Discovery Crew Inspects Shuttle

Space shuttle Discovery STS-121 lifts-off from the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Tuesday July 4, 2006. Discovery's seven member crew will service the International Space Station and drop off European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter of Germany. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
AP Photo/Marta Lavandier
Discovery's crew used highly sensitive cameras attached to a 50-foot boom Wednesday to carefully examine the space shuttle for any signs of damage from the previous day's launch. Nothing serious was reported, but it was much too early to draw any conclusions, officials said.

The only unusual thing found, at least for now, was a whitish splotch on Discovery's right wing that looked like a bird dropping. There was one on the wing nearly three weeks ago at the launch pad, flight director Tony Ceccacci said he saw it there from a distance of no more than 10 feet.

"We didn't touch anything if that's what you're asking," Ceccacci told reporters, drawing a big laugh.

Ceccacci said the imagery experts will study the splotch and make sure it's nothing more than a bird's shuttle signature. If that is what it is, it will burn off during the ride back from space, he said. There was not enough heat during launch to get rid of the residue, he said.

Discovery was on target for a Thursday linkup with the international space station and operating well, the flight director said.

Live video of Discovery's Independence Day launch showed some small chunks of debris falling from the external fuel tank, at least one piece hitting the shuttle.

Shuttle Updates From CBS Space Consultant Bill Harwood
Using new inspection techniques implemented after the 2003 Columbia disaster, the astronauts on Wednesday were taking more images with laser, digital and video cameras that can spot damage as small as an eighth of an inch.

As they hurtled toward a Thursday morning rendezvous with the space station, the astronauts maneuvered the camera-laden boom to inspect Discovery's right wing and nose cap. They worked carefully because a bump from the boom could harm the shuttle's protective skin, but it needed to be within 10 feet to spot damage from the launch.

It was only the second time a shuttle crew had done such an intensive inspection, though NASA managers had said after reviewing launch video that they weren't particularly worried.

"We saw nothing that gives us any kind of concern about the health of the crew or the vehicle," said Wayne Hale, shuttle program manager.

The seven-member Discovery crew awoke early Wednesday to sounds of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," sometimes referred to as the black national anthem.

"That one is particularly dear to my heart because ... after the day of our nation's independence, it's very fitting because it reminds us that anyone and everyone can participate in the space program," astronaut Stephanie Wilson, only the second black woman in space, radioed to Mission Control.

Astronaut Mike Fossum sent Mission Control video showing him, pilot Mark Kelly and specialist Lisa Nowak in the flight deck during Tuesday's launch.

First-time fliers Nowak and Fossum gave each other a gloved congratulatory handshake and thumbs up during the ascent. Once in orbit, Nowak, serving as flight engineer, took notes while Fossum and specialist Stephanie Wilson unstrapped themselves to photograph the external fuel tank as it fell away from the shuttle.

The Day 2 inspections, expected to take about 6 1/2 hours, were ordered after a chunk of hard insulating foam from the external fuel tank struck Columbia on liftoff in 2003 and damaged its wing, allowing fiery gases to enter the spacecraft during reentry. All seven astronauts were killed as the shuttle broke up over Texas.

Some pieces of foam did break free during Discovery's ascent Tuesday. But because of the timing, the pieces did not pose a major threat, CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reports.

The mission for Discovery's crew is to test shuttle-inspection techniques, deliver supplies to the international space station and drop off European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter for a six-month stay. Astronauts Piers Sellers and Fossum plan to conduct two spacewalks, and possibly a third one, which would extend the 12-day mission by a day.