CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Schoolteacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan helped operate a 100-foot robot arm and extension boom in a hunt for damage on her first full day in orbit Thursday, as NASA said foam insulation may have hit the space shuttle at launch.
Nine pieces of foam insulation broke off Endeavour’s fuel tank during liftoff Wednesday evening, and three pieces appeared to strike the shuttle, said John Shannon, chairman of the mission management team. None is believed to have been big enough to cause critical damage, he said.
The possible strike areas on Endeavour will receive special focus when astronauts aboard the International Space Station zoom in for pictures of the shuttle before this afternoon’s linkup.
The first foam fragment came off at 24 seconds after liftoff and appeared to hit the tip of the body flap. The second was 58 seconds after liftoff with a resulting spray or discoloration on the right wing. The third came almost three minutes after liftoff, too late to cause any damage to the wing. The most worrisome is one that appeared to hit the shuttle’s right wing.
“Whether it caused damage or not, we will find out in great detail” during today’s rendezvous, Shannon said Thursday night. “The report initially was that you got a spray of debris from this area and, of course, that brings up images of Columbia and the spray you saw there, and I would tell you this was not even remotely of the same magnitude.”
Working from the cockpit, Morgan and crewmate Tracy Caldwell slowly swept the laser and camera-tipped boom just above Endeavour’s nose cap. Then Morgan was joined by Rick Mastracchio for a similar inspection of Endeavour’s left wing. The right wing – where two pieces of foam are believed to have struck – was checked earlier in the day.