During its recent mission a tiny piece of space debris punctured a small hole in the Space Shuttle Atlantis. It caused slight damage significant by historical standards but didn't threaten the lives of the crew.
NASA officials said a micrometeoroid struck a radiator panel that extends from payload bay doors on the shuttle, which returned to Earth last month. The object did not hit the sensitive tiles or thermal panels that help protect the shuttle during its descent. Payload bay doors stay open during missions to lower heat produced by the shuttle.
James Hartsfield, a NASA spokesman, told the Times it was "the second-most-damaging particle that we've encountered in the program," but that the damage "posed no danger to the crew and no change to the mission."
The particle left a hole about a tenth of an inch in diameter at the point of entry. Within the radiator, where the particle shattered, the damage was about an inch around and a half inch deep. The exit hole was three-hundredths of an inch in diameter, and, also on that side of the radiator, there was a crack measuring two-tenths of an inch.