ABC News September 20, 2006
Shuttle crew inspects exterior, delays landing after several mystery objects found
Nothing's easy for the shuttle astronauts these days. They're back at work this morning searching for possible damage from "mystery objects" that may have come in contact with the shuttle.
They'll be using a robotic arm to do an inspection of the entire surface of the shuttle.
It's a cautionary move after two objects were seen drifting away from the space craft. NASA suspects one is a piece lightweight shim that may have come loose during a test of the landing systems.
"A piece of shimstock, a little plastic, 2" by about 5" I think it was, about 40 mils thick - not very thick piece of plastic, that's just hanging out there," said Wayne Hale, Space Shuttle Program Manager.
The other mystery object could be a plastic bag left outside the craft. It was spotted later drifting into space.
"We have the tools to go off and make sure we are safe for re-entry so we have no reason not to take a look and just put every concern to rest," Hale said.
A piece of broken off foam insulation caused space shuttle Columbia's demise in 2003. NASA wants to be sure that this time the heat shield is in place.
"At 17,000 miles an hour even a small piece of metal is going to pack a real wallop. I think they are going to want to make sure they haven't been hit by a piece of space debris that could have compromised the tiles," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org.
NASA is hoping to bring Atlantis back to Earth tomorrow. It can stay in orbit until Saturday. If there is some worrisome damage, arrangements could be made for the astronauts to return to the international space station.
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