NASA: Astronauts use robotic arm to check for damage

Shuttle Endeavour crew checks heat shield, spacesuits before docking with space station

The crew of the space shuttle Endeavour is using the robotic arm onboard the shuttle to check the vehicle for any damage that might have been caused during liftoff.

The shuttle blasted off early Monday morning from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Bound for a Wednesday rendezvous with the International Space Station, the shuttle is loaded down with a new piece of the station, as well as a new control room for the orbiter's robotics equipment.

The astronauts got some sleep after the early-morning liftoff and woke at 6:15 p.m. EST to get to work. The main job on their itinerary between Monday night and Tuesday morning is to use the shuttle's robotic arm, along with its 50-foot-long orbiter boom sensor system, to take pictures of Endeavour's wings and nosecap.

They're inspecting the thermal protection system tiles and reinforced carbon panels for any damage that might have occurred during takeoff. The inspection, which is standard procedure following any shuttle launch, uses cameras and lasers at the end of the boom to provide 3-D views of the shuttle, NASA noted.

The images then are sent to NASA's ground facilities where engineers will inspect them for any problems with the shuttle's thermal protection system, which will be needed to protect the craft during the blazing temperatures it will encounter during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

While a few astronauts work on the inspection, NASA noted that others will be inspecting the spacesuits that they'll wear during the mission's three scheduled spacewalks. Astronauts also will check out the rendezvous tools the crew will use during the shuttle's approach to the station.

The shuttle crew is on a mission to deliver an Italian-built module that will be connected to the station, along with a seven-windowed cupola, which will serve as a robotics control room.

Endeavour originally was scheduled for a Sunday morning liftoff, but a low cloud ceiling forced NASA to cancel with the astronauts suited up and strapped into their seats. The Monday morning liftoff also appeared to be in some jeopardy because of cloud cover but the skies cleared in time for a smooth blast off.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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