Wednesday, June 3, 2009

NASA: Shuttle 'dings' appear 'minor'

Wednesday, June 3, 2009
NASA's Space Shuttle "Atlantis" launches seconds after 2:01 PM from Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 11, 2009. Atlantis is carrying a seven person crew on the final shuttle flight to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The crew plans five spacewalks over the eleven day mission to repair and improve the telescope which will increase its operational lifespan through at least 2014. The 44 foot observatory was launched to space on STS 31 in April 1990 and has completed over one hundred thousand orbits.

U.S. space agency said Tuesday the space Shuttle Atlantis sustained damage after liftoff Monday, but it appeared to be minor.

The shuttle crew performed a scheduled survey of the craft's heat shielding and observed what the National Aeronautics and Space Administration called "a few dings that experts will continue to analyze."

Flight Director Tony Ceccacci said the initial evaluation found the damage -- along an area of about 21 inches over four of the shuttle's thermal tiles on the starboard side -- appeared to be minor and likely not a concern, NASA said on its Web site. Ceccacci said experts would analyze the damage to be sure the heat shielding is in good shape.

Atlantis lifted off Monday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, en route to provide the final servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope.

During the 11-day mission the shuttle crew will perform five spacewalks, installing two new instruments, repairing two inactive ones and making component replacements that will keep the telescope functioning until at least 2014.

The servicing mission, the fifth, is designed to update Hubble, which has been in operation for 19 years. NASA said Hubble, after it is upgraded, will be 100 times as powerful as it was when it went into orbit in April 1990.


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