CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The astronauts aboard the orbiting shuttle-station complex geared up Sunday for the first spacewalk of their mission, amid some good news from Mission Control.
Flight controllers told Discovery’s six astronauts that the shuttle made it through its final liftoff relatively unscathed, and that no further inspections would be needed before undocking next weekend.
NASA officials had said they did not suspect any damage from a section of insulating foam that broke off the fuel tank and struck Discovery’s belly. At least four pieces of debris came off the tank during Thursday’s launch, though none posed a safety concern.
More than 300 digital photographs snapped from the International Space Station during Discovery’s close approach Saturday confirmed the shuttle’s thermal armor is free of any deformities. The pictures still are being analyzed, but nothing serious has popped up, said flight director David Korth.
Shuttle commander Steven Lindsey and his crew got to sleep in Sunday after staying up late the night before to install an equipment platform to the orbiting lab. Once up, the 12 orbiting astronauts hustled to haul fresh supplies from Discovery into the space station and get ready for today’s spacewalk, the first of two planned for this week.
This is the last flight for Discovery, after 39 missions spread over 26 years. The shuttle will be retired when it returns to Earth in just over a week and sent to the Smithsonian Institution.
Two launches remain – by Endeavour in April and Atlantis at the end of June.
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