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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 July 2006, 21:31 GMT 22:31 UK
Space shuttle moves away from ISS
Underside of space shuttle cockpit
Astronauts are waiting for results from the heat shield scan
Space Shuttle Discovery has undocked from the International Space Station and is moving away in preparation for a return to Earth on Monday.

Six astronauts are on board, after German astronaut Thomas Reiter was left behind for a six-month ISS stay.

The Discovery team conducted a final scan of the craft's heat shield to check for impact damage.

The results of the inspection will be released on Sunday to clear the shuttle for its return home.

So far Nasa engineers have not reported any problems with the shuttle heat shield.

The shuttle has been kept 74km (46 miles) from the ISS so it can return if serious damage is found.

Micrometeoroid scan

The shuttle is scheduled to land at Nasa's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Monday.

The mission is just the second to be carried out since the space shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere in January 2003, killing all seven crew on board.

Space shuttle (Image: BBC)
Mission known as STS-121
Discovery's 32nd flight
18th orbiter flight to ISS
Landing: 0914 EDT (1314 GMT), Monday 17 July
Location: Kennedy Space Center
Crew: Lindsey, Kelly, Fossum, Nowak, Wilson, Sellers

Accident investigators said the disaster had been caused by insulating foam falling from Columbia's external fuel tank during launch and striking the shuttle's wing, compromising the heat shield needed to protect it during re-entry.

The heat shield scan was done with the same laser and camera system which was used to check for possible damage from flying debris during launch earlier in the flight.

It checked for micrometeoroid impacts which could have occurred during the stint in space.

The post-launch inspection found no damage and the astronauts are confident that this will be the case again.

"We've been flying space shuttles for a long time and we've never had any kind of critical damage from a micrometeoroid so it's pretty remote," pilot Mark Kelly said

"Based on what we've seen over the last 10 days, the inspections we've done... we've got a great ship. It's ready to come home," he added.

The nine-day stay at the space station has included three spacewalks and repairs vital to resuming building work on the ISS.


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