NEW YORK – Police are investigating a suspicious car near New York City’s Union Square.The car was spotted Thursday night not far from the Union Square subway station, where several lines connect. Police say
two gas cans were seen in the back of the car.The area has been blocked off. The bomb squad and Emergency Service Unit are investigating
Buffalo billboard petitions president for „a freakin’ job” By THE NEWSROOM
„I need a freakin’ job.” That’s the message President Obama saw as he arrived in Buffalo, N.Y., this afternoon for an event talking up the administration’s success in creating new jobs. He also pitched Congress on approving a $30 billion credit for small-business growth.Yet critics say Obama has been focusing his recovery efforts too narrowly and hasn’t done enough to help people find work. After all, the latest job figures show 9.9 percent of the country still out of work. That inspired a group of unemployed Buffalo residents — who also have a website called INAFJ.org — to appeal to the president in the form of a billboard along the route his motorcade took into town. Here is a photo of the billboard: Yet jobs aren’t a huge priority for either party heading into the midterm campaigns, as Politics Daily’s Jill Lawrence notes. That might be because other issues have taken precedence. A new Gallup poll finds that for the first time in two months, the issue of „jobs” has fallen to No. 2 on the list of issues Americans are most concerned about. The new No. 1 issue: The economy in general. White House officials defend their efforts on jobs, saying the president has been focused as much on creating new jobs as on „saving” current positions.[Lost jobs that won’t come back]But here’s a sign the job seekers‘ message to the administration may be getting through: The White House just announced Obama will travel next Tuesday to Youngstown, Ohio — where unemployment hit 15.1 percent last month, the city’s highest jobless rate in more than 15 years. The focus of Obama’s visit: „jobs and the economy,” according to the White House.And a more direct sign still: Obama press aide Bill Burton was asked about the billboard in today’s press gaggle. His reply was, „The President is here to talk about jobs, what his administration has done to create jobs, what we need to do in order to create an environment where small businesses can create jobs. So the answer is, we’re on the path to creating more jobs, and we’ve got a lot more work to do.—Holly Bailey is the senior politics writer for Yahoo! News.
Swipe this card; shopping could be cheaper By JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON – Striking at a lucrative bank business, the Senate on Thursday voted to force credit card companies to reduce fees for debit card transactions and permit merchants to offer customer discounts based on their payment method.The 64-33 vote inserted the fee requirement in a package of new financial rules the Senate is considering to ward off a repeat of the financial crisis.The vote was a major defeat for banks, which lobbied hard against it. But the measure attracted heavy bipartisan support and surpassed a 60-vote threshold for passage. Seventeen Republicans voted for the amendment; 10 Democrats voted against it.The measure from Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., would force credit card companies to charge businesses less for debit card transactions than for credit card payments.Under current practice, a business that accepts major credit cards signs agreements with the card companies to pay a percentage of each transaction, usually about 2 percent to 3 percent. But credit card charges cost more to process than swipes with a debit card.The measure still needs to survive negotiations with the House, which has already passed its version of regulations on Wall Street. The House bill does not contain the debit card provision.The change could represent the most direct and tangible consumer benefit of the regulatory overhaul and would amount to a triumph for Durbin, who failed to get a similar proposal attached to an overhaul of credit card regulations last year.”Left alone, this is going to get worse for small businesses that face higher fees, for consumers who face higher prices, and for everyone but banks and credit card networks,” Durbin said moments before the vote.The Electronic Payments Coalition, an industry group whose members include Visa, MasterCard and American Express, said the Durbin plan would harm many small banks and credit unions that already lose or barely break even in their card operations.The credit card companies said the change would force consumers to pay more for their cards and result in higher profits to large retailers. In a statement, MasterCard argued that similar regulations in Australia did not result in savings to retail customers.”This amendment helps big merchants, but consumers will pay the price,” MasterCard said.The Senate put off a vote on a contentious amendment to the regulatory bill. The amendment would place auto dealers that offer loans to car buyers outside the reach of a proposed consumer financial protection agency. President Barack Obama argued against the