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. ISS dodges debris as crew readies for space walk

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by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) July 17, 2009
International Space Station raised out of its orbit Friday to avoid a piece of space junk, ahead of a space walk by crew members of the US shuttle Endeavour to complete work on the orbiting outpost.

"We've known about it for several days, it's not a concern, and we're doing this only as a precaution," NASA said on the micro-blogging website Twitter, describing the space junk as simply "number 84180."

During their first full day in space, the Endeavour crew inspected the spacesuits that they will use during the five spacewalks planned during the mission -- the first one of which is due Saturday.

The seven-person crew, including six Americans and one Canadian also tested rendezvous equipment, installed a camera for the orbiter docking system and extended the docking ring that sits on top the system.

The Endeavour mission aims to help fulfill "Japan's hope for an out-of-this-world space laboratory," as the shuttle delivers state-of-the-art equipment to conduct experiments in the vacuum of space, according to NASA.

Earlier Friday the shuttle successfully docked at the space station amid questions about the integrity of the shuttle's heat shield.

During the delicate docking maneuver the two space vehicles approached each other at 28,000 kilometers (17,398 miles) per hour, giving Commander Mark Polansky a margin of error of 4.5 centimeters (1.8 inches) to complete the procedure, NASA said.

The entry of Endeavour's crew aboard the ISS brought the number of astronauts inside the orbiting space station to a record 13.

As the shuttle approached the ISS, Polansky photographed the underside of the Endeavour to discover whether Wednesday's takeoff caused any damage to the shuttle's heat shield.

During the launch, which came after five failed take off attempts since June 13, debris could be seen peeling away from the shuttle external rocket booster and then striking the spacecraft.

Endeavour astronauts used the shuttle's robotic arm for what the space agency called "the standard flight day two inspection" of the reinforced carbon nose cap and the wing's leading edge.

Imagery experts on the ground will continue to scrutinize images transmitted by the astronauts to determine the state of the shuttle's thermal protection system, NASA said.

The US space agency has been cautious about conditions for the shuttle's exit and return since the Columbia craft blew apart some 20,000 meters (65,500 feet) above the Earth in 2003 as it was returning from a 16-day space mission to land in Florida.

A chunk of insulation that broke off from Columbia's external fuel tank during takeoff had gouged the space shuttle's heat shield, allowing superheated gases to melt the shuttle's internal structure before it exploded, killing all seven astronauts onboard.

One of the crew's members, Endeavour Mission Specialist Tim Kopra, will be staying aboard the ISS, taking over from Japanese engineer Koichi Wakata, who has been in space for 124 days.

The ISS should be completed in 2010, also the target date for the retirement of the US fleet of three space shuttles.

earlier related report
Endeavour to dock with space station, eyes Japanese lab work
The US shuttle Endeavour readied Friday to dock with the International Space Station, where astronauts will work on the Japanese Kibo laboratory.

The six Americans and one Canadian onboard Endeavour are scheduled to reach the ISS, where they will complete the Japanese Kibo laboratory, a platform for astronauts to conduct experiments 350 kilometers (220 miles) above Earth's surface.

"Commander Mark Polansky and his space shuttle Endeavour crew are on schedule to dock with the International Space Station ... at 1:55 pm EDT (1755 GMT)," Nasa said in a statement.

"The 12-second Terminal Initiation (TI) burn using the left Orbital Maneuvering System engine occurred as planned at 11:17 am (1517 GMT) and will move Endeavour to a point about 600 feet (200 meters) below the station by around 12:50 pm (1650 GMT)," it added.

The Endeavour mission aims to help fulfill "Japan's hope for an out-of-this-world space laboratory," as the shuttle delivers state-of-the-art equipment to conduct experiments in the vacuum of space, NASA has said.

NASA earlier Friday said Endeavour was in the clear despite debris that peeled off during launch.

The material was spotted after the shuttle took off Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center, its sixth bid in recent weeks to reach the ISS after delays caused by weather woes and technical glitches.

"There is nothing that we have seen on the orbiter that causes any concern," space shuttle manager John Shannon told reporters.

The debris could be seen hitting the shuttle about two minutes into the flight in images broadcast on NASA TV.

"It didn't hurt us apparently on this flight because it came off so late" in the ascent, Shannon said, adding that specialists from the US space agency would look at the issue more closely.

"We need to understand, since this looks like a new mechanism of shedding foam off the intertank... we need to understand that for the next flight," he said.

On Thursday, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, said the debris could be ice or foam that broke off from the external fuel tank.

"We had some foam loss events," he said. "You can clearly see, on the front part of the orbiter, some white indications where the tiles were dinged... We don't consider those an issue for us, those are probably coating losses."

Endeavour astronauts used the shuttle's robotic arm for what the space agency called "the standard flight day two inspection" of the reinforced carbon wing leading edge and nose cap.

Imagery experts on the ground will continue to assess images transmitted by the astronauts to determine the state of the shuttle's thermal protection system, NASA said, adding that an early review showed only "a few minor dings" in some tiles due to the loss of small foam pieces from the external fuel tank.

During their first full day in space, the crew also inspected spacesuits that will be used during the five spacewalks planned during the mission.

The astronauts tested rendezvous equipment, installed a camera for the orbiter docking system and extended the docking ring that sits on top the system.

NASA has been cautious about conditions for the space shuttle's exit and return since the shuttle Columbia blew apart some 20,000 meters (65,500 feet) above the Earth in 2003 as it was returning from a 16-day space mission to land in Florida.

A chunk of insulation that broke off from the shuttle's external fuel tank during takeoff had gouged Columbia's heat shield, allowing superheated gases to melt the shuttle's internal structure before it exploded, killing all seven astronauts onboard.

The ISS should be completed in 2010, also the target date for the retirement of the US fleet of three space shuttles.

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Endeavour astronauts to inspect heat shield
Cape Canaveral, Florida (AFP) July 16, 2009
Astronauts aboard the US space shuttle Endeavour prepared on Thursday to inspect the heat shield for damage caused by debris that peeled off the external fuel tank during liftoff. The debris was spotted after the shuttle blasted off Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center, its sixth bid in recent weeks to reach the International Space Station after delays caused by weather woes and technical ... read more

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