Gouge Found in Endeavour’s Heat Shield

HarpBlaster.com wire reports

NASA mission managers decided to have the crew perform focused inspections Sunday of Endeavour’s heat-protection tiles after launch videos and pre-docking photography showed a three-inch-round ding on the shuttle’s starboard underside.

The inspections will be carried out using the Orbiter Boom Sensor System, which is capable of collecting three-dimensional laser images and high-resolution digital photography of the area.

“What does this mean? I don’t know at this point. There are three prongs to our assessment, first we will conduct a thermal analysis based on the damage, check the flight history and test the area. We would never take it lightly to send astronauts to the underside of the vehicle to do anything,” said the mission management team chairman, John Shannon who also said that until the damage is inspected, “it’s way too early to determine whether any repairs are required.”

If the damage is found to be irreversible and cannot be fixed, the crew of Endeavour would stay on the ISS. NASA says that supplies would last until a rescue mission could be launched Oct. 8 by sending up what would be the last remaining shuttle of the fleet, Discovery.

Meanwhile, the STS-118 and Expedition 15 crews continue preparations for today’s spacewalk to install the Starboard 5 (S5) truss onto the International Space Station. STS-118 Mission Specialists Rick Mastracchio and Dave Williams are slated to begin their orbital stroll at 12:31 p.m. EDT.

The S5 will be attached to the Starboard 4 segment about 1:56 p.m. with the spacewalking duo guiding station robot arm operator Charles Hobaugh, STS-118’s pilot, as he moves the S5 to the attachment point. The spacewalkers will then bolt it into place and make power and data connections.

The other major task during the spacewalk is the retraction of a radiator on the Port 6 (P6) truss. After the radiator is folded, Mastracchio and Williams will secure it. The P6 will be relocated from atop the station to the end of the Port 5 truss during a future mission.

The excursion is scheduled to last 6.5 hours. Mission Specialist Tracy Caldwell is the spacewalk coordinator, and Expedition 15 Flight Engineer Clay Anderson is assisting Hobaugh at the controls of the station’s Canadian-built robotic arm.

Meanwhile, the Station-to-Shuttle Power Transfer System, which was activated after Friday’s docking, will be shut down during the spacewalk. The transfer system may allow Space Shuttle Endeavour and the STS-118 crew to stay at the station longer. A decision on a possible mission extension is expected to be made Sunday.

NASA.gov and Wikinews contributed to this report.

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