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Endeavour loses small piece of thermal blanket

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin watches the lift off of space shuttle Endeavour from the Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

WASHINGTON (BNS): A small piece of thermal blanket fell off from the aft portion of the orbiter during space Shuttle Endeavour's ascent from earth, NASA has said.

The seven crew members on board the space shuttle have captured some images of the area during their inspection on Saturday which will allow the ground controllers to look more closely and confirm the loss of the blanket and its size, the space agency said.

Endeavour had blasted off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on Friday.

This area is of no great concern since it is not an area that experiences high heat during re-entry into the earth, said a NASA official.

The agency said the crew used the shuttle's robotic arm and its extension to look at the spacecraft's thermal protection system. The STS-126 is on a mission to deliver equipment and supplies at the International Space Station besides carrying a new crew member to the orbital outpost.

After the hatches between the station and shuttle opened at 7:16 pm, the two crews exchanged greetings and went to work preparing for joint operations.

Ahead of the docking, on Sunday afternoon, the crew installed the Orbiter Docking System centerline camera and extended the system's docking ring. They also checked out the spacesuits to be used during the four spacewalks to complete the mission outside the Space Station.

The shuttle and station crew will prepare on Monday for the first STS-126 spacewalk by mission specialists Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Stephen Bowen. The spacewalk is set to take place on Tuesday.

All the crew members on board the spacecraft -- Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Don Pettit, Steve Bowen, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Shane Kimbrough and Sandra Magnus -- were awakened at 9:55 am CST for their first full day in space. The wakeup music was "Shelter" by Xavier Rudd, which was played for Ferguson.

Boe, Pettit and Kimbrough will work together on the thermal protection system, using the Orbiter Boom Sensor system attached to the robotic arm to look at the starboard wing, then the nose cap and the port wing. Data from the survey will be analysed by engineers on the ground, NASA said.

Fellow spacewalker Kimbrough is working on the survey, Piper and Bowen will check out the spacesuits and subsequently prepare them for transfer to the station. Magnus, who will remain on the space station for three months, will work to prepare material on Endeavour's mid-deck for transfer to her new home.

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