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Shuttle crew plans to return today

All their assigned duties have been completed and final precautionary tests turned up no problems Sunday, leaving weather the only question facing the astronauts on the space shuttle Discovery as they looked forward to a return to Earth.

Mission Control gave the shuttle crew permission Sunday to try for a landing today at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, clearing all lingering technical questions on the shuttle’s heat shield and the system that provides hydraulic power for landing.

“We feel very confident that Discovery is safe to come home,” landing director Steve Stitch said at a news conference Sunday.

“We’re getting ready to come home, and we’re just about there,” Discovery commander Steve Lindsey told NBC News on Sunday.

Lindsey said his crew members accomplished every one of their preflight goals and also did a little extra.


More problems found with tunnel

Gov. Mitt Romney said Sunday it will take months to fix problems in the entire Big Dig highway system and reopen the roads, and another ramp was closed to traffic because of what he called a “systemic failure.”

Work in the part of the tunnel closed Sunday – a quarter-mile-long ramp – is expected to take at least several days and comes nearly a week after the collapse that crushed a car and killed Milena Del Valle, 38.

The closure was ordered because of potential problems with 40 of the bolts that hold up heavy ceiling panels, Romney said.

Testing of the bolts has shown that “what happened last week was not an anomaly but a systemic failure,” he said.

“It appears the problem is far more substantial” than at first thought, Romney said.


Desert wildfires still out of control

Fire crews struggled Sunday to quell wildfires raging across steep, rocky swaths of desert, as the harsh terrain slowed efforts to contain the blazes that have destroyed 58 homes and scorched more than 120 square miles.

Large wildfires are burning in nine states, most in the West, according to the National Fire Information Center in Boise.

Two major fires in the California desert have merged, which fire officials described as a positive development.

“The fact that they burned together makes it easier for us because now we’re dealing with only one perimeter,” said Wayne Barringer, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry.

Meanwhile, fire officials were bracing Sunday for the possibility that thunderstorms could roll over the region, potentially triggering lightning that could start more blazes or rain that could flood the scorched canyonlands.


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