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Shuttle Atlantis in Good Health for ISS Docking

Shuttle Atlantis in Good Health for ISS Docking
This image, taken by an STS-115 astronauts just after reaching orbit, shows one area of ice frost ramp foam loss during Atlantis' Sept. 9, 2006 launch. None of the lost foam appeared to damage the orbiter. (Image credit: NASA/JSC.)

HOUSTON - NASA's space shuttle Atlantis appearsto be in good health as it ferries six astronauts and a hefty payload towards theInternational SpaceStation (ISS), mission managers said Sunday.

"We have areally good start to this very complex mission," John Shannon, head of Atlantis'STS-115Mission Management Team, said in a briefing here at NASA's Johnson Space Center. "The teams certainly have their game faces on."

Commandedby veteran shuttle flyer BrentJett, Atlantis' six-astronaut crew launchedspaceward Saturday on an 11-day mission to outfit the ISS with a newpair of 17.5-ton port-side trusses and unfurl two wing-like solar panels. Thespace shuttle is scheduled to dock at the ISS at 6:46 a.m. EDT (1046 GMT) onMonday. [Watch the docking LIVE via's NASA TV feed here.]

"It was funtoday, we got a big day tomorrow though," Jett told Mission Control at the endof his orbital work day. "So we've got to get some rest."

Jett andhis STS-115 crewmates spent a busy day today scanningtheir spacecraft for any signs of damage from foam insulation debris, whichfell from Atlantis' external tank late during launch well after they could havebeen a hazard concern. But initial analysis of imagery from the shuttle's sensor-tippedinspection boom has found no blemishes of concern, Shannon said.

"Atlantis looksgreat," Shannon said, adding that aside from a few minor glitches the orbiteris performing as expected.

A couple ofmicroswitches for automated motors that open Atlantis' shell-like payload bay doorsdid not return proper signals, but are part of a redundant system with adequatebackups, Shannon said. Engineers also found that one of four hydraulic systemchannels for the speed brake that pops out of Atlantis' tail during landing wasalso acting up, but has three redundant channels, he added.

Pinpointingfoam loss

Imageanalysts have been able to pinpoint where some foam insulation fell free fromAtlantis' external tank during launch using images taken by the shuttle's crew. NASA official reported several instances of foam debris shedding during theshuttle's 8.5-minute flight to orbit, but none at a time when they could pose athreat to Atlantis' vital heat shield.

Shannonsaid an early look shows that small pieces of foam fell from at least oneinsulated bracket - known as an icefrost ramp - while another bit originated near a similar structure. Icefrost ramps are known to shed some foam during liftoff, and the new datafrom STS-115's external tank will be rolled into a redesign of the rampsalready underway.

"I wouldsay the ice frost ramps performed exactly as we expected them to...there were nosurprises on this flight at all," Shannon said, adding that another bit of foamfell from an area repaired later in the tank's preparations. "I think it willprovide some good data for the team that's doing the redesign."

Atlantis'STS-115 mission marks NASA's second to fly with exposed ice frost ramps afterengineers removed a protective,foam-covered wind screen after a large piece fell from the shuttleDiscovery's fuel tank during 2005'sSTS-114 launch. Foam shedding during liftoff has been a prime focus for NASAsince 2003, when a chunk of insulation pierced the heat shield of Columbia during launch and critically damaged the spacecraft, which was later lost with its crew during reentry.

Post launchheat shield inspections are now standard task in NASA's shuttle flight plan,and the integrity of Atlantis' precious heat-resistant tiles andcarbon-composite panels has been deemed "not suspect", Shannon said.

Spacestation beckons

Meanwhile, Atlantissix-astronaut crew is bearing down on the ISS with its $371.8-million cargo ofsolar arrays and the Port 3/Port 4 truss segments to be attached to the orbitallaboratory during the STS-115 mission.

Aboard thespace station, Expedition13 commander PavelVinogradov and flight engineers JeffreyWilliams and Thomas Reiterhave readied their orbital home for its second visiting shuttle in threemonths. NASA's Discovery orbiter ferried Reiter and fresh supplies to the ISSin July's STS-121mission.

"It's like preparingyour house for a bunch of relatives to come over people who are also going tohelp you build the house while they're staying with you," said NASA's KirkShireman, who chairs the ISS Mission Management Team for the STS-115spaceflight.

Atlantis'Monday docking will mark the delivery of the first major piece of ISS hardware sincelate2002. Construction of the orbital laboratory stalled as NASA recovered fromthe Columbia accident.

"Tomorrowis an extremely busy day and a very big day for the International Space Station,"Shireman said.

NASA willbroadcast Monday's docking of the Atlantis shuttle at the ISS live, withrendezvous operations beginning at 1:35 a.m. EDT (0535 GMT). You are invited tofollow the shuttle's progress using's NASATV feed by clickinghere.

  • VIDEO: First Tasks of NASA's STS-115 Mission
  • Gallery: Prepping Atlantis
  • Complete Space Shuttle Mission Coverage
  • NASA's STS-115: Shuttle Atlantis to Jump Start ISS Construction
  • The Great Space Quiz: Space Shuttle Countdown
  • Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 13

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter.