The heat shield on Atlantis–the blanket shield not the tiles–seems to have a 4-inch hole in it, but NASA professes not to be worried. First time in a long time they’ve had an all-male crew, but they’ll be coming back with a woman after one of them replaces her on the space station. All this work on the station has an air of anticlimax, since the shuttle will soon retire and the station itself may not last much longer. But these trips aren’t trivial. They will be generally useful for building a base on the moon, which has not much more gravity than low-Earth orbit.
UPDATE Problem or no, they’re going to fix it, anyway.
The Atlantis crew is going to inspect the wings for a third time to be sure those mystery objects flying wingman aren’t something important. One of them proved to be only a plastic bag. From an astronaut snack?
"The six astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis will conduct an unprecedented third inspection of their orbiter’s heat shield before landing this week to ensure its integrity after an unidentified object appeared to shake free of the spacecraft this morning, NASA’s shuttle chief said late Tuesday."
They’ll know by Wednesday night if it’s serious. If so, they can go back to the space station and hang out until they’re rescued. But what would they do with Atlantis?
UPDATE Shuttle cleared for landing. That was quick.
Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off from pad 39B at 11:15 a.m. Credit: Ben Cooper/Spaceflight Now