Saturday, November 29, 2008

330p 11/29 Update: MMT clears Endeavour heat shield for entry


Posted: 03:30 PM, 11/29/08

By William Harwood
CBS News Space Analyst

Changes and additions:

   SR-79 (11/28/08): Sarafin pleased with mission; delayed rocket firing no problem for Picosat deploy; landing weather iffy for Sunday
   SR-80 (11/29/08): Astronauts prepare for Sunday landing
   SR-81 (11/29/08): Shuttle heat shield cleared for entry


3:30 PM, 11/29/08, Update: Shuttle heat shield cleared for entry

Data from a final inspection of the shuttle Endeavour's reinforced carbon carbon nose cap and wing leading edge panels show the ship is in good shape for landing Sunday, the chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team said today.

The nose cap and leading edge panels experience the most extreme heating during entry, up to about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. They were examined with a laser scanner after Endeavour undocked from the international space station Friday to make sure no damage had occurred from space debris impacts since an identical inspection the day after launch.

"The team worked through the night and reviewed all the data," said MMT Chairman LeRoy Cain. "They are satisfied we don't have any issues with the reinforced carbon carbon wing leading edge or the nose cap and so, as a Mission Management Team, we have cleared Endeavour's thermal protection system for a safe entry and landing."

In fact, he said, "from what we've seen on orbit in our inspections on this vehicle, Endeavour looks to me and to the experts to be as clean or cleaner than any vehicle we've flown."

Endeavour is scheduled to land Sunday at the Kennedy Space Center. But high crosswinds and possible thunderstorms associated with a cold front could force entry Flight Director Bryan Lunney to divert the crew to Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert.

California landings add a week or more to a shuttle's processing turnaround. But Cain said in this case, an Edwards landing for Endeavour would have no major impact on downstream planning.

Joining Endeavour's crew for the trip back to Earth is Gregory Chamitoff, a space station flight engineer launched at the end of May and completing a six-month stay in space. Flight surgeons will be standing by at the Kennedy Space Center and Edwards to assist him regardless of which landing site is selected.

"I talked to the flight surgeons a bit about that yesterday," Cain said. "We have facilities out at (Edwards) to accommodate the crew members in that regard. So they don't have any issues at all."


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