A preliminary inspection of Discovery indicates that it returned from its five-day mission apparently in better condition than any space shuttle ever had, with only 10 of its thermal protection tiles in need of replacement, NASA officials said Sunday.
They said the tires, brakes and engines also performed well.
“We need to go back and look” at mission records, “but I doubt if we could even find one that looks this good,” said Discovery Flow Director Tip Talone, who coordinates processing of the orbiter for each flight.
A day after Discovery landed, technicians said they counted only 82 “hits” on Discovery’s tiles and only 15 were bigger than one inch, said Jay Honeycutt, director of shuttle management and operations at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The previous shuttle mission ended with 707 debris hits on the orbiter.
Five tiles were damaged when wires connected to a tire pressure monitor snapped as the right main landing gear dropped, said Cindy Lodge, a director for the shuttle tile system that shields orbiters from the fiery re-entry. Only one of those five tiles will need to be replaced, she said.
The two 10-inch wires and printed circuit board from the pressure monitor were found on the runway.
Talone said the wires, which run down the landing gear strut, apparently got tangled and yanked the circuit board out when the gear came down.
Discovery blasted off Monday from Kennedy Space Center and in six hours accomplished its major goal, deploying a $100-million Tracking and Data Relay Satellite.