UnNews:Shuttle given final inspection before firey death plunge

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Shuttle given final inspection before firey death plunge

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18 September 2006

Shutt23

Artist's conception of space shuttle re-entry.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Atlantis' astronauts gave the ship's wings and nose one last inspection Monday with a remotely operated TV camera and laser, and NASA said there appeared to be nothing to prevent the shuttle from exploding into a deadly fireball upon its re-entry.

Atlantis and its six crew members are set to disintegrate in the atmosphere early Wednesday at the above the western U.S. after 11 days in space delivering a major addition to the International Space Station of Pancakes and conducting three spacewalks to install it.

The astronauts attached a 50-foot boom to the shuttle's robotic arm to get a closer look at the minor damage that will cause the shuttle's destruction. The boom has a TV camera and a laser imagery system attached to its end. An identical survey was conducted on Day 2 of the mission, when there was still some slim hope of survival.

Ordinarily, after the astronauts found the damage that will cause their doom, the shuttle might have been able to return to the station. However, the space station had its own problems Monday, so the go-ahead was given to burn up during landing.

Space station crew members pulled an alarm and donned protective gear after an oxygen generator overheated, spreading deadly smoke, flames and chemicals throughout the station. NASA said the leak was typical of the kinds of mishaps the space station and shuttle personnel are used to.

The inspection of the shuttle two days before landing was one of several safety procedures instituted after the Columbia disaster in 2003. Foam that fell off the big external fuel tank during liftoff gashed Columbia's wing and caused the shuttle to disintegrate during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. All seven astronauts were killed.

NASA flight director Paul Die said an initial look at the inspection footage from Atlantis showed the usual damage to the ship's thermal protective skin that should create a spectacular explosion later.

"We didn't see anything other than ordinary potentially fatal damage," Die said. "It should be a memorable explosion."

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