An area of damaged thermal tile on the underside of the space shuttle Endeavour is seen during the focused inspection of the orbiter performed by the shuttle crew while docked to the International Space Station in this still image from NASA TV May 21, 2011.
NASA says the gash in space shuttle Endeavour’s belly poses no safety concern.
Experts on the ground reviewed 3-D images of the launch damage captured Saturday morning by the astronauts. They determined the gouge is too shallow to be of concern, and late Saturday afternoon, mission managers cleared the shuttle for return to Earth on June 1.
Images show the gouge to be 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) by 2.4 inches (6.1 centimeters), and less than an inch (2.5 centimeters) deep. Several other areas of damage were discovered in Endeavour’s heat shield, but only this one gouge warranted a further look.
Before the six shuttle astronauts went to sleep, they were informed everything was looking positive. The good news was announced a bit later by mission management team leader LeRoy Cain.