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Teacher aids in damage inspection of shuttle

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Schoolteacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan spent her first full day in space aboard the shuttle Endeavour yesterday helping operate a 100-foot robot arm and extension boom as the crew inspected the craft for launch damage.

Working from the shuttle cockpit, Morgan and crewmate Tracy Caldwell slowly swept the laser and camera-tipped boom just above the shuttle's nose cap. Engineers on the ground scrutinized the images, looking for any cracks or holes that might have occurred during liftoff from flying fuel-tank foam insulation or other debris.

Then Morgan was joined by Rick Mastracchio for a similar inspection of Endeavour's left wing. The right wing was checked earlier in the day.

Nine pieces of foam insulation broke off Endeavour's fuel tank during liftoff Wednesday evening, and three pieces appeared to strike the shuttle, said John Shannon, chairman of the mission management team. None is believed to have been big enough to cause critical damage, he said.

The first foam fragment came off at 24 seconds after liftoff and appeared to hit the tip of the body flap. The second was 58 seconds after liftoff with a resulting spray or discoloration on the right wing. The third came almost three minutes after liftoff, too late to cause any damage to the wing.

Endeavour soars ever closer to a Friday afternoon linkup with the international space station. The shuttle was in fine shape, except for a problem with one of the five on-board oxygen tanks that feed the ship's fuel cells.

Endeavour's seven astronauts had their sleep interrupted early yesterday when an alarm alerted them to the tank trouble. They later managed to work around the problem, which Mission Control described as an inconvenience.