Shuttle Crew Eyes Heat Shield Health - InformationWeek
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7/29/2009
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Shuttle Crew Eyes Heat Shield Health

Endeavour astronauts are checking protective tiling to ensure it's ready for the voyage home.

Space shuttle Endeavour crewmembers planned to inspect the craft's heat shield Wednesday to ensure it can withstand reentry into Earth's atmosphere.

Though the shield has already passed one inspection, NASA wants to be certain that the shuttle's protective tiling was not seriously damaged by liftoff debris when Endeavour blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center July 15.

NASA also wants to ensure the heat shield was not damaged in space.

"Endeavour's thermal protection system was cleared for landing earlier in the flight," NASA said in a statement. "This last inspection will ensure that there has been no impact damage from micrometeoroids or space junk during its docked operations or fly-around of the station," the space agency added.

NASA isn't taking any chances when it comes to Endeavour's thermal tiling. Pieces of foam insulation from external fuel tanks damaged heat shields on the space shuttle Columbia in 2003. The vehicle disintegrated upon reentry to earth's atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

Space shuttle Endeavour crewmembers said their goodbyes to their counterparts aboard the International Space Station early Tuesday as the shuttle undocked from the orbiting research platform. Two astronauts switched place amid the goodbyes.

Endeavour crewmember Tim Kopra will remain onboard the ISS to assume flight engineer duties. ISS resident Koichi Wakata, from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, will return to Earth aboard the shuttle after a four month stint at the station.

On Monday, a pair of astronauts from Endeavour worked their way through a five hour spacewalk around the ISS. The jaunt saw them complete a range of maintenance and research tasks outside the station.

Endeavour lifted off on July 15th after a series of delays caused by faulty equipment and bad weather. It's set to return home on Friday.

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