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NASA inspector indicted

Allegedly failed to do critical inspections


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Space shuttle Discovery blasts off October 1, 1998.

(CNN) -- A former NASA quality inspector tasked with checking maintenance work on parts for the space shuttle Discovery will be arraigned Friday on federal charges that he failed to conduct 83 "critical" inspections in late 2002 and 2003, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday.

Billy Thomas Thornton, 54, of Cocoa, Florida, was indicted on 166 charges, including 83 counts of fraud and 83 counts of making false material statements to the government, according to a statement from the office of U.S. Attorney Paul Perez of the Middle District of Florida.

Each of the fraud counts carries up to five years in prison, while each of the false statement counts carries up to 10 years in prison, according to prosecutors.

Thornton was arrested at his home Monday evening and made an initial appearance before a federal magistrate in Orlando on Tuesday, the statement said. He was released on his own recognizance and will be arraigned Friday at 10 a.m.

The case was investigated by NASA's internal watchdog agency, the Office of the Inspector General.

Discovery is one of three space shuttles remaining in NASA's fleet. The spacecraft have been grounded since February 1, 2003, when the shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas while re-entering the atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

NASA officials said last week that they don't expect to resume shuttle flights until at least May 2005.


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