— Members of the station and shuttle crews pose for a group picture in the Destiny laboratory shortly after the hatches between the two vehicles were opened (Image: NASA TV)
Shortly after arriving onboard the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday, astronauts Sunita Williams and Joan Higginbotham conducted an unscheduled inspection of the tip of the space shuttle Discovery's left wing to check for damage that might have been caused by space junk or micrometeoroids.
A preliminary look at the area with a video camera on the station's robotic arm did not give shuttle managers anything to worry about, although engineers will go back and further analyse the data.
NASA ordered the inspection after an accelerometer mounted on a bracket behind Reinforced Carbon Carbon panels 19 through 21 detected what may have been an impact to Discovery's left wing at 0530 EST (1030 GMT) on Monday.
The accelerometer reading measured just one-tenth the strength of what would be needed to cause damage. And NASA says it might have been caused simply by the natural settling of the vehicle.
In an unrelated issue, engineers were also studying some nicks in tile around the external tank door on Discovery's left wing that were found in photographs taken shortly before the shuttle docked to the station.
The surface coating of several heat shield tiles was missing, but it was not clear how deep the damage was. The tiles in that area are more than 2.5 centimetres (1 inch) thick. NASA says the nicks may have been caused by air swirling around the area during the shuttle's ascent through the atmosphere.
The dings could potentially pose a hazard during re-entry into the atmosphere if they weakened the seal on that door. A compromised seal could allow superheated gas to creep in, possibly destroying the vehicle.
"Is this an issue? I don't know at this point," said Mission Management Team chairman John Shannon. But he added later, "I don't expect it to be a big deal."
A team is meeting at 0000 EST (0500 GMT) on Tuesday to determine whether to do careful "focused" inspections of the tiles with the robotic arm.
If necessary, the astronauts have tools onboard to fix dinged tiles during a spacewalk.
After Discovery docked with the ISS at 1712 EST (2212 GMT) on Monday, the ISS and shuttle crews spent little time on niceties and got straight to work.
"We have seven challenging docked days ahead of us as we go ahead and do the thermal and electrical reconfiguration of the station," explained lead shuttle flight director Tony Ceccacci from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, US.
In addition to inspecting the wing, the crews used the shuttle's robotic arm to take the station's new P5 truss segment out of Discovery's payload bay.
Meanwhile, Robert Curbeam and Sweden's first astronaut, Christer Fuglesang, prepared for their spacewalk on Tuesday the first of three planned for the mission.
They will help attach the new P5 segment to the end of the station's truss structure, which supports the outpost's cooling and power systems.
Williams, who rode Discovery into space, will become the newest member of the ISS crew when she replaces German astronaut Thomas Reiter, who will return to Earth on Discovery after its planned 12-day mission.
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