One of NASA’s Space Shuttle Return-to-Flight (RTF) efforts has been to develop thermography for the on-orbit inspection of the Reinforced Carbon Carbon (RCC) portion of the Orbiter Wing Leading Edge (WLE). This paper addresses the capability of thermography to detect cracks in RCC by using in-plane thermal gradients that naturally occur on-orbit. Crack damage, which can result from launch debris impact, is a detection challenge for other on-orbit sensors under consideration for RTF, such as the Intensified Television Camera and Laser Dynamic Range Imager. We studied various cracks in RCC, both natural and simulated, along with material characteristics, such as emissivity uniformity, in steady-state thermography. Severity of crack, such as those likely and unlikely to cause burn through were tested, both in-air and in-vacuum, and the goal of this procedure was to assure crew and vehicle safety during re-entry by identification and quantification of a damage condition while on-orbit. Expected thermal conditions are presented in typical shuttle orbits, and the expected damage signatures for each scenario are presented. Finally, through statistical signal detection, our results show that even at very low in-plane thermal gradients, we are able to detect damage at or below the threshold for fatality in the most critical sections of the WLE, with a confidence exceeding 1 in 10,000 probability of false negative.