exemption Wednesday, but Democrats feared that even by requiring 60 votes to pass it, they would be unable to defeat it.The debit card issue pitted the politically popular appeals of small business owners against the influence of community banks and the lobbying power of the credit card companies.Durbin wants the Federal Reserve to ensure the fees that credit card companies charge for debit card use are proportional to the costs of processing the transaction.Durbin’s measure requires that once merchants can pay lower fees for debit card purchases, they then would be able to offer discounts to their customers based on their method of payment. Merchants would be prohibited from placing minimum purchase requirements for the use of a debit card.In an effort to win more support and avoid community bank opposition, Durbin included an exception from the fee requirement for banks with assets of less than $10 billion. Durbin said even with that exception, his legislation would affect 65 percent of all card transactions in the United States.Still, the Independent Community Bankers Association opposed the proposal, arguing that large retail merchants may choose to accept only the cheaper cards offered by large banks or that small banks will be forced to accept the lower fees big banks would receive.Retail groups countered that any reductions in fees would be passed on to consumers. Henry Armour, president and CEO of the National Association of Convenience Stores, said credit and debit card fees are the second biggest expense in his industry, behind labor costs. „This is an issue that is not just a Main Street small business issue, this is an issue that affects in our industry 160 million consumers a day,” Armour said.The vote came on a day when the Senate continued to move through the complexities of the far-reaching regulatory legislation. The debate was expected to extend into next week, with a handful of major issues still unresolved, including how to police complex and unregulated securities known as derivatives and how far to go in prohibiting commercial banks from engaging in speculative trades on their own accounts.Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke waded into the derivatives debate, raising objections in a letter to a provision by Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., that would require banks to spin off all their derivatives business into subsidiaries. Bernanke said the move would weaken regulation of derivatives.The Senate is not expected to take up that provision until after Lincoln’s re-election primary contest Tuesday.
Senate votes to curb credit, debit card fees By REUTERS
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate approved a measure on Thursday that would let the Federal Reserve regulate debit card fees and help merchants take steps to restrain fees charged by credit card networks to customers every time they use a credit or debit card.The measure — which pit retailers and restaurants against banks and card firms such as Visa Inc and MasterCard Inc in a lobbying fight — was offered as an amendment to a broad Wall Street reform bill by Senator Richard Durbin.The measure from Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, would let merchants give discounts to customers who use one type of card over another, or who pay by cash or some means other than by card. It would also allow retailers to set minimum purchase levels for using a card.And it would let the Federal Reserve make the card networks set debit card transaction fees that are „reasonable and proportional to the actual cost incurred.”(Reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh; Editing by Leslie Adler)
NASA: All on track for Friday launch of Atlantis By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – With good weather expected, NASA was optimistic as it headed toward Friday’s launch of space shuttle Atlantis on its final voyage.Atlantis is set to blast off at 2:20 p.m. Forecasters said there is a 70 percent chance of good weather, with low clouds the lone concern.”We’ve had a very clean countdown so far,” NASA test director Jeremy Graeber told reporters Thursday.The shuttle and its six astronauts will deliver a Russian compartment to the International Space Station. The chamber is filled with more than 3,000 pounds of U.S. supplies, including food and laptop computers. It will be the first — and last — time a shuttle carries a Russian module to the orbiting lab. Only two other shuttle flights remain.Once the shuttles are retired, NASA will leave station deliveries to commercial companies and other countries, and focus on eventual trips to asteroids and Mars.Dozens of Russians were on hand for the launch, as were about 150 Twittering guests. It’s the second time NASA has staged a tweet-up at the launch site; the first was late last year.The tweeters gathered with their laptops, cameras and other gadgets Thursday under a large tent at the press site, just three miles from the launch pad. They threw out questions to astronauts and shuttle managers not involved with Friday’s liftoff, and even got autographs.NASA expects bigger crowds than usual for the remaining flights.
