VIENNA – In a May 7 story about Israel‘s nuclear capability, The Associated Press, relying on a diplomat and a former official, erroneously reported that the International Atomic Energy Agency for the first time put the
topic on the proposed agenda of the IAEA board meeting next month. The IAEA says Israel’s nuclear capability appeared on the agency’s board meeting agendas in 1988, 1989 , 1990 and 1991
Kagan’s scant writings spark concern By JOSH GERSTEIN POLITICO
The Senate is about to embark on something it hasn’t done in nearly four decades: vet a candidate for the Supreme Court — Solicitor General Elena Kagan — who has no paper trail as a judge.A thin paper trail can be a good thing for a nominee, meaning few past legal writings to untangle at a confirmation hearing. But so far it hasn’t shielded Kagan from attack. President Barack Obama’s supporters on the left are questioning whether Kagan is liberal enough — and the shortage of past writings has given conservatives ammunition to attack Kagan’s qualifications for the high court.“She basically has such a scanty academic record, and she hasn’t written anything at all outside the strictly academic context. And she hasn’t been a judge. There’s no public record at all to speak of to evaluate her on, which is really a very strange situation,” said Paul Campos, a liberal law professor at the University of Colorado.Or as liberal blogger Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake put it: “Accepting Kagan just because people like Obama is wrong. That’s appropriate for ‘American Idol,’ not the Supreme Court. Nobody knows what she stands for but him.”The fire from the left Monday was so considerable that the White House came to Kagan’s defense, pre-emptively casting the former Harvard Law School dean as a progressive whose confirmation would not change the balance of the court. “Elena is clearly a legal progressive,” said Ron Klain, chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, who helped oversee the nomination process. It’s a shift from the administration’s rollout of the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor a year ago, when the White House held endorsement events featuring members of law enforcement — and spoke little of her liberal bona fides.Still, by day’s end, there was little reason to think Kagan, 50, wouldn’t be the next Supreme Court justice — meaning there would be three women on the court for the first time in history. Obama introduced his choice to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens in the East Room Monday morning, calling her “one of the nation’s foremost legal minds.”He also described her as a legal trailblazer: She was the first woman to be dean of Harvard Law School and the first woman to serve as solicitor general, the person who argues the U.S. government position in the Supreme Court.Most of those seriously considered for the Supreme Court in recent decades have had years of experience as judges, or have cranked out a shelf full of books or dozens of law review articles, before being tapped for the high court.But Kagan has never been a judge, and she’s written only a handful of legal articles.
Trillion-dollar euro rescue won’t solve low growth By AOIFE WHITE, AP Business
BRUSSELS – A bold $1 trillion rescue by the European Union halted the slide of the euro on Monday and sent markets soaring worldwide in a gambit that may ultimately be seen as the moment Europe truly became a union.The sweeping cash injection was greeted with euphoria on Wall Street, where stocks rocketed to their biggest gain in more than a year.Still, the package did not resolve the basic dysfunction at the heart of Europe’s monetary union: Governments can still spend recklessly and saddle their partners with the bill.The approval of a „shock and awe” level rescue package followed weeks of indecision that hammered the euro and sent world markets plunging on fears Europe’s debt contagion could spread well beyond Greece, where the crisis began several months ago.”For once the scope of actions unveiled dwarfed previous leaks and speculation. This is shock and awe Part II and in 3-D,” said Marco Annunziata, the chief economist at UniCredit Group.”Europe has unequivocally said, ‘We will defend the euro’s integrity,'” said Oliver Pursche, executive vice president at Gary Goldberg Financial Services in Suffern, N.Y.After frantic talks lasting into the early hours of Monday, European officials agreed the 16 euro nations would put up $572 billion (euro440 billion) in new loans and $78 billion (euro60 billion) under an existing lending program. The International Monetary Fund will pump in another $325 billion (euro250 billion), for a total package of nearly $1 trillion.The European Commission is to raise the money in capital markets, using guarantees from member governments, and lend it to crisis-stricken countries so they can pay their bills.Many questions were left unanswered, such as how the money would be dispensed and on what terms.Still, the move supplied the decisiveness — and the big headline — the markets had been craving. