Astronauts Keep Busy After Spacewalk Delay
Expedition 16 flight Engineer Dan Tani (left) watches as STS-122 mission specialists Leopold Eyharts (center) and Leland Melvin operate the International Space Station's robotic arm.
Credit: NASA TV

This story was updated at 9:57 a.m. EST.

HOUSTON — NASA hustled through the night to organize detailed plans for the crew of space shuttle Atlantis, following a medical issue with one of its crew members on Saturday.

In the instructions sent up to the astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) this morning, NASA noted a small tile falling off of an orbiter engine area known as the left Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pod "stinger" in pre-launch photos. They also called for an inspection of a small thermal blanket tear on the right OMS pod.

NASA said it is still reviewing the stray tile seen near Atlantis' massive engines but noted, however, that "the entry thermal environment is more benign than the ascent thermal environment at this location."

Led by commander Stephen Frick, the STS-122 shuttle mission crew was slated to install the European Space Agency's (ESA) new Columbus laboratory on the International Space Station (ISS) during a spacewalk today. But NASA delayed the orbital work by 24 hours and swapped out an original member of the spacewalking team on Saturday due to medical concerns raised by the crew.

NASA refused to disclose what the medical issue was or whom it affected. ESA astronaut Hans Schlegel was set to assist mission specialist Rex Walheim on the mission’s first spacewalk, and Schlegel has since been replaced by mission specialist Stanley Love.

Extra day in space

John Shannon, deputy shuttle program manager here at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC), said Saturday that the agency also added an extra day to the crew's original 11-day mission. Mission managers quickly pulled together a set of plans as to what activities astronauts will perform today more than 210 miles (338 kilometers) above the Earth.

"The mid-deck transfers all have to take place and that takes a tremendous amount of time," Shannon said of the supplies still on board in Atlantis. Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson, who celebrated her 48th birthday Saturday, confirmed with mission controllers that she would partake in the transfer duties today.

Shannon also said last night that operations teams at JSC might instruct the astronauts to take more images of a small thermal blanket tear in a rear section of Atlantis, called the Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pod.

"We asked the team … if we were go and try to get any additional imagery on that right OMS pod," Shannon said, suggesting that Atlantis' robotic arm may be used to take additional images. "[Sunday] might be a good day to do that."

In fact, the crew was directed this morning to use the shuttle's robotic arm and 50-foot (15-meter) extension boom to do a focused inspection of the region around 2:15 p.m. EST (1915 GMT) Sunday.

Crew swap

In addition to changing its original mission schedule, NASA swapped members of its STS-122 shuttle and Expedition 16 space station crews yesterday as planned.

Flight engineer Dan Tani, who has lived on the space station since October 2007, was formally replaced today by Atlantis astronaut Leopold Eyharts, a French spaceflyer representing the ESA. The transfer took place when Tani's custom-built seat liner inside a docked Russian Soyuz spacecraft was replaced with Eyharts'.

"In an emergency, Dan's going home on the shuttle," Whitson told mission controllers yesterday. "He's pretty happy about that."

Astronauts awoke today to "Männer" by Herbert Grönemeyer, a 1980s German pop music idol and actor. The tune was selected by Schlegel's wife.

"Thank you very much for this piece of music," Schlegel said after the tune finished playing. "It's a German ... song about the nature of man."

NASA expects Atlantis to land on Feb. 19 or possibly Feb. 20 if the agency decides to add a second day to the mission.

NASA is broadcasting Atlantis' STS-122 mission live on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's shuttle mission coverage and NASA TV feed. 

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