Chaotic space traffic needs rules, less secrecy: US general By AFP
WASHINGTON (AFP) – A top US general on Thursday called for international rules to control chaotic space traffic, warning satellites are increasingly at risk of collision.General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was no longer possible for the United States and other countries to keep vast numbers of orbiting satellites a secret.”We’re going to have get to some level of regulation. Nobody wants to do that,” Cartwright told a conference sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a US think tank.The general said he is daily faced with the question: „How many people are going to run into each other in space today if we don’t cajole, plead with somebody to move out of the way in the next orbit cycle?”How many people are going to step on each other’s signals?”A collision last year between a Russian and US satellite underscored concerns over a lack of traffic controls in space and the growing amount of space debris.More than 50 years after the start of the space age there are still no globally agreed rules for orbital tracks, as there are for flight paths for aircraft.”We’re going to have to get some sort of a management construct for how we do business out there,” he said.Cartwright said the military was not out to „take over” space as some have warned, but he said the number of satellites was growing and there had to be a „shared understanding” among countries so „we can do business in a safe way out there.”Cartwright, who is taking part in the drafting of a new US military space strategy review, also said covering the defense space program in a blanket of secrecy was damaging the country’s commercial interests.”By keeping it secret, what we have done is so disadvantage our own industry that we’re becoming non-competitive in this environment, because we can’t do what we need to do in technical and intellectual capital to go out there and compete in the global market.”Our ability to build components etcetera is lagging,” he said. „Our ability to compete on the international market for commerce in space has really taken a dive.”He compared the current secrecy applying to military space satellites to flying a fighter jet over New York City without paying heed to other air traffic in the area.
Jupiter Has Lost a Cloud Stripe, New Photos Reveal By Tariq Malik SPACE.com
This story was updated at 8:10 a.m. ET. A giant cloud belt in the southern half of Jupiter has apparently disappeared according to new photos of the planet taken by amateur astronomers.The new Jupiter photos, taken May 9 by Australian astronomer Anthony Wesley, reveal that the huge reddish band of clouds that make up the planet’s Southern Equatorial Belt has faded from view.Jupiter’s trademark Great Red Spot, a massive storm that could fit two Earths inside, is typically found along the edges of the planet’s Southern Equatorial Belt (SEB). When the southern cloud belt fades from view, the Great Red Spot stands out along with Jupiter’s Northern Equatorial Belt of clouds in telescope views.”It was evident to Jupiter watchers late last year that the planet was going into one of these SEB fading cycles, but then it was lost behind the sun for several months and naturally everyone who follows these things was eager to take images as soon as possible after its re-emergence in March,” Wesley told SPACE.com in an e-mail.”As it moves away from the sun (from our point of view) it will be possible to capture even better images and perhaps we will be watching later this year or next year when the SEB revival takes place. The timing of this revival is not known, but historically this is a very dynamic event with planet-wide outbreaks of violent storms around the SEB latitude and eventually clearing away the obscuring clouds to reveal the dark SEB once more,” he added.Wesley’s photos were also released by The Planetary Society in California, which added that Jupiter’s Southern Equatorial Belt tends to fade from view about every three to 15 years. „Jupiter with only one belt is almost like seeing Saturn when its rings are edge-on and invisible for a time — it just doesn’t look right,” wrote skywatcher Bob King of Duluth, Minn., in a May 10 entry of his blog „Astro Bob” while discussing Wesleyan’s surprising Jupiter views. Jupiter is currently shining very bright in the eastern sky before sunrise.Wesley is a veteran Jupiter watcher and posted the new shots on his website. It was he who first spotted a dark blemish on the planet in July 2009 that pointed to an impact on Jupiter, most likely from a comet. Wesley also spotted a giant blizzard on Saturn that is currently raging.”Jupiter is a joy to observe and image, its dynamic atmosphere and brightly colored clouds mean that every view is different to the last even from one day to the next, and driven by the internal heat from deep inside the atmosphere you can be sure there is always something violent and interesting going on,” Wesley said.Changes in Jupiter’s weather are not uncommon.Last year, astronomers announced that Jupiter’s Great Red Spot – which has raged for at least 300 years – appeared to be shrinking. In 2008, other red spot-like storms (smaller than Great Red) showed changes as well, while activity in the Southern Equatorial Belt also appeared to slow down.Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and no stranger to weird weather.Earlier this year, astronomers announced that the gas giant likely has helium rain showers from time to time. Jupiter has also tended to grow a variety of new storms, or spots, with some even changing color between white and red during dramatic climate changes on the gas giant.
