than 24 hours after the successful launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour,
NASA officials said its
going well despite two glitches and a strange object spotted in video of the launch.
“It was a beautiful, awesome night launch,” said Mike Moses, lead shuttle flight director for the STS-123 mission, noting that an on-orbit inspection of Endeavour’s heat shield progressed without any hiccups. “It’s going great, no issues to report there.”
Led by commander Dominic Gorie, the mission of the seven-astronaut crew of Endeavour is
to deliver the first of Japan’s three-piece Kibo laboratory and Canada’s monstrous
robot named Dextre to the international space station (ISS). Their
16-day mission will be packed with
five 6.5-hour spacewalks all dedicated to
assembly of the growing orbital outpost.
Several hours after Gorie’s crew launched into space March 11
, spacecraft communicators told Gorie that a strange object was spotted in launch video 10 seconds into the liftoff.
The object, seen as a white streak in
imagery gathered during Endeavour’s launch, originated
a distance away from the shuttle’s now-discarded 15-story external fuel tank, then disappeared. Moses said he’s not sure if the object vanishes because it slammed into the nose cap of Endeavour, or if it simply slipped behind the port-side of the orbiter.
“We don’t know what it is yet, and we’re still looking at it,” Moses said of the mystery object, which he does not think is an errant chunk of ice or insulating foam shed from the orange external tank. “The imagery is very inconclusive.”
Whatever the case, Moses said he’s confident Endeavour will be in good shape for a March 26
“For the health of this orbiter, I can kind of put it out of my mind because [we’ve scanned] the nose cap at the front end of the orbiter,” he said.
Prior to docking with the international space station, Commander Gorie, shuttle pilot Gregory H. Johnson and mission specialist Takao Doi of Japan performed the six-hour inspection using the shuttle’s
sensor-tipped extension boom.
Moses also noted
two problems that occurred during launch – the failure of a heat-dissipating system and a
computer that controls firing of the orbiter’s thrusters – are of little concern for the completion of the STS-123 mission because of redundant systems and potential fixes.
Spacewalkers Rick Linnehan and Garrett Reisman were
slated to begin the first of five planned excursions
at about 9:23 p.m. EDT
March 14, with initial assembly on Dextre. The
shuttle Endeavour arrived at the space station late
Dextre is an on-orbit servicing robot designed to cut down on the number of dangerous spacewalks astronauts have to perform.
“It’s this giant robot with arms and … wrists and hands,” Linnehan said of the special-purpose dexterous manipulator
, as it is formally known.
Linnehan’s and Reisman’s
job was to attach each of Dextre’s
hands to its respective
arm during the spacewalk and to
fully assemble the massive robot arms on a mobile platform on the space station’s Port 1 truss.
In all, the astronauts were scheduled to conduct three spacewalks to complete Dextre.
Before the astronauts partially piece Dextre together, however, they also were scheduled to
help prepare the Japanese Logistics Pressurized (JLP) module for its voyage out of Endeavour’s payload bay. The module is the first piece of Japan’s massive laboratory called Kibo, which means “Hope” in Japanese.
Immediately after leaving the airlock, the spacewalkers will migrate to the payload bay and remove thermal covers that protected the JLP module during flight.
Bob Behnken and Leopold Eyharts, robotic arm operators and STS-123 mission specialists, will then hoist the 9.2-ton cylindrical module that will serve primarily as extra space for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo laboratory.
“I don’t mean to insult my own payload here,” Reisman said, “[but] it’s really just a closet of the Japanese laboratory.”
As the orbital closet is delivered to the top of the Harmony module, where it will remain until STS-124 astronauts deliver its
counterpart called the Pressurized Module, Reisman said he might
be a little distracted. “We’ll be focused on our … work, but out of the corner of our eye we’ll see them taking this big module outside the payload bay,” he said.
Malik contributed to this report from New York.