NASA Clears Shuttle Atlantis for Landing

NASA Clears Shuttle Atlantis for Landing
A view photographed from the International Space Station shows the Space Shuttle Atlantis backdropped over terrain as the two spacecraft were nearing their much-anticipated link-up in Earth orbit on June 10, 2007. (Image credit: NASA.)

HOUSTON --NASA mission managers cleared the space shuttle Atlantis for its plannedlanding next week after finding its protective heat shield sound for the plungethrough Earth?s atmosphere.

?Okay, that?s great newsHouston!? said Atlantis commander Rick Sturckow after Mission Control relayedthe good news. ?Thanks a lot.?

One last,now-standard heat shield survey is scheduled for Atlantis to ensure tiny spacerocks or debris have not damaged the shuttle since its June 8launch.

Saturday?s announcement came oneday after NASA astronaut Danny Olivas repaireda torn protective blanket on Atlantis' left engine pod using medical staples and wire pins during anearly eight-hour spacewalk outside the International Space Station (ISS). Acorner of the blanket ripped loose as the shuttle launched from NASA?s KennedySpace Center in Florida.

Earlier in the mission, Atlantis?seven-astronaut STS-117 crew scannedthe vital heat-resistant tiles and panels along the shuttle?s wing edges,nose cap and underbelly with a sensor-laden boom to seek out any signs ofsignificant damage. Astronauts aboard the ISS also snapped high-resolutionimages of the shuttle while it performed a back flip just beforedocking at the orbital laboratory on June 10.

NASA has kept close watch on theintegrity of shuttle heat shields since 2003, when a piece of shuttle fuel tankfoam fell free during launch and pierced heat-resistant panels on the Columbiaorbiter?s left wing. The damage led to the loss of the spacecraft and itsseven-astronaut crew.

As an added safety measure, theSTS-117 crew will perform a now-standard second heat shield survey, known as a ?lateinspection? and is nearly identical to the first, once Atlantis casts offfrom the ISS. The survey will scan for any damage sustained by micrometeoritesor space junk.

The shuttle is currently slatedto undock from the space station on Tuesday en route for a planned June 21landing, but carries enough supplies to spend one extra day docked at the ISSif needed, NASA said.

Sturckow and his crewmates arein the midst of a planned 13-day mission that has, to date, successfully delivereda new crewmember to the ISS and installed new starboard trusses and solararrays for the orbital laboratory. The mission is NASA?s first of up to four shuttle flights this yeardedicated to space station construction.

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

  • Video Interplayer: Space Station Power Up with STS-117
  • STS-117 Power Play: Atlantis Shuttle Crew to Deliver ISS Solar Wings
  • Complete Shuttle Mission Coverage


Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. 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 covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. 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. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.