7 Cool Things You Didn’t Know About Space Shuttle Atlantis By Karen Rowan SPACE.com
On Friday, the Atlantis space shuttle is scheduled to blast off for its 32nd and last mission, but even after 25 years of spaceflight this middle child of NASA‘s current space plane fleet still has its secrets.Atlantis was named after the original exploration sailing vessel of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, which brought scientists discoveries in oceanography and marine biology during its many adventures on the seas. Living up to its namesake, the Atlantis shuttle has ventured into the unknown and returned with troves of scientific information since its first mission in 1985.To prepare for what is expected to be the shuttle’s final mission, here are seven cool things you didn’t know about Atlantis: 1) It’s the workhorse of the shuttle fleet.„Atlantis is kind of the unsung underdog of the space shuttle fleet,” said Robert Pearlman, editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community for space history and artifact enthusiasts, and a SPACE.com contributor.Atlantis is considered the workhorse and the ferry because it has flown so many missions bringing crews to space stations and equipment into orbit. Atlantis flew to the Mir space station seven times, and will have flown to the International Space Station 11 times, including this last mission.2) Atlantis was the first shuttle to launch an interplanetary probe.During a four-day mission in 1989, astronauts launched the Magellan spacecraft from the cargo bay of Atlantis.It was the first time an interplanetary probe was launched from a space shuttle. Magellan mapped more than 98 percent of the surface of Venus, and revealed the planet to be mostly covered by volcanic materials, dotted with a few impact craters.3) It helped NASA to see a comet smack into a planet.In October 1989, the Galileo probe was launched from Atlantis to study Jupiter. Galileo captured the first close-up images of an asteroid while on its way to the giant planet. Then, it made the only direct observations of a comet colliding with a planet when it caught the 1994 impact of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter.”The amount of information we have learned about our inner solar system due to the mission of Atlantis will be one of the long-standing legacies that the space shuttle program will take credit for,” Pearlman said.4) It doesn’t have an extension cord.Unlike the other shuttles, Atlantis does not have a space station to shuttle power system that would allow the shuttle to tap into the solar-powered electrical system of the space station while docked. Atlantis must rely solely on the hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells which are carried onboard, and because of this Atlantis missions are limited to a maximum of about 14 days. The other shuttles can stay in space longer.5) Atlantis has a spaceship clone.„The shuttle Endeavour exists because of Atlantis,” Pearlman said. When NASA built Atlantis, they decided to make a complete set of spare parts, with the idea that if any shuttle was damaged, it could easily be repaired.However, after the Challenger shuttle was lost in an explosion in 1986, there was debate about what to do. It was decided, Pearlman said, to build the Endeavour shuttle out of the spare Atlantis parts. Endeavour is scheduled to fly the last mission of the space shuttle program in November of this year.6) It was the last shuttle to visit the Hubble Space Telescope. During a May 2009 mission, the Atlantis crew made 5 space walks to repair and add equipment to the Hubble.Among the upgrades, the crew installed the Cosmic Origins spectrograph, an instrument designed to allow Hubble to peer farther into the universe in the ultraviolet light spectrum than ever before, and Wide Field Camera 3, which allows astronomers to better observe galaxy evolution, dark matter and dark energy. The conclusion of the mission was the last time that repairs or additions will be made to the Hubble. 7) Atlantis co-starred in a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio.IMAX cameras made the trip with the Atlantis crew in 2009 on its mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. In March of this year, „Hubble 3D” was released, with Leonardo DiCaprio narrating. Atlantis and its final astronaut crew, a veteran six-man team, will deliver a new Russian science module called Rassvet (Russian for „Dawn”) to the space station on the shuttle’s final mission. Liftoff of Atlantis is currently set for Friday at 2:20 p.m. EDT (1820 GMT) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.The mission is NASA’s 132nd space shuttle flight since the fleet began launching into space in April 1981. After this mission, only two more shuttle flights remain, on Discovery and Endeavour, before NASA retires its three-orbiter fleet later this year.
