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Thursday, August 04, 2005

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Shuttle crew see damage on Earth

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Shuttle crew see damage on Earth Shuttle crew see damage on Earth
Discovery Commander Eileen Collins described on Thursday how widespread environmental destruction on Earth is highly visible from the shuttle.

She warned people to take greater care of our planet and work towards protecting natural resources.

Her comments came as Nasa considered whether to send astronauts on an extra spacewalk to repair shuttle damage.

Discovery is currently linked with the International Space Station, orbiting 352km (220 miles) above the Earth.

"Sometimes you can see how there is erosion, and you can see how there is deforestation," Commander Collins said during a conversation from space with Japanese officials in Tokyo, including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

We know that we don't have much air - we need to protect what we have
Commander Eileen Collins
"It's very widespread in some parts of the world. We would like to see, from the astronauts' point of view, people take good care of the Earth and replace the resources that have been used."

"Thin as eggshell"

Commander Collins, who is making her fourth shuttle flight, said her view from space emphasised how Earth's atmosphere must be protected too.

"The atmosphere almost looks like an eggshell on an egg, it's so very thin," she said. "We know that we don't have much air - we need to protect what we have."

While Commander Collins chatted from space, US space agency officials were busy trying to decide whether a rip in an insulation blanket that protects part of the shuttle surface could tear off and strike the spacecraft when Discovery re-enters the atmosphere, possibly causing damage.

Engineers have been working overnight in a wind tunnel in an attempt to replicate the conditions around Discovery to see if damage is likely.

Discovery is on the first Nasa shuttle mission since Columbia overheated and broke up on re-entry to the atmosphere in 2003.

Deputy shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said Nasa's concern stemmed from an abundance of caution since the Columbia disaster.

"I think in the old days we would not have worried about this so much," he told journalists. "We're just pounding this flat. We're not going to leave any stone unturned at this stage, to make sure the crew is safe during re-entry."

The agency is to decide later on Thursday whether to order a spacewalk to repair the blanket. The spacewalk would take place on Saturday, if needed.

Soichi Noguchi and Steve Robinson have already done three spacewalks, including one on Wednesday to remove loose cloth strips protruding from Discovery's belly.

Discovery and its crew of seven astronauts is due to return to Earth on 8 August.

Despite the latest tests the crew say they are not worried about their re-entry prospects.

"We are not too concerned about it, we think it's going to be fine," Commander Collins said.

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