Thermography of Space Shuttle Discovery’s wing leading-edge panels began on 30 August at the Kennedy Space Center’s Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF). The inspection has not been carried out before and is a return-to-flight activity peculiar to Discovery.

The orbiter’s 22 wing leading-edge panels were examined using thermography before the mission when they were not on the vehicle to provide baseline data. They are now being examined for degradation, while still on the orbiter. However, NASA has yet to make any decisions on any other RTF-related actions. “We have yet to determine the full impact of return-to-fight activities on processing flow,” says NASA.

On the same day the thermography started, the Italian-built Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) was removed from Discovery’s cargo bay. An MPLM will go back into the bay eventually because the module’s 2t (4,400lb) capacity is needed for the next mission – STS-121 – to resupply the International Space Station.

The Orbital Boom Sensor System was also to be removed last week, along with the Shuttle’s robotic arm. This is to allow access to areas such as avionics boxes and is normal practice. Landing at Kennedy’s runway 15 on 21 August, Discovery was de-mated from its Boeing 747 carrier aircraft and lowered on to its own landing gear. The following day it was moved into the OPF and work began on removing its payload.

Next week, Discovery’s three Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) will be removed. They will be replaced by engines now at Kennedy’s SSME processing facility.

Source: Flight International