Armstrong, Cernan Oppose Obama’s NASA Plans at Hearing By KATY STEINMETZ TIME
In terms of Senate hearings, this one had all the right stuff: high stakes, passionate speeches, shutdowns and – as if that weren’t enough – astronauts with a score to settle. Not just any old astronauts either. Attending the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee‘s forum on the future of human spaceflight were the first and last men to walk on the moon – the semi-reclusive Neil Armstrong and the slightly younger (and much sassier) Eugene Cernan.The attendance of these two white-haired history makers couldn’t have been more poetically appropriate. At the heart of the hearing, which took place on Wednesday on Capitol Hill, was President Obama‘s recommendation to cancel the (See pictures of five nations’ space programs.)So far the program has cost $9 billion and would require billions more that America doesn’t have to spend. That made Constellation one of two things in the minds of those at the hearing: either a substantial investment that should be kept alive with some creative budgeting or a white elephant that should be put to sleep before it tramples any more government coffers. The towering committee chair, West Virginia Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller, called himself a „third way” man open to other options, but his statements at the hearing landed him in the space-skeptic camp. (Comment on this story.)The termination of Constellation would crucially coincide with the retirement of America’s rickety shuttle fleet, leaving the U.S. without its own means of propelling people to the moon or International Space Station until new crafts are developed and built. (See the 40th anniversary of the moon landing.)Perhaps unsurprisingly, the astronauts present were avidly against shutting the program down. Cernan went so far as to say that the President’s proposal had no focus and was a „blueprint” for how to get absolutely „nowhere,” and that it was the „Administration’s pledge to mediocrity.” Armstrong kept his testimony more tempered, but both had already signed open letters last month calling Obama’s plan „devastating.” And they meant that not just in practical terms; their rhetoric quickly soared, both in the epistles and at the hearing, to heights where America’s geopolitical standing, pride, leadership status and bright young minds could be seen on the chopping block below. Obama’s suggestion, supported by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, is to spend money shifting the spacecraft-building onus onto the private sector while NASA concentrates on developing a super-advanced ship, one that probably relies on technologies still in the making, as was the case when President Kennedy told NASA to get on up to the moon in 1962. Obama and Bolden’s projections are that the ship could be designed by 2015, landing on an asteroid by 2025 and heading to Mars by the mid-2030s – dates and goals that the space community finds frustratingly general and uninspiring, especially compared to the detailed plans attached to the Constellation project. (See the top 50 space moments since Sputnik.)Some of the Senators, including Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison and Louisiana Republican David Vitter, expressed unbridled skepticism of the private sector’s ability to create safe spacecraft. Vitter said there is „no evidence” that the commercial sector can supply this demand „in the near term,” despite the progress of companies like SpaceX, run by PayPal founder Elon Musk, which has built a rocket that sits at Cape Canaveral ready to test-launch. In any case, projections for using the private sector are cheaper at the moment. Musk has said he would sell astronauts seats for about $20 million. The only other option for getting into space, hitching a ride with the Russian government, costs about $50 million a pop. (America will be stuck with the Russians for a while even if Constellation goes on as planned, but the astronauts and some legislators worry that Obama’s plan would extend the flightless „gap” by several years because of the commercial sector’s inexperience.) Much harder to compare were the relative arguments about how the intangibles should be figured into the plan for NASA’s future. Rockefeller opened with a statement making it clear that he did not support manned space exploration as an end in itself. At one point, when he asked the astronauts point-blank what the merit of manned spaceflight was in terms of what concrete improvements it held for the „human condition,” Cernan responded with a stage-worthy speech, as romantic and impassioned as it was vague: „Curiosity is the essence of human existence. Who are we? Where are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? … I don’t know. I don’t have any answers to those questions. I don’t know what’s over there around the corner. But I want to find out. It’s within our hearts and souls and desires to find out and seek knowledge. Discovery is what it’s all about.”That last line has proven to be an especially critical point in the debate, given that trips to the moon, where we went 40 years ago, are most immediately on the line. While the astronauts pointed out, as other scientific stakeholders have, that landing on the moon raised more questions than it answered, that doesn’t change the American taxpayers’ general feeling that the moon isn’t really a new frontier. Norm Augustine, who headed the committee that