Final flight of space shuttle Discovery proving successful
The crew of Discovery spent its first full day in space Friday inspecting the vehicle and preparing to dock with the International Space Station today.
Mission managers said Discovery has performed well so far and that preliminary indications are that the launch appeared to have caused no damage.
A large chunk of foam did dislodge 3 minutes and 51 seconds after launch and likely hit Discovery three times, said LeRoy Cain, deputy director of the space shuttle program.
However, this occurred after the point during liftoff when debris falling from the external tank — which is supercooled for launch and at that point is warming up — is generally considered a risk to damage the shuttle. This is because the atmosphere is thinner and the force with which the foam could strike the orbiter is lower.
"We don't have any concerns about this event," Cain said.
During a meeting with reporters on Friday, Cain took several minutes to emphasize the pride he had in the shuttle workforce for solving the problems with the shuttle's external tank that delayed Discovery's launch by nearly four months.
The modified tank, he said, had "excellent performance."
He noted that shuttle employees were doubly challenged by not only facing a difficult problem but doing so amid a shrinking work force due to the program's imminent end this summer, as well as concerns about what employees' own futures may hold.
"I don't think I can really do justice in what I want to say about this team," Cain said. "We couldn't be more proud of what they were able to accomplish, the dedication to a person, the sheer perseverance of the team members and their commitment to excellence. It's another reason why it's extra-special to be back on orbit."
The other reason why it's special to be on orbit, of course, is that Discovery is making it 39th and final flight before retirement.
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