Left wing of Atlantis may have been damaged

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Space Shuttle Atlantis

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Space Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis is one of the fleet of space shuttles belonging to the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It was the fourth operational shuttle built. Following the destruction of Columbia, it is one of the three fully operational shuttles remaining in the fleet. The other two are Discovery and Endeavour. After it completes STS-125, the final Hubble Space Telescope service mission, Atlantis is scheduled to be the first shuttle retired from the fleet.

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NASA has reported that a sensor aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis recorded a force of 1G on the shuttle's left wing. This could have been a small impact caused by a meteorite or space junk, or a sensor glitch. The anomaly was recorded on reinforced carbon panels 7 and 8 and reported during a mission briefing on Tuesday afternoon by NASA.

Atlantis on the launchpad on August 29, 2006.

"[Sensors recorded a] 1G change at one part of the wing's leading edge," said Chairman of the Atlantis Shuttle Mission team, John Shannon who also said that other sensors on Atlantis have not recorded the impact.

Damage resulting from impact to a wing during liftoff caused Space Shuttle Columbia to disintegrate when it was re-entering Earth's atmosphere on February 1, 2003. As required by new routines put in place after the accident, astronauts will now have to use a camera or laser to determine if there is any damage to Atlantis's left wing or not. NASA has a spacewalk scheduled for today, but it is not known yet during which of the 3 remaining spacewalks they will be inspecting this .

NASA says they do not believe that there is any damage, because the other sensors around the one that reported the anomaly did not register anything out of the ordinary, as they would be expected to do in case of an actual impact. However, they will examine the area to make sure.