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 405 points to close at 10,785 — its biggest gain since March 2009 — and recouped two-thirds of last week’s losses. At its peak Monday, the Dow was up nearly 455 points.Broader U.S. indexes outpaced the Dow‘s 3.9 percent rise, while gains in several European markets topped 9 percent.The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 48.85, or 4.4 percent, to 1,159.73. The Nasdaq composite index rose 109.03, or 4.8 percent, to 2,374.67.The euro bounced back from 14-month lows around $1.25 on Friday to over $1.30 on Monday, reversing the ominous slides and sense of panic from last week.The crisis had raised fears of a panic like the one following the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008 and prompted nervous banks to cut back on lending to businesses and hammered stock markets.A weaker euro and financial and economic disaster in Europe would hurt U.S. exports, and the U.S. Federal Reserve pitched in by agreeing to make dollars available to the European Central Bank in exchange for euros. The ECB will then loan those dollars at fixed rates to banks in Europe; the interest eventually goes to the Fed when it swaps the euros back for dollars at the same exchange rate as the original transaction.European banks need dollars to lend to companies across the continent. European companies with operations in the U.S. pay their employees in dollars and buy raw materials with the U.S. currency. Also, oil and other commodities are priced in dollars around the world.But because of the debt crisis, private banks in the U.S. have been leery of making loans to banks in Europe. Hence the need for the currency swaps between the central banks.Analysts warned, however, that the emergency bailout fund would do nothing to reverse Europe’s soaring public debt — and could even worsen it. „The last thing you give a drunk is another drink,” said Jeremy Batstone-Carr of Charles Stanley stockbrokers. „The process of providing a bridging facility for Greece and possibly other indebted nations will add significantly to regional debt and deficit ratios without actually solving the underlying problem.”EU officials said the next step was to more closely coordinate member nations’ economies, including tougher rules to keep them from running up too much debt. The eurozone has a limit on deficits of 3 percent of gross domestic product, but that was widely ignored.”The key missing pieces … are steps to strengthen fiscal discipline and structural reforms,” said economist Annunziata. „I remain skeptical on this front, as greater fiscal integration at this stage requires deeper political integration.”Still, he noted, some experts argue the „current crisis is exactly what was needed to trigger a new quantum leap in European integration. I hope that turns out to be the case.”European Union President Herman Van Rompuy said European governments need to consider pooling their national powers and create a joint economic government.”We can’t have a monetary union without some form of economic and political union and that is our big task for the coming weeks and the coming months,” he said.He said he would draft tougher rules for EU leaders to discuss in October that go beyond current EU limits on debt and deficit.The core problem is near-zero economic growth, high unemployment and governments unwilling to take painful steps to get people to work more and longer.Simon Tilford, an economist at the Center for European Reform think tank, warned that EU governments so far haven’t come up with anything „game changing.””What Europe needs is a growth pact because without growth, public finances aren’t going to be sustainable,” Tilford said. „The bond markets are going to be forcing them to make those kind of changes.”Even EU president Van Rompuy warned that the bloc risks irrelevance and the end of its expensive welfare programs if it can’t speed up economic growth, forecast to expand by just 1 percent this year.”With 1 percent growth we can’t finance our social model any more. With 1 percent structural growth we can’t play a role in the world,” he told the World Economic Forum in Brussels. „We need to double the economic growth potential that we now have.”Many are skeptical that can be achieved.Jennifer McKeown, senior European economist at Capital Economics, said the rescue package won’t stop euro economies like Greece, Portugal and Spain from suffering „a long period of extreme economic weakness” and won’t erase fears of a default or collapse of the euro.”We still see the euro weakening further to around $1.20 by the end of this year,” she said.Others worried over the prospect of EU policymakers stepping away from the strict rules that underpin the euro.Marc Ostwald, a market strategist at Monument Securities, said Monday’s rewriting of the rule book „in just a couple of hours” could foreshadow „a lot more in the way of absolute risk priced into government bond yields.”The European Central Bank’s agreement to buy government bonds also spurred concern that it had caved in to political pressure, ironically weakening a key euro institution in order to save the currency.”It will be hard not to see this as a loss of credibility and independence for the ECB,” Annunziata said.Commerzbank economist Michael Schubert said the rescue could spur irresponsible behavior by other eurozone nations if they know there’s a bailout when they overspend.Dutch bank NIBC said in a research note that the only long-term solution for countries like Greece was an eventual debt restructuring — the polite term for a technical default, with lenders unlikely to receive anywhere close to the full value of their loans to the government.AP Business writers Pan Pylas in London and Christopher S. Rugaber in Washington and Associated Press writers Frank Jordans in Basel and Matt Moore in Frankfurt contributed to this report.
