Astronauts Study Discovery with Robotic Arm

Although the space shuttle Discovery launched yesterday, it still won’t actually link up with the International Space Station until Thursday. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t got plenty of work today. The astronauts spent part of their Wednesday analyzing the shuttle’s heat absorbing tiles using its robotic arm. Engineers didn’t think that falling ice, or wear and tear on some of the shuttle’s tiles were going to be a problem – now they’ll know for sure.

The astronauts attached a special boom extension to Discovery’s robotic arm today, and used it examine the shuttle’s underside for damage. With the images and radar analysis completed, engineers back on Earth can find any damage, and determine if any of it will be a risk when the shuttle re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere. The comprehensive scan took several hours to complete.

If there is damage, the astronauts have several strategies they can use to patch things up. They can screw down a protective plate, squeeze in a filler, or coat damaged tiles with special heat absorbing paint. These strategies haven’t been necessary yet, since the increased precautions created after the Columbia disaster.

NASA analysts have also studied video of the launch, and did notice chunks of foam dislodge from the external fuel tank. The foam fell later on during the ascent, though. This is good news, since the foam hits the shuttle with less force later on in the launch.

The crew also extended the shuttle’s docking ring, and prepared the tools they will use during the rendezvous and link up with the station. They also did a check out of the spacesuits that will be used during the mission’s 5 scheduled spacewalks.

If all goes well, the two vehicles will meet at 8:33 a.m. EDT on Thursday.

Original Source: NASA Shuttle News