Discovery astronauts inspect shuttle for damage, prepare for landing |

Discovery astronauts inspect shuttle for damage, prepare for landing

HOUSTON – Space shuttle Discovery’s astronauts swept back and forth across the ship’s exterior with remote-controlled cameras Wednesday, searching for any damage that could jeopardize their return to Earth.Since the Columbia disaster nearly four years ago, such close inspections have become routine, both after liftoff and right before landing.The Discovery crew used the shuttle’s robotic arm and a 50-foot boom to take pictures, which NASA engineers will examine before deciding whether to clear the spaceship for landing.In 2003, a piece of foam that fell off Columbia external fuel tank at launch gashed the shuttle’s wing, allowing fiery gases to penetrate the spacecraft during its re-entry into the atmosphere. All seven crew members were killed.After a successful rewiring mission at the international space station, Discovery’s astronauts are scheduled to land on Friday at Cape Canaveral, Fla. But bad weather threatened to complicate things.Low clouds and possible showers were in the forecast at Kennedy, and gusty winds were expected at the usual backup landing site, Edwards Air Force Base in California.The backup landing site at White Sands, N.M., had the best forecast for Friday, but that is traditionally NASA’s last choice. During the only shuttle landing there, in 1982, dust contaminated the orbiter and the brakes were damaged.Discovery has enough supplies to remain in space only until Saturday, so landing cannot be delayed for more than a day.”They’re kind of really in a difficult position of deciding where they want to go and when they want to go,” said NASA spokesman George Diller.—Associated Press writer Mike Schneider contributed to this report.—On the Net:NASA:

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