Shuttle Mission in Good Shape After Launch, NASA Says
By Dave Mosher
posted: 12 March 2008
04:34 am ET
HOUSTON — Less than 24 hours after space shuttle Endeavour’s successful launch set a predawn Florida sky ablaze, NASA said the mission is going well despite two glitches and a strange object spotted in launch video.
“It was a beautiful, awesome night launch,” said Mike Moses, lead shuttle flight director for the STS-123 mission, noting that an on-orbit inspection of Endeavour’s heat shield progressed without any hiccups. “It’s going great, no issues to report there.”
Led by commander Dominic Gorie, the seven-astronaut crew of Endeavour is slated to deliver the first of Japan’s three-piece Kibo laboratory and a monstrous two-armed robot named Dextre to the International Space Station (ISS).
Their record-breaking 16-day mission will be packed with no less than five 6.5-hour spacewalks to continue assembly of the growing orbital outpost.
Several hours after Gorie’s crew launched into space on Tuesday morning at 2:28 a.m. EDT (0628 GMT), spacecraft communicators told Gorie that a strange object was spotted in launch video 10 seconds into the liftoff.
The object, seen as a white streak in ascent imagery, originates from a distance away from the shuttle’s now-discarded 15-story external fuel tank, then disappears. Moses said he’s not sure if the object vanishes because it slammed into the nose cap of Endeavour, or if it simply slipped behind the port-side of the orbiter.
“We don’t know what it is yet, and we’re still looking at it,” Moses said of the mystery object, which he does not think is an errant chunk of ice or insulating foam shed from the orange external tank. “The imagery is very inconclusive.”
Whatever the case, Moses said he’s confident Endeavour will be in good shape for a March 26th landing following a standard yet detailed inspection of the orbiter’s toughest heat-resistant tiling.
“For the health of this orbiter, I can kind of put it out of my mind because [we’ve scanned] the nose cap at the front end of the orbiter,” he said.
Commander Gorie, shuttle pilot Gregory H. Johnson and mission specialist Takao Doi of Japan performed the six-hour inspection using the shuttle’s 50-foot (15-meter) sensor-tipped extension boom.
Moses also noted that two problems that occurred during launch — the failure of a heat-dissipating system and a thruster-controlling computer — are of little concern for the completion of the STS-123 mission because of redundant systems and potential fixes.
Now that Endeavour’s reinforced carbon-carbon tiling on its wing leading edges and nose cap are inspected, the crew is slated to dock with the space station this evening around 11:25 p.m. EDT (0325 GMT March 13).