Atlantis Crew Checks Craft for Heat Shield Damage

On their first full day in space, astronauts use the space shuttle Atlantis' robotic arm and orbiter boom to photograph the tiles of its wing's leading edges and nose cap, looking for heat shield damage.

The six astronauts onboard the space shuttle Atlantis spent their first full day in space inspecting the space craft for any heat shield damage that may have occurred during what NASA called a "picture-perfect launch day" Nov. 16. Atlantis is expected to dock at the International Space Station Nov. 18 to offload several tons of spare parts for the space station.
Pilot Barry Wilmore, Commander Charles Hobaugh and Mission Specialists Leland Melvin and Randy Bresnik used the 50-foot-long shuttle robotic arm and "its 50-foot-long orbiter boom sensor system to get an up-close look at the tiles of Atlantis' wing leading edges and nose cap," a NASA mission status report said the morning of Nov. 17. "The inspection will make use of a suite of cameras and lasers on the end of the boom and give experts on the ground 3D views of the shuttle's heat shield."
Heat shield damage has been a particular concern for NASA since the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated returning to Earth after a 2003 mission, killing all seven astronauts abroad. The cause of the disaster was later traced to a chunk of foam off the external fuel tank striking the Columbia's left wing 82 seconds after blastoff.
"In preparation for docking with the station on [Nov. 18], the crew will also set up the centerline camera, extend the Orbiter Docking System ring and check out other equipment that will be used during the rendezvous," NASA said in its report. "The crew's spacewalkers-Mike Foreman and Robert L. Satcher, Jr. ... -will perform a checkout of the two spacesuits to be worn on the first of the mission's three spacewalks and prepare the suits for transfer to the International Space Station."
The spares are going up on two platforms-called Express Logistics Carriers, or ELCs-to be attached on either side of the station's truss, in hopes that if an ISS failure happens, the necessary spare won't be too far away.
The ELCs carried up on Atlantis will contain two pump modules, two control moment gyroscopes, two nitrogen tank assemblies, an ammonia tank assembly, a high-pressure gas tank, a latching end effector for the station's robotic arm and a trailing umbilical system reel assembly for the railroad cart that allows the arm to move along the station's truss system.
There's also a power control unit, a plasma container unit, a cargo transportation container and a battery charge/discharge unit. In all, that's 27,250 pounds worth of spares intended to keep the station going long after the shuttles retire at the end of 2010.