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Originally posted by mikesingh
I have been unable to find any explanations for the appearance of a strange bright 3-spoked object following the external tank.
The United States Space Surveillance Network (SSN) has been tracking space objects since 1957 when the Soviets opened the space age with the launch of Sputnik I. Since then, the SSN has tracked more than 26,000 space objects orbiting Earth. The SSN currently tracks more than 8,000 man-made orbiting objects
Following the interviews, the crew continued their preparations for re-entry by stowing unnecessary equipment and other tasks prior to landing. However, the crew informed the Mission Control Center later in the day that, following the test of the reaction control system, an object was seen moving in a co-orbital path with the Orbiter. The astronauts spotted the object using an on-board TV camera, but unfortunately the resolution of the images were not high enough to identify the object.
The images were sent down to the MCC for further analysis by flight controllers, who were concerned about the possibility that the object may have come off Atlantis, and as such wished to identify the object. The most likely scenario was that the object was benign, such as ice or a piece of shimstock (observed earlier in the flight protruding from the heat shield) that may have shaken loose. However, the possibility remained that the object may be of critical importance, such as a tile from the Orbiter's thermal protection system.
As such, the Mission Control Center asked Atlantis' crew to power up the shuttle's robotic arm ready to reinspect the orbiter, and drew up plans for a series of tests which took place on flight day 12 to determine whether or not the shuttle was safe for re-entry. This extra inspection, added to poor weather forecasts predicted for the Shuttle Landing Facility for Wednesday, meant that the de-orbit burn and landing were delayed by a day.