Stocks surge on plan to ease European debt crunch By TIM PARADIS, AP Business
NEW YORK – Stocks rocketed to their biggest gain in a year and bond prices fell Monday after a nearly $1 trillion plan to contain Europe’s debt crisis reassured investors.The Dow Jones industrial average rose about 405 points to its biggest advance since March 2009. Broader U.S. indexes outpaced the Dow’s 3.9 percent rise. Gains in several European markets topped 9 percent.The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.54 percent from 3.43 percent late Friday. The drop in demand for safety holdings like Treasurys signaled that investors are less afraid that Europe’s debt problems will endanger a global recovery.The European Union and the International Monetary Fund agreed to create a nearly $1 trillion rescue fund to support European nations burdened by heavy debt. Analysts caution that countries like Greece will still need to make painful spending cuts in the coming years and that the debt problems won’t disappear any time soon. Nonetheless, the size of Europe’s response was far greater than most analysts had expected, and signaled that policymakers are ready to take significant measures to shore up the euro and keep Europe’s debt woes from spreading.”The market is breathing a huge sigh of relief that the EU has taken aggressive steps,” said Alan Gayle, senior investment strategist at RidgeWorth Investments in Richmond, Va.Investors drew reassurance after the Federal Reserve and other central banks stepped up with financial support to corral what analysts warned was a growing financial crisis.The Fed restarted a program from 2008 to ship dollars overseas through the foreign central banks. Those central banks can then lend the dollars out to banks in their home countries. The Bank of England, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Canada, the Swiss National Bank and the Bank of Japan are also involved in the dollar-swap effort.The advance in U.S. stocks was broad. Bank of America Corp., Caterpillar Inc. and General Electric Co. led the Dow with gains of more than 6 percent. All 30 stocks that make up the Dow ended higher for the first time since Nov. 5.Markets around the world plummeted last week after fears grew that Greece’s debt problems would spread to other struggling European economies like Spain, Portugal and Italy. The Dow slid 5.7 percent last week in its worst drop since the depths of the financial crisis in October 2008. On Thursday alone, the Dow was down nearly 1,000 points late in the day before recovering much of its losses.Triple-digit Dow moves have again become the norm. The latest swings are reminders of the big swings that occurred during the credit crisis in late 2008 and early 2009.The Dow rose 404.71, or 3.9 percent, to 10,785.14. At its peak, the Dow was up nearly 455 points. The climb came after four straight days of losses and was the biggest advance since March 2009, when the market was bouncing off its lowest levels in 12 years.Even with its gain, the Dow is still below where it closed Wednesday last week. It is also down 420 points, or 3.8 percent, from its 2010 closing high of 11,205 on April 26.The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 48.85, or 4.4 percent, to 1,159.73. Like the Dow, it was the best day for the S&P 500 index since March 23, 2009.The Nasdaq composite index rose 109.03, or 4.8 percent, to 2,374.67.For much of 2010, major stock indexes had been climbing steadily on signs the U.S. economy was recovering. Last week’s plunge had erased the market’s gains for the year, but the jump on Monday put major indices back in the black for 2010.Investors had feared that the euro, which is used by 16 countries, would continue to slide if Greece didn’t get more help.”Europe has unequivocally said, ‘We will defend the euro’s integrity,'” said Oliver Pursche, executive vice president at Gary Goldberg Financial Services in Suffern, N.Y.A drop in the dollar boosted prices of commodities, which become more attractive to buyers outside the U.S. when the dollar is weak.The Chicago Board Options Exchange’s Volatility Index fell after spiking last week. The index, which is known as the market’s fear gauge, last week jumped to about 41 from 20. That meant more investors were expecting big drops in the market. The VIX slid 30 percent Monday to about 29.Charlie Smith, chief investment officer at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh, said the market’s bounce reflects short-covering. That occurs when investors are forced to buy stock after having earlier sold borrowed shares in a bet that the market would fall. That rush to cover ill-timed bets can hasten the market’s climb.”You don’t solve the problem of debt by printing new money,” Smith said. „Whatever euphoric action we’re seeing, there is going to be a need for EU banks to raise more capital.”As investors jump back into riskier assets like stocks on Monday, U.S. bond prices tumbled. The price of the 10-year note fell by about a point, or $1 per $100.Gold also fell, losing $9.60 to $1,200.80 an ounce. Treasurys and gold surged late last week as investors piled into safe assets.Crude oil rose $1.69 to $76.80 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.Bank of America rose $1.12, or 6.9 percent, to $17.30, while Caterpillar rose $4.59, or 7.4 percent, to $66.69. GE rose $1.16, or 6.9 percent, to $18.04. At the New York Stock Exchange, nearly 3,000 shares rose while only about 150 fell. Consolidated trading volume came to 7 billion shares compared with 9.5 billion Friday.Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 5.2 percent, Germany’s DAX index rose 5.3 percent, and France‘s CAC-40 climbed 9.7 percent. In Greece, the main stock index rose 9.1 percent. Portugal‘s PSI 20 rose 10.7 percent. Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 1.6 percent.AP Business Writers Consella A. Lee and Stephen Bernard contributed reporting.
