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 » Mission: Safety  |  Crew  |  Audio quiz  |  Shuttle milestones

NASA declares shuttle safe for return

Extends mission one day

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(CNN) -- NASA engineers have determined that Discovery can safely return to Earth and that the space shuttle's thermal tiles don't pose a safety hazard, deputy shuttle manager Wayne Hale said Saturday night.

Discovery's tiles received two dozen dings during launch.

NASA managers have also decided to extend the mission by an extra day -- to August 8 -- so astronauts can do more work, Hale said.

He said the decision came after determining there were sufficient "consumables" like food to keep the astronauts aloft. The extra time will allow astronauts to transfer more supplies to the international space station and help with station maintenance.

The shuttle docked Thursday.

Space station managers also noted that an extension could compensate for possible delays caused by NASA's decision Wednesday to suspend future shuttle flights.

NASA decided to ground the fleet until engineers figure out why at least four pieces of foam fell from Discovery's external fuel tank during launch. (Full story)

One piece hit the wing. (Full story)

While a detailed examination of Discovery's exterior by high-resolution cameras and lasers showed no serious damage, three areas of interest are being evaluated further, Hale has said. Those include a missing tile near the door covering the orbiter's nose landing gear, and protrusions in the tile "gap fillers" on the orbiter's underbelly.

Earlier Saturday two astronauts -- floating hundreds of miles above Earth -- successfully completed a nearly seven-hour spacewalk to test new shuttle repair techniques and install a global positioning antenna on the international space station.

For both Soichi Noguchi and Steve Robinson, the spacewalk was their first.

"What a view!" Noguchi said as he opened the shuttle's hatch to space, about 224 miles (360 kilometers) above Earth.

Videos showed Robinson maneuvering hand-over-hand on a space station rail, as he floated high above the blue-and-white image of Earth.

The pair used ordinary household items -- a caulk gun, putty knife and a spatula -- to test techniques developed after the Columbia tragedy in repairing shuttle tiles and reinforced carbon carbon panels, the material that sustains most of the heat on a space shuttle's re-entry.

Another repair method will be tested later.

In addition, they switched a circuit breaker on one of three gyroscopes, a mechanism that keeps the space station stabilized.

They also mounted a bracket for the external stowage platform, which will be used to temporarily stash large pieces of equipment outside the station.

"It was a great day," Hale said.

The second of three planned excursions outside the shuttle is scheduled for Monday.

Saturday's outing was the 26th spacewalk staged from a space shuttle, NASA said. It began about an hour behind schedule, at 5:45 a.m. ET (0945 GMT).

The day began six hours earlier with a wake-up song for the astronauts, "Sanpo" from Japan, being sung by a group of children, including Noguchi's.

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