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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Close inspections of space shuttle set to begin

From Rich Phillips, CNN
(CNN) -- NASA engineers will begin detailed inspections of space shuttle Endeavour Saturday, two days after thunderstorms, hail and a lightning strike near the launch pad caused minor damage to the spacecraft.

Teams began an initial launch pad survey Friday, NASA said in a statement. But investigators weren't able to conduct a thorough inspection because the agency was conducting safety training with the six astronauts who are scheduled to fly in the shuttle's final mission later this month.

NASA said no obvious problems have been found, but teams will install platforms Saturday morning that will allow them to inspect Endeavour and its external fuel tank more closely.

The storm, on Wednesday and Thursday, included a wind gust of 90 miles per hour at launch pad 39A, as well as a lightning strike "inside the pad perimeter," NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said.

"We didn't take a direct strike on the pad. Anytime you get that much electricity inside the perimeter you have to check things," he told CNN earlier this week.

NASA officials so far know of minor damage to insulation foam at the top of the shuttle's external fuel tank, Beutel said.

Endeavour is scheduled to launch on its final mission to the International Space Station on April 19 at 7:48 p.m. ET.

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