Atlantis Prepares For Orbital Rendezvous

Atlantis Commander Steve Frick and his crewmates, Pilot Alan Poindexter and Mission Specialists Leland Melvin, Rex Walheim, Stanley Love, Hans Schlegel and Eyharts will perform an inspection of Atlantis' heat shield using the shuttle's robotic arm and the Orbiter Boom Sensor System. NASA TV

The crew of Shuttle Atlantis conducted a painstaking laser inspection of the ship's wings Friday, looking for any signs of damage from its trip into space.

Launched Thursday after two months of technical delays, the shuttle was chasing the international space station in orbit with a special delivery: Europe's $2 billion Columbus lab. The shuttle was scheduled to reach it Saturday.

But first the crew of seven astronauts had to determine whether the shuttle was damaged by at least three pieces of foam or other debris that came off the fuel tank two minutes after the liftoff.

There was no evidence that the debris hit Atlantis. But the astronauts were spending much of Friday using a laser-tipped inspection pole to examine the ship's vulnerable wings and nose. The images they gather will be beamed to the ground and thoroughly analyzed over the new few days.

The inspection has been standard procedure ever since a hole in the wing brought down Columbia in 2003, the result of a strike by a slab of fuel-tank foam.

The astronauts awoke Friday to "Book of Love" by Peter Gabriel, a dedication to French Air Force Gen. Leopold Eyharts from his wife and family.

Eyharts greeted his loved ones in English and French, saying, "I know it has been a somehow hard day for them and I want to thank them."

Eyharts will move into the space station for a little more than a month, replacing NASA astronaut Daniel Tani. He plans to help continue setting up and activating the Columbus module, Europe's primary contribution to the space station.


Co-anchor Harry Smith spoke live with space station Commander Peggy Whitson and flight engineer Dan Tani on The Early Show Friday. To see the interview, .


Twenty-three years in the making, Columbus has endured space station redesigns and slowdowns, as well as a number of shuttle postponements and two shuttle accidents. Atlantis was supposed to deliver Columbus in December, but fuel gauge trouble prevented the launch.

Station commander Peggy Whitson said Columbus' arrival will be a great present as she celebrates her 48th birthday on Saturday.

"I'm really looking forward to it," Whitson told CBS News' The Early Show.

For more information on the STS-122 mission visit the NASA Web site: spaceflight.nasa.gov
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