Analysis: Social issues rise with Kagan pick By CHARLES BABINGTON, Associated Press
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama‘s nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court seat is elevating touchy social issues in an election year, just as the tea party is showing how volatile and unpredictable the political landscape has become.Any Supreme Court confirmation battle stirs a pot of issues important to conservative and liberal activists. Kagan can expect to be grilled about abortion, privacy, property rights, gun control and treatment of terrorist suspects.What’s different from last year’s rather smooth confirmation process for Sonia Sotomayor is that a national election is much closer, and the tea party has revealed a ferocity on the political right that has toppled high-level Republicans in two states and now seeks more.The Kagan choice especially causes problems for two veteran senators, Democrat Arlen Specter and Republican Orrin Hatch. Both are now trying to explain earlier votes for or against her confirmation as solicitor general.To be sure, jobs and the economy will dominate the fall elections for Congress and dozens of governors and state legislatures. But social issues, which gain prominence during judicial debates, could spell the difference in at least a few tight races, perhaps more.These issues are particularly important to conservative and liberal activists, the motivated voters who can have an especially large impact because they turn out even in non-presidential election years.The candidates most immediately affected will be the 25 senators seeking re-election on Nov. 2, which probably will fall a couple of months after the Senate votes to confirm or reject Kagan. Barring a bombshell revelation, her confirmation seems likely. Democrats control 59 of the 100 Senate votes.The hottest seat may belong to Specter, the Republican-turned-Democrat in Pennsylvania who is now battling hard for the nomination for a sixth six-year term.In March 2009, Specter was one of 31 GOP senators who voted against Kagan’s confirmation as solicitor general. Now he’s courting liberal voters likely to turn out for next week’s Pennsylvania primary. His opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak, portrays himself as the bona fide Democrat in the race.Sestak wasted no time Monday reminding Pennsylvania Democrats that Specter voted against Kagan earlier.Sestak predicted that Specter will „backtrack” from that vote to woo liberal primary voters.Specter certainly left that door open. He said he voted against Kagan as solicitor general „because she wouldn’t answer basic questions about her standards for handling that job.” The solicitor general’s post is „distinctly different” from a Supreme Court seat, Specter said, adding that he has „an open mind about her nomination.”Utah’s Hatch has almost the opposite problem. Hatch doesn’t face re-election until 2012, but the conservative firestorm sweeping his state is throwing light and heat on his March 2009 vote to confirm Kagan as solicitor general.On Saturday, a Utah Republican convention with a heavy tea party presence killed the re-election hopes of Hatch’s fellow GOP senator, Bob Bennett, seen by many in Washington as a down-the-line conservative. Some hard-right activists said they now will turn on Hatch. Like Bennett, he wins high marks from conservative groups but works with Democrats on some issues.Hatch said Monday that his vote for Kagan as solicitor general does not establish „her qualifications for the Supreme Court or my obligation to support her.”One touchy social issue certain to arise in Kagan’s confirmation hearings involves her effort, as Harvard Law School dean, to bar military recruiters from campus. She objected to the Pentagon’s „don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which has kept homosexuals from openly serving in the military.”I hope this act is not a harbinger of a tendency to render judgments based on political reasoning,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.For Obama, the Kagan pick adds to his legacy — begun when he picked Sotomayor for the Supreme Court — of promoting diversity and seeking justices sensitive to the law’s powers to help or hamper people’s everyday lives.In introducing Kagan at the White House Monday, Obama said she understands the law „not as an intellectual exercise, or words on a page, but as it affects the lives of ordinary people.”In his 2012 re-election bid, Obama will have to defend many decisions, including his choices of Sotomayor and Kagan.For candidates seeking the 435 House seats and three dozen Senate seats this fall, the Kagan confirmation effort will touch them sooner but less directly.Its focus on social and legal issues may have trouble breaking through the electorate’s economic concerns. But a fiery movement on the right is ready to add fuel if it does.EDITOR’S NOTE — Charles Babington covers the White House for The Associated Press
HHS touts health care ‘progress’ By JENNIFER HABERKORN POLITICO
The Obama administration told Congressional leaders on Monday that it has made „significant progress” implementing the health care overhaul, including a load of consumer friendly provisions that could ease negative perceptions of the plan among a skeptical public.The letter is part of an administration campaign to convey the impression that the debate is over and the health care train is leaving the station.The administration „has worked expeditiously but carefully to implement the early insurance market reforms called for in the Affordable Care Act and to strengthen the system for all Americans,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in the letter obtained by POLITICO.HHS is responsible for implementing a significant portion of the law, which was enacted just over a month ago. The departments of Labor and Treasury will play a role as well.The letter touts the progress the administration has made on implementing the law’s early provisions. Democrats have been anxious to get the benefits into consumers’ hands, hoping that doing so would help generate support for the law and temper Republican calls for repealing and replacing the legislation. – Once consumers have a tangible benefit in their hand — whether a „doughnut hole” check or the insurance plan of an adult child — it will be much more difficult to take it away, even if it comes with a promise to replace it.The letter was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as leaders of the health-related committees.The letter outlines progress on allowing young adults to get on their parents’ insurance plans — preliminary rules were released Monday; establishing high risk insurance pools (states that want to run their own pools were sent applications Monday); implementing the early retiree reinsurance program (regulations were issued last week); ending rescissions except in cases of fraud (dozens of insurers have offered to end the practice earlier than legally required.)In addition, about 80,000 seniors will receive $250 checks next month to help them cover high prescription drug costs because of the Medicare „doughnut hole” of missing coverage. Sebelius said additional checks will be mailed about every six weeks following the initial June 15 mailing. She cautioned that the administration will „increase efforts” to prevent fraud related to the mailings. Finally, HHS is also working on establishing regulations related to „medical loss ratio” provisions that would require insurers to spend a specific portion of their costs on medical care. Sebelius said the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which is required to issue definitions to help her establish the regulations, has agreed to speed up its work and make a submission by June 1 instead of December 31.
