Ten years ago, the crew of Shuttle Atlantis was in the final phase of their Servicing Mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. STS-125 was proceeding to plan and their vehicle was deemed to be in excellent condition for the return trip. However, had Atlantis suffered major damage during her launch to the telescope, Endeavour was sat on Pad 39B, ready to launch at short notice on an ambitious rescue mission. This rescue mission was called STS-400.
When the Space Shuttle fleet returned to action after the loss of Columbia, major alternations were made both to the vehicle and to the procedures – all aimed at mitigating the threats of damage to the Thermal Protection System (TPS) on the orbiter.
While engineers successfully reduced most of the foam liberations from the External Tank – the cause of the damage that mortally wounded Columbia – it was decided that an additional back-up option would become the norm – using the International Space Station (ISS) as a “Safe Haven” if inspections shown major damage to the heat shield of the orbiter.
That was the pattern for all RTF (Return To Flight) missions, with on-orbit inspections of Flight Day 2 involving the Orbiter Boom ...