Astronauts inspect gouge on space shuttle’s belly

Posted May 21, 2011, at 4:39 a.m.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Space shuttle Endeavour’s astronauts are taking a close, detailed look at some damage on the belly of their ship.

The crew used a 100-foot, laser-tipped boom early Saturday morning to survey a gouge in the thermal tiles.

NASA officials say there’s no reason to be alarmed about the damage that occurred during Monday’s launch. But they ordered the extra inspection to make certain Endeavour and its six astronauts are safe when they re-enter the atmosphere on June 1.

Space station cameras discovered several areas of damage on Endeavour’s underside, right before the shuttle docked to the International Space Station. Only one spot posed concern.

NASA established the safety checks following the 2003 Columbia disaster.

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