reviewed NASA’s budgetary options, documented that public sentiment during months of research; he also dejectedly pointed out during the hearing that almost the same amount of time had elapsed between the Wright brothers’ first flight and the first moon landing as would have elapsed between the first moon landing and the return trip the astronauts were fighting so hard to salvage.Arguments about what the plan would mean for America’s geopolitical standing, the impetus for the space race in the 1960s, seemed similarly unsubstantiated. „I am convinced it will absolutely relinquish our leadership role in human spaceflight, certainly for our lifetimes, maybe longer,” Vitter said. Some efforts are making Americans nervous for their leadership role. China, for example, is flowing unprecedented funding into its space program, unchecked by budget requests and delays, but its increased activity has still done little to motivate the U.S., unlike the Cold War worries that lit fires under previous administrations.Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, a longtime NASA advocate and big believer in space for space’s sake, ended the session by asking Armstrong why it was worth returning to the moon. The astronaut, whose appearance had been much anticipated given his habitual hesitance to speak out in support of space programs or otherwise, responded meanderingly. There could be valuable minerals, he said, or we could research how to make permanent settlements, among other things. Armstrong had previously urged the continued use of the soon-to-be-retired space shuttles, which Augustine’s committee and other review boards have deemed to be on their last legs, and twice stumbled trying to turn on his microphone after almost sitting in the wrong chair. One couldn’t help but wonder whether he’s more an icon of NASA’s past than a voice for its future. „We need a new direction,” Rockefeller said at the beginning of the hearing. „The American people deserve the most from their space program. NASA’s role cannot stay static.”
New Artificial Gravity Tests in Space Could Help Astronauts By Jeremy Hsu SPACE.com
New plans for artificial gravity tests in space using centrifuges may hold the key to helping future astronauts ward off the debilitating loss of muscle and bone due to weightlessness on long missions to asteroids or the moon under NASA‘s revised space exploration plan. The new NASA budget proposed by President Obama not only sets sights on long-duration missions, but also extends the lifetime of the International Space Station. Upgrades for the space station „could include a centrifuge to support research into human physiology,” according to a summary by the Office of Management and Budget.Space station residents currently rely upon different exercises to keep themselves fit for the eventual return to Earth. But a spinning centrifuge device could create artificial gravity, which simulates the gravitational tug a planet, like Earth, has. The giant spinning device will give astronauts a healthy break from the weightlessness of space.”You can try to treat each of the effects of weightlessness system by system, with certain pills for bone loss and certain exercise regimens for the muscles,” said Laurence Young, an aeronautics and astronautics engineer at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. „Or you can treat the root cause of weightlessness by restoring gravity.”NASA’s earlier focus on sending astronauts back to the moon meant shorter-duration spaceflight and less urgency to develop artificial gravity. The U.S. space agency focused on traditional countermeasures, such as modifying squats or other exercises to counteract bone and muscle loss, according to Justin Kaderka, an artificial gravity researcher working with Young at MIT.Now the prospect of longer missions to more distant destinations has once again raised the appeal, if not necessity, of artificial gravity.Recreating Earth gravity-One of Young’s Japanese colleagues filed a proposal with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency months ago to launch a human centrifuge to the International Space Station. The device could ideally take up the diameter of a space station module with a radius as wide as 6.6 feet (2 meters).Astronauts would lie down on or strap themselves to one end of the centrifuge arm or frame, and experience artificial gravity while the device spins. A rider could also provide the human power to spin the centrifuge by pedaling bicycle-style.”If you have two arms that’d work nicely,” Kaderka told SPACE.com. „Cycling would give an aerobic workout, and the other person not cycling could do resistance exercises like squats or presses.”The riders on a two-arm centrifuge could then switch off on exercises and on powering the device. A vibration isolator would absorb any residual vibrations that might otherwise disturb the rest of the space station, according to the proposal.Spin me right round-Earth experiments suggest that artificial gravity works just as well as traditional countermeasures to prevent long-term weightlessness from affecting human cardiovascular health, Kaderka said. He drew that conclusion after reviewing 75 experiments done over the past 40 years, as his MIT master’s thesis.But Kaderka also found that more research is needed to assess whether artificial gravity can work its wonders upon muscle and bone. That’s partly because researchers must resort to expensive, long-term bed-rest studies to