After the review of hundreds of images, mission managers gave space shuttle Discovery’s protective heat shield a clean bill of health and the approval to come home at the end of its 13 day mission.
That mission has moved into Flight Day 7, which will involve the second of three spacewalks. EVA 2 will repair a cableway used by the International Space Station’s robotic arm – ahead Shuttle Atlantis’ arrival next month.
NASA gave Discovery the clean bill of health after final inspection of a few key areas that, as the management team says, won’t impact the shuttle’s ability to bring the astronauts home safely.
‘We are absolutely clear and ready to bring this vehicle home whenever the mission is accomplished,’ said NASAâ€™s orbiter project manager, Steve Poulos.
Shuttle Discovery’s crew was told about the decision shortly after it was made.
‘That is great news, that’s fantastic,’ Commander Steven Lindsey told flight controllers after hearing the news. ‘To get all that done by Flight Day 6 when we did focused inspections on Flight Day 4 is amazing.’
To determine that Discovery was ready to return home, engineers conducted pull tests on test samples as well as on pieces of space shuttle Endeavour. These tests were to see if small patches of slightly damaged thermal blanket on the shuttle’s nose would come off upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere.
One other area of interest remained Sunday night, a two inch long piece of fabric gap filler. Engineers determined that it was not necessary to remove the strip during a spacewalk, and that it caused no concern for the shuttle’s return to earth.
Officials previously decided that other spots and nicks, such as frayed fabric and bird droppings, did not pose a big threat to the shuttle.
The final spacewalk of Discovery’s mission will test techniques for inspecting and repairing reinforced carbon-carbon that protects the shuttleâ€™s wing leading edges and itâ€™s nose cone.
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