Atlantis Crew Finds Minor Damage to Shield
By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted May 12, 2009 2:13 PM CDT
The space shuttle's nose cone and underside heat shields during inspection.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – Atlantis astronauts found some minor damage to the shuttle’s heat shield during an arduous, nine-hour inspection today, Space.com reports, with NASA officials saying nicks sustained during liftoff weren’t a serious concern, but that more analysis was needed. Astronauts will inspect the shield—vital to the shuttle’s safety in reentry—again during the voyage to the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Atlantis inspection took twice as long as on flights to the International Space Station, and required a special device. Atlantis astronauts didn't have that luxury. “What we’ve added for this flight is a belly tile survey,” which will be uninterrupted, the mission’s flight director said. “In a station flight, you break that up with a meal.”