NASA: Discovery Shuttle in Good Shape After Launch
A video camera aboard Discovery captured this view of the payload bay on Dec. 10, 2006 during NASA's STS-116 mission.
Credit: NASA TV.

HOUSTON - The first inspections of NASA's shuttle Discovery two days after a successful night launch reveal no significant problems for its seven-astronaut crew bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

Led by commander Mark Polansky, the five-man, two-woman team of STS-116 is tasked with installing a new $11 million Port 5 (P5) spacer segment to the ISS and rewiring the orbital laboratory's electrical grid so it can draw power from a new set of solar panels arrays installed last month.

The astronauts began their day at 10:47 a.m. EST (1547 GMT), waking up to the Beatles' song "Here Comes the Sun" beamed up by ground controllers in Houston.

"Good morning, Discovery, and a special good morning to you, Mark," NASA astronaut Shannon Lucid, serving as spacecraft communicator, greeted from the ground as she hailed the shuttle's launch [image]. "We especially want to thank you for the burst of sunshine you brought into our lives last night."

Following wakeup, the crew performed a thorough, 5 ?-hour inspection of the tiles shuttle's heat shield tiles to look for damage from debris shed during liftoff.

"After the amazing launch the crew had yesterday, they hit the ground running," Tony Ceccacci, lead flight director for Discovery during the STS-116 mission, told reporters today.

During inspections, mission specialist Nicholas Patrick used the shuttle's 50-foot (15-meter) robotic arm, equipped with a 50-foot boom laden with a laser scanner and high-resolution camera, to inspect craft's wing leading edge and nose cap.

A glitch forced Patrick to manually order the arm to grab the boom, but the problem is not expected to impact the mission. Patrick and his crewmates also scanned their spacecraft's upper surface later Sunday, while the tiles lining its will underbelly will be scrutinized during its rendezvous with the ISS tomorrow.

The in-orbit inspections became a standard part of shuttle flights following the Columbia accident of 2003, during which foam falling from the orbiter's external fuel tank during liftoff punctured a hole in spacecraft's heat shield, allowing superheated gas to enter and destroy the vehicle during atmospheric reentry.

"The early indication is that all of the systems on Discovery and the external tanks and the solid rocket boosters performed very well," said NASA deputy space shuttle manager John Shannon. "It was a very typical ascent which followed a very typical trouble free countdown for us."

Data from shuttle accelerometer sensors revealed four very minor impacts--around one gravity root mean square (GRMS) each--occurred on the shuttle's wing leading edge about two minutes into Saturday's night launch.

"That's about one tenth of what we think can cause can discernable damage," Shannon said. "We've seen this on previous flight at about the same time."

Shannon added that it takes about a 10 GRMS impact to create a scuff on a heat shield tile, and a 20 GRMS collision to make a crack or hole.

An open question during Discovery's liftoff on Saturday evening--NASA's first night launch since 2002--was whether ground and shuttle cameras would work as well in darkness as during the day to spot falling debris.

But Shannon said he was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the video taken by the launch inspection cameras.

"We're able to see better at night if any piece of foam comes off of the [external fuel tank] stacks, and if it goes into the main engine plume, it really brightens and you can see it much better at night," he said, adding that video of the external tank's separation from the orbiter were clear as well. "When the attitude control thrusters fired, it was as bright as it could be."

Time is reserved on Friday for further inspections if they are required. However, if the tests are expected to run over two hours, an additional docked day for Discovery and the ISS will be added to the shuttle's 12-day flight schedule.

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