Shuttle Mission in Good Shape After Launch, NASA Says

Astronauts Scan Space Shuttle For Dings, Damage
The STS-123 astronaut crew of the shuttle Endeavour will use an extension to their robotic arm to scan the orbiter's heat shield for any signs of damage.
(Image: © NASA.)

HOUSTON ? Lessthan 24 hours after space shuttle Endeavour's successful launch set a predawn Floridasky ablaze, NASA said the mission is going well despite two glitches and a strangeobject spotted in launch video.

"Itwas a beautiful, awesome nightlaunch," said Mike Moses, lead shuttle flight director for the STS-123mission, noting that an on-orbit inspection of Endeavour's heat shield progressedwithout any hiccups. "It's going great, no issues to report there."

Led bycommander Dominic Gorie, the seven-astronautcrew of Endeavour is slated to deliver the first of Japan's three-piece Kibo laboratory and a monstrous two-armed robot named Dextre to theInternational Space Station (ISS).

Theirrecord-breaking 16-day mission will be packed with no less than five 6.5-hourspacewalks to continue assembly of the growing orbital outpost.

Mysterydebris

Severalhours after Gorie's crew launched into space on Tuesday morning at 2:28 a.m. EDT(0628 GMT), spacecraft communicators told Gorie that a strange object was spottedin launch video 10 seconds into the liftoff.

The object,seen as a white streak in ascent imagery, originates from a distance away fromthe shuttle's now-discarded 15-story external fuel tank, then disappears. Mosessaid he's not sure if the object vanishes because it slammed into the nose capof Endeavour, or if it simply slipped behind the port-side of the orbiter.

"Wedon't know what it is yet, and we're still looking at it," Moses said ofthe mystery object, which he does not think is an errant chunk of ice or insulatingfoam shed from the orange external tank. "The imagery is very inconclusive."

Detailedinspection

Whateverthe case, Moses said he's confident Endeavour will be in good shape for a March26th landing following a standard yet detailedinspection of the orbiter's toughest heat-resistant tiling.

"For thehealth of this orbiter, I can kind of put it out of my mind because [we'vescanned] the nose cap at the front end of the orbiter," he said.

Commander Gorie,shuttle pilot Gregory H. Johnson and mission specialist Takao Doi of Japan performed the six-hour inspection using the shuttle's 50-foot (15-meter)sensor-tipped extension boom.

Moses alsonoted that two problems that occurred during launch ? the failure of a heat-dissipatingsystem and a thruster-controlling computer ? are of little concern for the completionof the STS-123 mission because of redundant systems and potential fixes.

Dockingday

Now thatEndeavour's reinforced carbon-carbon tiling on its wing leading edges and nosecap are inspected, the crew is slated to dock with the space station this eveningaround 11:25 p.m. EDT (0325 GMT March 13).

"Afterwe dock, we don't stop there," Moses said, noting that operations to dropof the pieces of Canada'sDextre robot will begin shortly after Endeavour latches onto the station. "We'regoing to go get that pallet out and stick it on the station. It's a very busy day."

Moses notedthat all seven astronauts on board Endeavour seemed to be chipper as theyworked through their second day in space, and none seem to have any healthconcerns seen during the previous shuttle mission.

"Youcould tell just by watching them that they're adapted to space really well andhaving a good time," Moses said of onboard video the crew beamed down toMission Control. "I think they're feeling great."

NASA is broadcasting Endeavour's STS-123 mission live on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's shuttle mission coverage and NASA TV feed.

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