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Shuttle's heat shield cleared; Spacewalk No. 1 a success
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: November 19, 2009
The shuttle Atlantis' heat shield has been cleared for re-entry as is after an exhaustive review of data and imagery that showed no problems of any significance with the ship's protective tiles, its reinforced carbon carbon nose cap and wing leading edge panels, NASA officials said Thursday.
The Damage Assessment Team, or DAT, presented a final summary to NASA's Mission Management Team, concluding the reinforced carbon carbon components, which experience the most extreme heating during entry, are "in great shape."
"For the TPS (thermal protection system tiles and blankets), only four areas required further analysis," the MMT said in a summary message to the Atlantis astronauts. "These four areas were all very minor and cleared with standard analysis techniques."
A block of time had been reserved Friday for a focused inspection if any problem areas were found that warranted additional scrutiny. Commander Charles Hobaugh and his crewmates were informed earlier Thursday that a focused inspection would not be required. Station Flight Director Brian Smith said the crew would put the extra time to good use.
"We launch a certain quantity of items on the shuttle that need to get transferred to the space station," he said. "We estimated on this flight we needed about 35 hours of that time. ... We build a baseline plan that doesn't accommodate much of that transfer time on flight day five (Friday) because we need to preserve that time for robotic operations associated with focused inspection.
"With those robotic operations deleted, we'll just pull some of that transfer time ahead and we'll get ahead of the game on that. Not all that exciting, but for those of us who worry about transfer at the end, because we're always racing at the end to get it done, we're very happy to see a lot of that time get put on flight day five. It's going to put us in a good posture."
Saving time on another front, astronauts Michael Foreman and Robert Satcher completed the objectives of the crew's first spacewalk Thursday some two hours ahead of schedule. That allowed time for them to deploy a cargo mounting mechanism on the station's right-side solar power truss that had been scheduled for the crew's second spacewalk Saturday.
Lead spacewalk officer Sarah Kazukiewicz Korona said a similar mechanism scheduled for deployment during a third and final spacewalk Monday will be moved up to Saturday and that a similar task scheduled for a future mission will be added to the final spacewalk.
Satcher and Foreman mounted a spare S-band antenna assembly on the station to begin Thursday's spacewalk, finishing well ahead of schedule. Satcher then lubricated the latching snares used to secure payloads to a Japanese robot arm and the station's mobile transporter while Foreman completed an electrical connection left over from an earlier mission and routed antenna cables needed by a future assembly crew. He also installed an ammonia coolant line bracket and secured debris shields that had been temporarily tethered in place during an earlier mission.
"It was a fantastic EVA," said Kazukiewicz Korona.
While the spacewalkers were busy outside the station, the lab crew was busy inside making preparations for the attachment of a new module in February. The module, known informally as node 3 and formally as Tranquility, originally was to be attached to the Earth-facing port of the Unity module. It will be attached instead to Unity's left-side hatch.
"So all the plumbing and the fluid lines, power and data lines, that were built down into the nadir location in node 1, we have to move all that to the port location which is where node 3's going to be attached," Smith said.
"So we brought up two huge bags worth of hardware that will help us route all the fluid lines, the air ventilation lines, power and data lines from the nadir location over to the port location. That work the crew was doing today and they got pretty far ahead on that. They're going to work a lot on that tomorrow and also on flight day six."
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