It looks like the Space Shuttle was damaged during liftoff, as usual.

The Atlantis astronauts uncovered a 21-inch stretch of nicks on their space shuttle Tuesday, but NASA said the damage did not appear to be serious.

The damage was likely the result of debris that came off the fuel tank shortly after liftoff Monday. The astronauts were inspecting their ship while racing to the Hubble Space Telescope when they came across the nicks spread over four to five thermal tiles, on the bottom of the shuttle where the right wing joins the fuselage.

"It doesn't look very serious," Mission Control said. "Those tiles are pretty thick. The nicks look to be pretty small."

It seems that every Shuttle launch since the Columbia disaster in 2003 has come with another announcement that the ship was damaged during liftoff. I imagine that almost every launch in the Shuttle's history has caused similar damage, but until Columbia they weren't paying attention or treating it seriously.

The Space Shuttle is a technological marvel --- from the 1960s. It's way past time for the system to be retired and for modern technology to be applied to the problem of space access.

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