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Keeping Discovery safe

MSNBC's Lester Holt talks with former NASA astronaut and MSNBC analyst Jerry Linegar about the process the astronauts aboard Discovery must undergo to check over the Shuttle and prevent any disaster from happening.
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As their first day in space began, the Discovery crew carefully inspected the shuttle to make sure everything was intact to prevent another tragedy, like the Columbia, from occurring.  MSNBC’s Lester Holt spoke with former NASA astronaut and MSNBC analyst Jerry Linegar to learn more about the process.

LESTER HOLT:  The crew above the space shuttle Discovery today woke up to the sounds of Sonny and Cher’s "I Got You Babe."  The seven astronauts had a busy first day in space, inspecting the shuttle’s wings and nose for damage that may have occurred during liftoff.

There’s a lot to check over now, this whole process of checking over the shuttle.  There was an interesting article in The New York Times today about too much information can sometimes be a bad thing because now you have to make those calls as to the severity of the problem.

What do you see as the future of this whole process of nicks and gains?

JERRY LINEGAR, MSNBC ANALYST:  Today was the day that it was very, very thorough.  Now, they got all the data they need.  They’ll sit down, the engineers will take a look at it.  It’s going to take five or six days to get through it all and actually have a plan in place to methodically go through that data. 

If looking at it, they find a suspicious spot, they can always go back even after they dock at the International Space Station, take the arm again, take the lasers and the camera and take a look at those spots again.

HOLT:  Is this a potential distraction?  Does it add a sense of trepidation?  You’re up there to do a job and now in the back of your mind you’re like ‘Wait, do we get any holes in this thing?  I wonder if a piece fell off, if two pieces fell off on the way up.’

LINEGAR:  After Columbia, you need to check these things.  So I think as times goes on and we get more confident that we’ve succeeded in not having so much shed from the external tank and possibly striking the shuttle.  You’re not going to want to waste valuable time in space doing these inspections.

But, in the near term and probably the most important part of this flight has been to inspect that shuttle very thoroughly and make sure that the changes you’ve made have been successful so it’s not wasted time on this flight.  You know five flights from now you don’t want to spend a day inspecting every square inch of that shuttle.

HOLT:  Do you even sleep the first night or two up there? 

LINEGAR:  You actually do.  You are very tired up there. Everything you do, you have to almost be very methodical and think it through.  You open a bag of M&Ms, which we don’t have up there, but if you do that without thinking, you’re going to have things floating everywhere.  So you think, ‘ok if I open this bag, I need to put it inside a Ziploc bag, open it a little bit and squeeze an M&M out and eat.’

HOLT:  See, I’m thinking that’s the kind of thing to keep me awake just like the novel of it all, checking out the view at the window.

LINEGAR:  True, they don’t sleep the eight hours, that’s for sure.  They’re always at the window looking out.  That’s the ultimate, looking outside to see the Earth down below you and in a matter of minutes; you’re seeing the sunrise, the sunset, the stars come up.  It’s incredible. 

HOLT:  Very quickly, I want to ask you about the docking procedure to the space station.  Is there an equivalent to an instrument approach to an airplane or it this all hands flying trying put these two things together?

LINEGAR:  It’s range finders, computer systems looking at things.  The biggest problem in space, Lester, is really trying to figure out the distances.  You’ve got this object out there, in the blackness of space, you’re trying to get to it and its very hard to judge those distances so you have to rely very much on range finders and things like that so you’re using a lot of data.