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Astronauts Survey Shuttle for Damage After Launch

Astronauts aboard Endeavour began inspecting the shuttle's heat shield for possible damage after Wednesday's launch. Officials spotted some debris falling off during liftoff.

Astronauts began their first full day in space by inspecting the heat shield to ensure the shuttle is safe to return to Earth in two weeks. The seven-member crew controlled a robotic arm equipped with cameras and lasers to scan the surface of the heat shield.

In Houston, NASA commentator Kylie Clem said officials in Houston monitored the seven-hour procedure.

"This data is going to be downlinked to the ground and pored over by imagery analysts looking for any signs that the heat shield incurred any damage during the launch," he said.

The survey has become routine for shuttle flights, since the Columbia disaster in 2003. Foam insulation damaged the shuttle's heat tiles during launch, which led to Columbia breaking apart upon re-entry.

NASA officials say cameras mounted on Endeavour showed several pieces of debris falling away and hitting the shuttle during launch late Wednesday. They said initial evidence suggested there was no serious damage to the shuttle.

Astronauts will conduct additional surveys on Friday, when the shuttle docks with the International Space Station.

The Endeavour is carrying the third and final segment of a Japanese science laboratory to install at the space station. The module called Kibo - or "Hope" in Japanese - will allow astronauts to conduct experiments that involve exposing materials to the vacuum of space.