really see the effects on muscle and bone.One human centrifuge did go into space with the STS-90 „Neurolab” mission aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1998. But the astronauts spent barely an hour in total testing out the centrifuge during the 16-day mission, which still left the effectiveness of artificial gravity open to question.”It’d be amazing to get hard data on how artificial gravity is an effective countermeasure in space,” Kadera said.Artificial gravity research has suffered in the latter half of the past decade because of NASA’s budget issues and earlier focus on returning astronauts to the moon. No funded centrifuge studies on human physiology currently exist in the United States or among most of its international space partners, Kaderka noted.Taking the next step–NASA shut down its artificial gravity studies at the Johnson Space Center in Houston several years ago — a decision that resulted in much lost momentum for researchers, according to Young. But both he and Kaderka seemed optimistic that the space agency’s new direction would lead to resurgence in artificial gravity work.Getting a centrifuge up to the space station would do much more than help answer the question of artificial gravity’s effectiveness in space, or putting renewed interest in complementary Earth experiments. It would also allow researchers to start fine-tuning the exact conditions needed to for artificial gravity to work.”One of the hopes is to have the [centrifuge] protocol down to within an hour or so of being spun, because that’s roughly how much the astronauts spend doing exercise,” Kaderka explained.Other questions include debate over how fast should the centrifuge spin, setting the ideal artificial gravity level, as well as how much time astronauts will need to spend aboard the centrifuge to see its benefits. Then there are also biomedical questions about whether astronauts encounter problems with dizziness or vertigo, and whether the centrifuge is both effective and enjoyable.Of course, researchers can begin tackling some of those questions if they can get renewed NASA funding for Earth experiments as well. Otherwise they could be in for a long wait until they see a centrifuge launch to the space station.”Hopefully we won’t have to wait as long as having data come back from a space station centrifuge,” Kaderka said.
China says death toll in mine blast rises to 21 By AP
BEIJING – State media says the death toll in a coal mine blast in southwest China‘s Guizhou province has risen to 21.The official Xinhua News Agency said Friday that 31 workers were in the mine when the blast happened Thursday night, and that 10 managed to escape. It did not immediately give any other details.Although safety conditions have improved in the last several years, China’s mining industry is by far the world’s deadliest, with accidents and blasts killing more than 2,600 coal miners last year.
Obama wants $80 billion to upgrade nuclear arms complex By Susan Cornwell and Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama sent a landmark arms-reduction treaty with Russia to the Senate on Thursday for ratification and called for $80 billion in nuclear funding, which could help win opposition support.Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the funds, which would be spent over a decade, were needed to „rebuild and sustain America’s aging nuclear stockpile.”The treaty, which must be ratified by the Senate and Russia’s parliament before it goes into force, would reduce the strategic nuclear arsenals deployed by the former Cold War foes by 30 percent within seven years.Known as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, it is also seen as a major step toward „resetting” U.S.-Russia relations, which were prickly under the Bush administration.”The U.S. is far better off with this treaty than without it,” Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, said in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. „It strengthens the security of the U.S. and our allies and promotes strategic stability between the world’s two major nuclear powers.”Gates said the treaty had the unanimous support of America’s military leadership.Obama, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in part for his vision of a nuclear-free world, must get some Republican backing to win the 67 votes needed for Senate approval. Obama’s Democrats and their allies have 59 seats in the Senate.Some Senate Republicans previously argued that Obama needed to commit more resources to modernizing the U.S. nuclear weapons complex to convince them the treaty was viable.”This might be what’s necessary to buy the votes for ratification,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.The White House noted the $80 billion in funding for the nuclear stockpile came on top of more than $100 billion in additional investments in nuclear delivery systems, like nuclear submarines.READY FOR VOTE BY AUGUST-Obama discussed efforts to ratify the treaty in a telephone conversation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday.”The presidents stressed the importance of completing the ratification process in both countries as soon as possible,” the White House said in a statement.The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by 2004 Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry, aims to get the treaty ready for an eventual full Senate vote before Congress breaks for the summer recess in August, aides said.Kerry