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It is not uncommon for small items to float out of shuttle payload bays once their doors are opened just after launch, though it is uncommon late in the flight, Stich said, adding that the flight control system checks to cause considerable vibrations and shudders aboard orbiters before landing.
"We are shaking the vehicle up and perhaps after FCS checkout we knocked a few things out of the payload bay," Stich said.
The inspections were ordered Tuesday after flight controllers spotted presumed debris from the shuttle moving along the same orbital track below the spacecraft. A second object was spotted later in the day, along with numerous small pieces of debris floating near the shuttle. Earlier today, the astronauts spotted three more bits of debris, described as "two rings and a piece of foil."