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No flaws found in inspection of 'Discovery'

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published December 11, 2006


HOUSTON - Space shuttle Discovery looks to be in good health so far, NASA managers said Sunday, although it will be at least two days before engineers can rule out any possible damage from the program's first night launch in four years.

"So far so good," said lead flight director Tony Ceccacci as Discovery's astronauts wrapped up a meticulous inspection of the shuttle's heat shield, looking for any possible damage from liftoff.

As expected, small pieces of foam debris and ice fell off Discovery's external fuel tank during Saturday night's launch, but they did not appear to strike the shuttle, said deputy shuttle program manager John Shannon, chairman of the mission management team.

Because Discovery was launched in the dark, NASA technicians were not able to capture the same sharp photos as they did during the past three shuttle launches. Still, they were able to take some images from the illumination of the shuttle's solid rocket boosters and engines during the first few minutes of flight. They also relied on radar.

"The team sees nothing of concern at this time," Shannon said.

The sweep of the shuttle included the wings and nose cap for chips and other damage from foam, a procedure made mandatory after the deadly Columbia accident in 2003.

Engineers were working on problems with a system that cools the shuttle's radiators, a predicament that surfaced during Discovery's last flight in July. They also worked on a latching mechanism on the shuttle's robotic arm that would not operate automatically. Neither was expected to affect the flight.

The shuttle was expected to dock this afternoon with the international space station.