Astronauts Arrive in Florida for Final Planned Launch of Shuttle Atlantis By Robert Z. Pearlman SPACE.com
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The astronauts who will fly the space shuttle Atlantis‘ final planned mission arrived at their Florida launch site late Monday, four days ahead of their scheduled liftoff.Commander Ken Ham led his STS-132 mission crewmates to a 6:49 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) landing on the Shuttle Landing Facility here at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the same runway where he will ultimately land Atlantis for the spacecraft’s last time.The astronauts came to Florida from the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, flying in four T-38 training jets. They are due to launch Atlantis’ final mission Friday, May 14, at 2:20 p.m. EDT (1820 GMT).”We are ready to launch,” Ham told reporters gathered at the landing strip. „We’ve completed every bit of training we can and we’re confident.’’”Look for a good show on Friday,” he added. Ham, STS-132 pilot Dominic „Tony” Antonelli and mission specialists Steven Bowen, Garrett Reisman, Michael Good and Piers Sellers will deliver and install the Russian Mini-Research Module-1, also called „Rassvet” (which means „Dawn” in Russian) during their 12-day flight to the International Space Station.Before that can happen though, an unmanned resupply spacecraft needed to undock from the station, which it did earlier today, and the outpost’s crew will need to reposition one of their Soyuz spacecraft to open the port where Atlantis’ crew will berth the new Russian module.”All that’s got to happen in the next few days before we get off the ground,” Ham said. „So once again, we’re in a situation where there is a heck of a lot going on in space… and it’s pretty darn cool.”The activity will only increase during the STS-132 mission. Bowen, Good and Reisman are scheduled to conduct three spacewalks — two each in pairs of two — to configure spare parts outside the station, replace batteries for one of the solar array wings, and add new hands to the Canadian-built robot, Dextre.While spacecraft are being shuffled in space, the STS-132 astronauts will spend their next few days at Kennedy reviewing final procedures for their mission. Ham and space-shuttle-atlantis-crew-arrive-100510 will practice landing Atlantis by flying the Shuttle Training Aircraft, a modified Gulfstream II aircraft that mimics the handling and controls that they will find on-board Atlantis.Although the countdown to Atlantis’ liftoff won’t begin until 4:00 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT) Tuesday, attention is already focused on when the STS-132 mission will end, as it will mark the finale for Atlantis’ 25-year spaceflight career. Unless the shuttle is called into emergency service for the very last space shuttle mission, STS-134, Atlantis’ STS-132 mission will be its last.NASA is shutting down the shuttle program this year, a decision that was made in the wake of the Columbia accident in 2003. President Obama has proposed replacing the shuttle fleet with commercial launch services to taxi astronauts to and from the space station.STS-132 is the 132nd flight of the shuttle program and the 32nd mission for Atlantis.
