Space shuttle Atlantis’ landing has been delayed by at least a day, to give mission managers time to investigate an object seen floating close by that may have fallen off the shuttle. The object was spotted on footage from a payload bay camera, floating between the Shuttle and Earth in very nearly the same orbit, leading experts to speculate that it may be ice or something from the payload bay that has been shaken loose by thruster firings performed as part of pre-landing checkout operations.
There is also talk of an impact registering on one of the shuttle’s wing leading edges, but that may have simply been the sensors registering the same landing checkout thruster firings.
In the meantime, the delay will extend the time that there are three crewed spacecraft operating in LEO – Atlantis, the Soyuz carrying the Expedition 14 crew and fare-paying astronaut Anousheh Ansari, and the International Space Station itself. With the undocking and de-orbiting of an automated Progress supply freighter happening at the same time, it’s been really busy up there in low Earth orbit.