UFO likely to be a Shim Stock

by Chris Bergin

Shuttle Atlantis’ return home has been moved back a day, until Thursday morning, due to poor weather at the Kennedy Space Center, and continued analysis by NASA managers/Tiger Team to ascertain what an Unidentified Falling Object (UFO) may be, after it was spotted near the orbiter.

Shuttle manager Wayne Hale believes the object is likely to be the Shim Stock, spotted by images taken from the International Space Station on Flight Day 3.

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Atlantis’ first opportunity to land at the Kennedy Space Center is now 06:21 EDT (11:21am UK Time) on Thursday morning.

During most of the latter part of today, controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston have been driving the camera placed on the end of the Shuttle Robotic Arm to check the along the exposed parts of Atlantis’ Thermal Protection System (TPS), Cargo Bay and body.

So far nothing of concern has turned up, although – to be on the safe side – more inspections will take place tomorrow, with five hours worth of inspections taking place with the camera on the end of the Robotic Arm. Further inspections with the OBSS can take place – if required – later in the day.

‘We have spent the day talking about the plan for tomorrow,’ said Hale. ‘We have not yet had a definitive characterisation of that apparently very small object (we observed) in the video. We don’t have any more information, apart from that it was a dark colour.

‘It appears to be tumbling, and it also appears to be rectangular in shape, but we have no scale to reference with that photography – so we still have a bit of a mystery there.

‘But we have decided, seen as we have the time and we have the capability that we will go off and do a survey of the critical parts of the orbiter.’

That has already been aided, when it comes to protective tiles and thermal blankets, given NASA would have spotted thermal variations in any exposed part of Atlantis’ outer skin, as she travels between day and night many times per day whilst on orbit.

‘We have already cleared many parts of the orbiter (through that data),’ confirmed Hale. ‘And we’ve spotted nothing missing.’

What could be missing, however, is the orange strip of plastic that was seen sticking out of Atlantis’ TPS on Flight Day 3, known as a Shim Stock.

Though deemed as a non constraint for re-entry, it appears it could have been displaced – from its position near the Port ET door – during testing of Atlantis’ Flight Control Systems, and is now being seen floating away from the orbiter.

‘A likely candidate is that piece of Shim Stock that we saw sticking out from the underside of the orbiter,’ added Hale. ‘It’s very likely that during the Flight Control System check out provided the impudence, the shock, the vibration – as if you were driving over potholes – to shake that loose and drive it out.

‘We don’t know for sure, but it’s a highly likely candidate.’

Hale noted that the temptation was to check the area of the TPS where the Shim Stock was located, thus clearing the orbiter, was in evidence at the MMT (Mission Management Team) meeting.

However, given the Robotic Arm is already out and in use, the opportunity to check over Atlantis was the best course of action – it was decided.

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