The crew of space shuttle Atlantis have wrapped an inspection of the spacecraft's thermal protection system, ahead of the veteran spaceplane's planned return to Kennedy Space Center on Thursday morning. NASA reports: "They used the 50-foot long Orbiter Boom Sensor System to conduct a high fidelity, three-dimensional scan of …
This may be a stupid question but...
"review the data today and tomorrow to validate the heat shield’s integrity"
What, exactly, do they plan to do if the heat shield is damaged?
It is not like they have another flight worthy bird available to take spares up for them, do they plan to nick some bits of the ISS or perhaps they could try out that old fable about re-entry in a spacesuit...
If it's damaged
If it's damaged, they go back to the ISS, dock it there and take a Soyuz back to earth.
Later, a new Soyuz will be sent up and attached to the ISS to replace it. I guess at this point, the shuttle becomes a new wing of the ISS. I'd imagine an extra facility the size of the shuttle would be of some use, at least for a while, barring it taking up a docking ring. Or, maybe they'll just set it free and put it on a trajectory that would burn up in a non-harmfull to people on the earth manner.
@If it's damaged
That's the reason there's only 4 crew on board. A full crew of 7 really needs a standby shuttle to bring them home (which is why Atlantis was ready to fly STS-135 after the previous "final" STS-134 mission). From that point, they'd spent a large proportion of a mission preparing Atlantis for a potential rescue mission. So they got the extra cash to send Atlantis up on STS-135 with skeleton crew that could stay aboard ISS & use Soyuz to come home.
Supposedly They Have...
...a tube of supergoop to fill small voids.
According to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOMJdTUnP0M the repair has been tested in space, but never used.
Don't worry about the future of CanadArm!!
Rumor has it that CanadArm has landed a coveted role as one of Tony Stark's robotic lab assistants in the next "Iron Man" movie!!
Hopefully, it won't cause a scene on location by hitting on Gwyneth....
Found another use of the arm...
So, 4 hours after announcing that STS-7 was the first use of the arm, they found some more records holding up the corner of a wobbly desk or something and posted this:
This marks the final use of the shuttle’s robotic arm, dating back to its inaugural flight on the shuttle Columbia in October 1981on the STS-2 mission, operated by Commander Richard Truly and Pilot Joe Engle for approximately 10 hours of checkout operations. Canadarm deployed and retrieved its first payload, the Plasma Diagnostic Package, on Columbia's STS-3 mission of Commander Jack Lousma and Pilot Gordon Fullerton.
Hoping for a landing in CA
After watching them launch on July 8 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, I would love to watch them land at Edwards Air Force Base in California, just because I could drive to watch the landing.
But that'll only happen if the weather in Florida gets to bad for landing... Nothing personal to people in Florida...
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