June 16, 2007
Mission managers on Saturday cleared Atlantis to land next week after concluding the space shuttle's heat shield was safe enough to withstand the intense heat of re-entering Earth's atmosphere.
"That's great news!" Atlantis commander Rick Sturckow radioed to Mission Control after receiving word that Atlantis is cleared to land at Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Thursday, June 21st.
The clearance came a day after astronaut Danny Olivas, during a spacewalk, stapled down a loose thermal blanket that covered an engine pod near the shuttle's tail. The blanket peeled back during the June 8 launch from the Kennedy Space Center.
NASA has been sensitive about the space shuttles' heat shields ever since the Columbia accident killed seven astronauts in 2003. A piece of insulating foam from the shuttle's external tank came loose during launch, striking Columbia's wing and allowing fiery gases to penetrate it during re-entry.
Atlantis' astronauts plan another inspection of the heat shield after the shuttle undocks from the International Space Station, scheduled for Tuesday.