CAPE CANAVERAL — Space shuttle Endeavour closed in on the international space station on Wednesday for a late-night linkup that will kick off almost two weeks of demanding construction work.
Before the docking, though, Endeavour's commander, Dominic Gorie, was set to guide the shuttle through a 360-degree backflip to allow for full photographic surveillance.
The pictures will be scrutinized to see if the shuttle suffered any damage during Tuesday's launch.
Something, maybe a bird, may have struck Endeavour's nose 9 or 10 seconds after liftoff. The launch images are inconclusive so far. NASA expects that images collected during the astronauts' laser inspection of the nose and wings will reveal any damage, if it's there.
Also, right at liftoff, something seemed to fall off the tail end of the shuttle, possibly part of a thermal tile. Later, at the 83-second mark, a piece of debris, possibly fuel-tank foam insulation, appeared to miss the shuttle's right wing.
The photographs preceding the docking will add to NASA's arsenal of data for determining whether Endeavour will be able to re-enter safely at the end of its 16-day flight, the longest space station mission by a shuttle. The investigation will take several days.