When space shuttle Atlantis lifts off later this week on what NASA has planned to be its final flight, helping to launch it will be a rocket booster segment that first flew 25 years ago on the orbiter’s maiden mission.The aft dome on the left solid rocket booster scheduled to loft Atlantis’ STS-132 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) Friday first launched STS-51J, the orbiter’s first flight to space, on Oct. 3, 1985.The almost quarter-century reunion between Atlantis and its reusable solid rocket booster’s casing is just one of the historical connections between the orbiter and its launch system. Including STS-132, 18 of Atlantis’ 32 flights are represented by the boosters’ segments, underscoring the legacy that NASA’s fourth-to-fly orbiter will leave after it is retired.Not that Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, NASA’s contractor for the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters, had history in mind when it selected components from its inventory to launch Atlantis on its final flight.”It was a coincidence,” wrote Harry Reed, ATK’s program director for the reusable solid rocket motors (RSRM), in an e-mail to collectSPACE.com, referring to the first and last mission pairing. „The metal case segments are assigned based on hardware availability and fit considerations with mating segments.”Even knowing it was a coincidence, the presence of the earlier missions’ hardware elicited further reflection on the shuttle’s history by those who have and will fly aboard the orbiter to space.”I’m glad that [the rocket boosters’ history] was dug up,” said STS-132’s pilot Tony Antonelli. „I think there are still a lot of people who don’t understand we reuse those solid rocket motors.””It adds to the richness of the thoughts that I’ll have when I watch Atlantis launch this time, to know that there’s a lot more of my heritage there than I expected,” said Jerry Ross, chief of NASA’s Vehicle Integration Test Office and the astronaut who has flown the most on Atlantis. Out of his seven total flights, a record unto itself, Ross flew five times aboard Atlantis.Case history-For Atlantis’ final commander, the prior missions provide context for his and his five crewmates’ STS-132 flight.”I guess I would have to say it’s relatively unremarkable,” said Ken Ham, reflecting on Atlantis‘ final mission. „From looking at the list of all the incredible things that Atlantis has done, let alone the other shuttles, this is [just] another mission to space station.””From a personal perspective, it’s remarkable — but when you look at [Atlantis’ history], it is probably not. Carrying a Russian-built module is a first and that is interesting,” he said, referring to STS-132’s primary payload, the Russian Mini Research Module-1 (MRM-1) „Rassvet.”Space shuttle Atlantis’ spaceflight career began on Oct. 3, 1985, with the launch of STS-51J, a classified mission dedicated to the Department of Defense. It was the fourth orbiter manufactured following Columbia, Challenger, and Discovery, and only Endeavour followed it.Construction of Atlantis, referenced by NASA internally by its airframe number OV-104, began in March 1980 at the Palmdale, Calif., manufacturing plant. It arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Fla., in April 1985 ahead of its maiden mission.Named after the primary research vessel for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts from 1930 to 1966, space shuttle Atlantis has carried on the spirit of the sailing vessel with voyages to the Russian station Mir and deployment of the Galileo probe to Jupiter in 1989 and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory in 1991.Out of Atlantis’ 31 missions to date, 17 are represented by its final set of solid rocket motor segments’ earlier flights.Continue reading at collectSPACE.com for the full history behind Atlantis’ last set of solid rocket boosters and their coincidental conjunction with the orbiter’s own rich spaceflight legacy.
Earth Microbes Not Likely to Contaminate Mars, Scientists Say By Denise Chow SPACE.com
Scientists have long been concerned with the possibility that their search for any signs of life on Mars could be thrown off-course by wayward microorganisms from Earth that hitch a ride to the red planet on man-made spacecraft. But a new study suggests that fear may be less likely than researchers once thought.While some bacteria could potentially survive the harsh trip through space, Mars atmospheric entry and landing, they would most likely die soon after landing on Mars because of the planet’s harsh atmosphere, the study found.Ultimately it is unlikely such microorganisms will be able to replicate once on the Martian surface, the research suggests.”Without replication, terrestrial microorganisms are very unlikely to contaminate a landing site,” Andrew Schuerger, one of the study’s researchers, told SPACE.com. „Thus, it is unlikely that spacecraft microbes will compromise the search for organics or the search for life on Mars.”Mars has been one of the primary places that scientists have expanded their quest for extraterrestrial life, and while Curiosity is not intended to be a life-seeking mission, it is still important for a rover to have minimal bacterial impact on the red planet. NASA’s next Mars mission – the huge rover Curiosity – is slated to launch in 2011. Protecting against microbial contamination will be a vital part of that mission’s preparation. Simulating Mars on Earth-The new study was conducted by researchers at the University of Central Florida to examine whether two bacterial species common to spacecraft could survive and replicate under simulated Mars-like conditions. The week-long study observed the behavior of Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Serratia liquefaciens (S. liquefaciens), two bacterial species that appeared to be tolerant of low pressures, under Martian conditions.”In a previous study with 37 bacterial strains, the E. coli and S. liquefaciens strains appeared able to grow and replicate at 25 millibars,” Schuerger said. „The pressure on Mars is 6.9 millibars. Thus, the bacterial strains were hypothesized to be „potentially” capable of growth at the Martian pressure of 6.9 millibars.”The Mars Simulation Chamber, built by Schuerger, recreated the planet’s soil, atmosphere, pressure, temperature and UV irradiation.S. liquefaciens was found to be highly sensitive to the desiccating, or drying, conditions prior to being introduced to the Mars Simulation Chamber, said Schuerger, and was therefore not included in the final simulation. On the other hand, E. coli was able to survive desiccating conditions and Martian conditions for seven days within the confines of the experiment, but was unable to grow or replicate.Has Earth already spoiled Mars?