very happy to say that it performed very well,? said John Shannon, chairmen of NASA?s Mission Management Team.

Of particular concern was how the shuttle?s extensively repaired external fuel tank would perform, after a freak hailstorm in February gouged thousands of dents and divots in its foam insulation.

?From what we can tell so far, we did not lose any of the repairs,? Shannon said. ?Everything looks exactly like it should, [it] looks like everything stayed in place.?

Engineers are also analyzing imagery of a 4-inch by 6-inch (10-centimeter by 15-centimeter) section of overturned insulation blanket on the shuttle?s left, aft-mounted Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pods discovered by the astronauts Friday night after reaching orbit. The current hypothesis is that heat transferred from nearby thermal protection tiles during the shuttle?s climb into space caused a piece of the blanket to become unstitched.

?There?s not a great deal of concern over it right now, but there?s a lot of work left to be done, and we?ll do that in the coming days,? Shannon said.

He added that NASA is prepared to deal with the upturned blanket section if engineers decide it is problematic for Atlantis? reentry.

?We have a lot of different options that we can do to go address it,? Shannon said, including tucking the blanket back beneath the tiles, trimming it down, or covering it with a new tile.

The STS-117 crew is scheduled to perform up to four spacewalks to install new truss segments and solar arrays on the space station. It should be possible to squeeze a shuttle repair mission into one of them if necessary, Shannon said.

A similar blanket flare-up was observed on the windshield of Discovery during STS-114 in 2005 but posed no problems for reentry.

STS-117 commander Rick Sturckow and his team will have a busy day ahead of them tomorrow, as they prepare Atlantis for its rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) Sunday afternoon.

?Atlantis is on her way to the ISS, and her crew is ready and waiting for us,? said lead shuttle flight director Cathy Koerner.

Shortly after docking, the ISS and shuttle crews will transfer the new truss segments from Atlantis to the space stations? robotic arm, where it will await installation. Also on tap for tomorrow is the official crew exchange between STS-117 mission specialist Clay Anderson and Expedition 15 flight engineer Sunita Williams.

NASA is broadcasting the space shuttle Atlantis' STS-117 mission live on NASA TV. Click here for mission updates and's video feed.

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  • Complete Shuttle Mission Coverage