The view from Endeavour. Image: NASA.gov.
After Monday morning’s clean but delayed launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the space shuttle Endeavour’s latest mission (STS-130) is now set to formerly begin after the vehicle safely docked with the orbiting International Space Station (ISS).
Endeavour and her crew of six will now unload and help install Tranquility, the station’s final U.S. module, which is equipped with seven windows to provide residents with panoramic views of both the Earth and the $10 billion USD facility’s exterior.
Ahead of arriving at the ISS, the Endeavour’s crew had been tasked with carrying out damage checks on the sensitive heat-shielding tiles coating the shuttle’s underside.
According to NASA, the checks, which were executed by using a laser scanner attached to 100-foot robotic boom, revealed nothing it deemed to be serious.
However, data analysis is reported to be ongoing after photos of Endeavour’s exposed belly were taken by the watching ISS crew while shuttle commander George Zamka completed the vehicle’s delicate docking procedure.
The shuttle’s heat shield area is designed to protect the craft during re-entry and has, in the past, sustained damage during launch due to impacts from fragments of insulating foam as thrust tears them from the external fuel tank.
In 2003, such unforeseen damage led to the tragic loss of the space shuttle Columbia and her entire crew as the vehicle disintegrated while passing through the atmosphere.