-But, could Mars already be contaminated from previous missions to the red planet? The study’s researchers say it is highly unlikely. „We really can’t extrapolate a seven-day study to speculate on the survival rates of what could already have made it to Mars; a process that is highly unlikely given the extremes of spacecraft assembly and interplanetary travel,” Bonnie J. Berry, one of the co-authors of the study, told SPACE.com. In order for scientists to conclude that Mars is contaminated, they would need data that demonstrates that microbes could first be dislodged from spacecraft and then could survive, grow and replicate on the planet, said Schuerger. „While a few microorganisms might still be attached to spacecraft components, if the microbes cannot grow and replicate, then their spores will stay attached to the spacecraft and essentially not impact the pristine nature of the rest of Mars,” Schuerger said. „So it might be accurate to state that the immediate landing site on Mars does have a few microbes associated with the spacecraft, but it would then be wrong to extrapolate that point to the conclusion that Mars is contaminated.”Protecting Mars from Earth-In fact, there are already stringent policies and procedural requirements in place to protect against the biological or organic contamination of Mars and other bodies in the solar system.NASA‘s Planetary Protection Program aims to prevent cross-contamination that could result from the space agency’s exploration missions by regulating how „clean” spacecraft have to be before launch.The program’s standards vary, depending on the function of the spacecraft and the goals of the specific mission. In other words, landers and rovers are required to meet a different standard than orbiters.The 1976 Viking missions, the first life-detection missions to Mars, operated under more probabilistic measures, said Karen Buxbaum, Planetary Protection Manager for the Mars Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Since then, the rules have maintained a conservative approach, but have become far more mission-specific,Currently, NASA policy states that fewer than 300,000 viable microbial cells should be present on the entire spacecraft at the time of launch. For hardware that will also be impacting the surface of a celestial body, the rule is more stringent – there should be less than 500,000 cells in those cases. For comparison, a typical gram of soil contains between 1 million and 100 million viable microbial cells, said Schuerger. So, the number of spores allowed on the entire surface area of a spacecraft is roughly equivalent to the number of microbes „found in less than 1/10th a gram of soil.”Standards for the Curiosity rover’s mission go even further. The scientific instruments on the new rover are so sensitive that NASA also has to control for molecular contamination. „The scientific payload is so sensitive. There’s a very strict contamination control plan,” Buxbaum told SPACE.com. „Engineers are building the spacecraft in an extremely clean assembly environment. They use very strict gowning and cleaning protocols, so regardless of what the requirements are going in, the reality is that [Curiosity] is very clean.”Buxbaum also agreed that the possibility that Mars is already contaminated is doubtful, even though some microorganisms may have been previously exposed to the Martian surface. „There’s been a certain amount of microbes that may have gotten to the Martian surface, but always in regions of the planet considered to be too dry, too cold, too exposed to ultraviolet radiation to allow for those microbial contaminants on Earth to multiply and spread,” Buxbaum said. „So, the short answer is: yes, terrestrial microbes have been on spacecraft that have gone to Mars. But, the rest of the answer is that that was done in compliance with a very conservative planetary protection policy intended to protect Mars from potential harmful contamination.”100 percent Earth germ free-In the future, scientists are hoping to develop methods to be able to build spacecraft that have no threat of contamination, especially for any upcoming life-detection missions „It’s important for exploration to any destination in the solar system where we think we might encounter life – so, if we found a warm, wet region of Mars, or missions to Europa or Enceladus, for example – that we come as close to absolute sterility as possible,” Buxbaum said. „But right now, we currently do not build spacecraft that are compatible with an absolute sterility requirement.”In the meantime, scientists and the Planetary Protection Program are doing what they can to control the threat of contamination prior to launch, while simultaneously developing ways to recognize and account for microorganisms that are already known to originate on spacecraft. The result is a microbial inventory that catalogues genetic material taken from samples swabbed from the spacecraft and the room in which it was built. So, if organic material is discovered in space, scientists can use the inventory to compare the specimens with the DNA of the organisms that were present at the time of launch.”This is our version of DNA forensics,” Buxbaum said.
