The shuttle Atlantis came through its four-day flight in "excellent" condition, and NASA should have no trouble readying the ship for launch in October to send a robot probe to Jupiter, officials said.
Atlantis and its five-member crew landed Monday at this sprawling Air Force flight test center, closing out a four-day, 57-minute mission highlighted by the launch of the Magellan Venus radar mapping probe six hours and 14 minutes after blastoff last Thursday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.President Bush telephoned the crew at the Johnson Space Center in Houston Tuesday and invited the astronauts to the White House for a visit. After asking a series of technical questions about the flight, Bush congratulated the crew on the Magellan deployment.
"I think that captured the imagination of a lot of Earthlings to think that something like that could be accomplished up there," the president said.
The $530 million Magellan probe, safely on course for an Aug. 10, 1990, encounter with Venus, was the first interplanetary spacecraft launched from a space shuttle.
Atlantis is scheduled to carry the second such robot craft into space in October - the $1.4 billion nuclear-powered Galileo Jupiter probe - and officials said Tuesday the shuttle appeared to be in good condition and that no problems were anticipated meeting the Oct. 12 launch date.
"Right now, I'd have to say we have really no major issues and concerns," said Conrad Nagel, Atlantis' launch processing director. "We don't really have any concern about making the Galileo launch. We're looking for a good flow and for everything to be on schedule."
Nagel said a preliminary inspection shows the orbiter came through its ground-shaking launch and fiery re-entry with only a handful of minor problems and that if all goes well, the spaceplane will be ferried back to the Kennedy Space Center atop a NASA jumbo jet Saturday.
"It's in excellent condition," Nagel said. "The spaceship looks really good."
About 100 "dings" in the shuttle's heat-shield tile will have to be repaired, but only a handful of the tiles will have to be replaced.