The shuttle Endeavour is heading towards tomorrow’s link-up with the International Space Station, with a slight shadow hanging over the mission. Endeavour blasted off safely from Cape Canaveral, but some debris was then spotted. Pictures showed what is thought to be foam from the external fuel tank hitting the spacecraft’s belly.
“You can clearly see on the front part of the orbiter some white indications where the tiles were dinged,” said NASA’s Bill Gerstenmaier. “We don’t consider those an issue. Those are probably coating losses. The issues will be in the back of the vehicle, and we’ll take a look at those when we do the roll-pitch manoeuvre that’s planned.” NASA is right to be concerned. Even light-weight foam insulation could damage the vital heat shield, which protects the shuttle on re-entry. It was heat shield failure which doomed the shuttle Columbia on re-entry in 2003. On a brighter note, though, astronaut Chris Cassidy has become the 500th person to go into space after Yuri Gagarin started it all in 1961.