- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2006

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Discovery’s crew used highly sensitive cameras attached to a 50-foot boom yesterday to examine the space shuttle for any signs of damage from the previous day’s launch. Nothing serious was reported, but it was too early to draw any conclusions, officials said.

The only unusual thing found was a whitish splotch on Discovery’s right wing that looked like a bird dropping.

Flight director Tony Ceccacci said the imagery specialists will study the splotch and make sure it’s nothing more than bird excrement. If so, it will burn off during the ride back from space, he said.

There wasn’t enough heat during launch to get rid of the residue, Mr. Ceccacci said.

Discovery was on target for a linkup today with the International Space Station and was operating well, the flight director said.

Live video of Discovery’s Independence Day launch showed some small chunks of debris falling from the external fuel tank, at least one piece hitting the shuttle.

Using new inspection techniques implemented after the 2003 Columbia disaster, the astronauts yesterday were taking more images with laser, digital and video cameras that can spot damage as small as an eighth of an inch.

The astronauts maneuvered the camera-laden boom to inspect Discovery’s right wing and nose cap. They worked carefully because a bump from the boom could harm the shuttle’s protective skin, but it needed to be within 10 feet to spot damage from the launch.

It was only the second time a shuttle crew had done such an intensive inspection, though NASA managers had said after reviewing launch video that they weren’t particularly worried.

“We saw nothing that gives us any kind of concern about the health of the crew or the vehicle,” said Wayne Hale, shuttle program manager.

The seven-member Discovery crew awoke early yesterday to sounds of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” sometimes referred to as the black national anthem.

“That one is particularly dear to my heart because … after the day of our nation’s independence, it’s very fitting because it reminds us that anyone and everyone can participate in the space program,” astronaut Stephanie Wilson, the second black woman in space, radioed to Mission Control.

The mission for Discovery’s crew is to test shuttle-inspection techniques, deliver supplies to the International Space Station and drop off European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter for a six-month stay. Astronauts Piers Sellers and Fossum plan to conduct two spacewalks, and possibly a third one, which would extend the 12-day mission by a day.

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