Britain’s Labour in post-poll deal talks, Brown to quit by Sam Reeves AFP
LONDON (AFP) – Britain’s Labour party holds crunch talks with the Liberal Democrats Tuesday, a day after Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he would quit in a bid to keep his party in power following a poll defeat.Negotiators from Labour meet for formal power-sharing talks with the Lib Dems, who have only officially been talking to the main opposition Conservatives since last week’s election.Talks began between Brown’s party and the third party, the Lib Dems — who have taken on the role of kingmakers after neither of their larger rivals won a clear majority in the general election — began late Monday.There were hopes a deal could be struck on Tuesday, party sources said, as Britain entered its fifth day of political stalemate.Brown made his bombshell announcement Monday that he would quit, and at the same time said talks on power-sharing would begin with the Lib Dems.In an immediate counter-bid from the Conservatives, chief negotiator William Hague offered a key concession to the Lib Dems in return for their support in a coalition.Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg welcomed Monday Brown’s statement that he will quit by September as „important” in a possible power-sharing deal between the two parties.”I think his announcement could be an important element in the smooth transition towards a stable government,” said Clegg, who indicated before the election he would not share power with Labour if Brown remained its leader.”It must have been a very difficult thing for him to say personally,” added Clegg, whose centrist party is seen as politically closer to centre-left Labour than the centre-right Conservatives.Brown’s statement marks the beginning of the end of his premiership and an act of political self-sacrifice, increasing the previously distant chance that Labour could extend its 13 years in office through a deal with the Lib Dems.If that happened, he could still stay on as prime minister for several months even though he led his party to second place behind David Cameron’s Conservatives in the poll.”The reason that we have a hung parliament is that no single party and no single leader was able to win the full support of the country,” Brown said in a statement delivered in Downing Street.”As leader of my party, I must accept that that is a judgement on me. I therefore intend to ask the Labour party to set in train the processes needed for its own leadership election.”Brown added that it „could be in the interests of the whole country to form a progressive coalition government” involving Labour and the Lib Dems.In Thursday’s poll, the Conservatives won 306 seats in the 650-member House of Commons — 20 short of an absolute majority of 326 — followed by Labour on 258 and the Lib Dems on 57.Labour and the Lib Dems together would still not have enough seats for a clear majority, and would require help from smaller parties like Scottish and Welsh nationalists.Hopes had been rising that Clegg’s party could be about to announce a deal with the Conservatives, despite their radically different positions on issues like Europe, defence and reforming Britain’s voting system.But Lib Dem negotiator David Laws said after a meeting with lawmakers that further „clarification” was still needed, the first indication of possible problems.Foreign Secretary David Miliband is the odds-on favourite to replace Brown as Labour Party leader, according to odds from bookmakers updated minutes after the prime minister’s statement.The key potential stumbling block to a deal between the Lib Dems and Conservatives is seen as electoral reform.The Lib Dems want to scrap the first-past-the-post system, which favours two-party politics and means smaller parties like theirs get fewer seats in the House of Commons. But most Conservatives strongly oppose such changes.In a clear Conservative counter-offer to the Lib Dems after Brown’s bombshell statement, Hague said the Tories would promise a referendum on electoral reform, a key Lib Dem demand, if they entered a coalition.”In the interests of trying to create a stable, secure government, we will go the extra mile and we will offer to the Lib Dems in a coalition government the holding of a referendum on the Alternative Voting system,” Hague said.”That’s the choice that they will now have to make.”
Obama revives civilian nuclear deal with Russia By Patricia Zengerle REUTERS
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama revived an agreement with Russia on Monday in which the two countries would cooperate on civilian nuclear energy, almost two years after it was shelved over Russia’s war with Georgia.Obama’s effort to renew the agreement is the latest step in attempts to „restart” U.S. relations with Russia, one of his top foreign policy priorities. Relations between Moscow and Washington reached a post-Cold War low in 2008 during the conflict with Georgia, a U.S. ally.Obama said the situation in Georgia no longer needs to be seen as an obstacle to the deal. The Democratic president cited Moscow’s cooperation on Iran, as the United States pushes for tighter international sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program.”The level and scope of U.S.-Russia cooperation on Iran are sufficient to justify resubmitting the proposed agreement to the Congress,” Obama said in a letter to U.S. lawmakers.Urging Congress to support the deal, Obama said he had „determined that performance of the proposed agreement will promote, and will not constitute an unreasonable risk to, the common defense and security.”The United States and Russia have „significantly increased cooperation” on nuclear non-proliferation and civilian nuclear energy in the past 12 months, Obama said.Russia has indicated its support for a new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iran and, last month, Washington and Moscow signed a new START treaty cutting nuclear arms.GIVING TOO MUCH TO MOSCOW?The agreement is not a treaty and thus not officially subject to congressional approval but it must be submitted to Congress for a 90-day review and lawmakers can vote to kill the deal before it becomes effective.Some Republicans in Congress have expressed concern that Obama is going too far in Russia’s direction without getting enough in return from Moscow in terms of concrete support for sanctions against Iran and other concessions.The proposed agreement permits the transfer — subject to U.S. licensing decisions — of technology, material and equipment including reactors and components for nuclear research and nuclear power production.The deal, which has a term of 30 years, also would let Russia reprocess spent nuclear fuel that originated in the United States, and allow joint nuclear energy ventures by U.S. and Russian companies.It does not permit transfers of restricted data.The pact was signed in Moscow on May 6, 2008, and approved by then-President George W. Bush, a Republican. But it was shelved before completion of a 90-day review period because of the war with Georgia.Georgia has slipped far from the top of the international diplomatic agenda and Georgia’s Western allies have largely deserted President Mikhail Saakashvili after his disastrous attempt to retake the rebel province of South Ossetia triggered a war with Russia and a crushing military defeat.(Editing by John O’Callaghan)