said the $80 billion funding request was the largest since the Cold War.”It demonstrates the Obama administration’s commitment to keeping America’s nuclear deterrent safe and effective for a generation to come,” Kerry said in a statement.Kerry’s committee is planning to roll out Republican political heavyweights to testify, including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and James Baker.Obama has made nuclear nonproliferation one of the main goals of his presidency and last month unveiled a policy restricting U.S. use of nuclear weapons. He has also renounced the development of new atomic weapons and in May disclosed for the first time the current size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Russia said on Wednesday it may lift the veil on its nuclear arsenal after the treaty with the United States comes into force. If it does, that could raise pressure on other nuclear powers — such as China, Pakistan, India and Israel — to disclose their capabilities and potentially put global nuclear stockpiles on a downward trend, analysts say.(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by John O’Callaghan)
Kremlin: Medvedev, Obama speak about Mideast By AP
MOSCOW – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and President Barack Obama on Thursday discussed Iran‘s suspect nuclear program and the need to look for „non-standard” approaches to resolving problems in the Middle East, the Kremlin said.Their telephone conversation, which the Kremlin said lasted for an hour and a half, came as the United States tries to build support for new sanctions against Iran.The Kremlin said Medvedev briefed Obama about his trip this week to Syria and Turkey, where he had made clear Moscow’s willingness to play an active part in efforts to bring peace to the Middle East.The United States opposes a joint Turkish-Brazilian effort that could help Iran avoid new United Nations sanctions. Medvedev, who met with Turkey’s president on Wednesday in Ankara, plays host to Brazil’s president in Moscow on Friday.Obama and Medvedev „according to tradition exchanged opinions at great length on the Iranian nuclear problem,” the Kremlin statement said. They agreed to intensify efforts to work out a common position within the framework of the six key powers, the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany, it said.The two presidents, who plan to meet in the U.S. in June, also agreed to work together more actively on the situation in the Middle East, „including studying non-standard approaches,” the statement said.The United States and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, and the U.N. has demanded Tehran halt uranium enrichment, a process that can be used to produce either nuclear fuel or a warhead.Iran says its program is peaceful and that it has a right to pursue enrichment to power reactors to generate electricity. The U.N. has already imposed three rounds of financial sanctions over its refusal.
Transocean hires U.S. lobby firm to work Congress By David Morgan REUTERS
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Transocean Ltd, one of the companies under fire over the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, has hired a new lobby firm to represent its interests in Congress, according to public records.Capitol Hill Consulting Group, chaired by former Representative Bill Brewster of Oklahoma, registered as a lobbyist for Transocean on May 10, a day before the Swiss-based company began appearing before the Senate and House of Representatives oversight committees to answer for the leaking BP Plc well.The disaster threatens to engulf oil giant BP, Transocean and other companies involved in the offshore drilling industry in a new era of government scrutiny and regulation.Capitol Hill Consulting declined to comment on its new role. Transocean officials were not immediately available for comment.Transocean is the owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded and sank off the coast of Louisiana last month, setting off a huge oil leak that is still spewing crude from 5,000 feet beneath the ocean surface.Congressional investigators concluded this week that a rig device designed to cut off the flow of oil after an explosion was faulty.Executives for BP and subcontractor Halliburton Co. appeared alongside Transocean President Steven Newman this week at hearings on Capitol Hill.The lobbying firm’s registration document names Brewster as one of three who will actively represent Transocean on environmental, natural resources and energy issues.The former Democratic lawmaker served in Congress from 1991 through 1997. In 1994, Brewster formed a caucus of lawmakers from oil-producing states called the Congressional Oil and Gas Forum, and served as its first chairman. He also was a founding member of the Blue Dog Coalition, an influential group of pro-business congressional Democrats.Transocean moved its headquarters to Switzerland from Houston in 2008 to save on taxes and get closer to its Eastern Hemisphere clients.The company has not been a prominent political spender up to now. Since 2008, the company has spent less than $100,000 lobbying Congress on tax issues, documents filed with the Senate Office of Public Records show.Transocean employees and other associated individuals have also spent a little more than $10,000 in campaign contributions to members of the House and Senate, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.(Editing by David Storey)