It is small and dark – and it has delayed the return to earth of the space shuttle Atlantis. It is an unidentified object seen floating near the NASA craft and, while further investigations take place, Mission Control is taking no chances. A shuttle camera picked up the mystery object – which could simply be a piece of ice. Programme Manager Wayne Hale explained the importance of identifying it. “Is it something benign like that, which we have seen before, or is it something more critical we should pay attention to,” he said.
Today’s scheduled homecoming has been put back to Thursday, also giving a chance for weather conditions to improve. Atlantis left the International Space Station after carrying out construction work – making way for a Russian Soyuz capsule carrying the first female space tourist, which is due to arrive there imminently.