TOKYO – Asian stock markets tumbled in early trading Monday as fresh worries over debt woes in Europe dampened sentiment across the region.Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average dropped 207.50 points,
or 2.0 percent, to 10,255.01.South Korea’s Kospi lost 2.1 percent to 1,660.85. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index was also down 2.0 percent at 4,549.60.Benchmarks in mainland China and Taiwan declined, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index losing 1.6 percent to 19,832.03.Asian investors’ mood turned downbeat on growing concerns that cost-cutting fiscal measures being taken by Greece, Portugal and Spain could hamper a recovery in the eurozone economy.On Wall Street on Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 162.79 points, or 1.5 percent, to 10,620.16 on fears that such austere measures in Europe would slow economic activity on the continent and elsewhere.In an interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel to be published Monday, the European Central Bank president said Europe’s economy „is in its most difficult situation since World War II or perhaps even since World War I.”Jean-Claude Trichet said the eurozone’s debt crisis has provoked a market reaction similar to that at the height of the global financial crisis in 2008.In currencies, the dollar edged down to 92.15 yen in Tokyo from 92.45 yen in New York late Friday. The euro stood at $1.2358 from $1.2360.
Arab-American from Michigan crowned 2010 Miss USA
A 24-year-old Arab American from Michigan beat out 50 other women to take the 2010 Miss USA title Sunday night, despite nearly stumbling in her evening gown. Rima Fakih of Dearborn, Mich., won the pageant at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip after strutting confidently in an orange and gold bikini, wearing a strapless white gown that resembled a wedding dress and saying health insurance should cover birth control pills. When asked how she felt about winning the crown, she said, „Ask me after I’ve had a pizza.”Fakih, a Lebanese immigrant, told pageant organizers her family celebrates both Muslim and Christian faiths. She moved to the United States as a baby and was raised in New York, where she attended a Catholic school. Her family moved to Michigan in 2003.Pageant officials said historical pageant records were not detailed enough to show whether Fakih was the first Arab American, Muslim or immigrant to win the Miss USA title. The pageant started in 1952 as a local bathing suit competition in Long Beach, Calif.Fakih told reporters she sold her car after graduating college in Michigan to help pay for her run in the Miss Michigan USA pageant.She said she believed she had the title on Sunday after glancing at pageant owner Donald Trump as she awaited the results with the first runner-up, Miss Oklahoma USA Morgan Elizabeth Woolard. „That’s the same look that he gives them when he says, ‘You’re hired,'” on Trump’s reality show „The Apprentice,” she said.”She’s a great girl,” said Trump, who owns the pageant with NBC in a joint venture. In a moment that was replayed during the broadcast, Fakih nearly fell while finishing her walk in her gown because of the length of its train. But she made it without a spill and went on to win. „I did it here, I better not do it at Miss Universe,” she said. „Modeling does help, after all.” Fakih replaces Miss USA 2009 Kristen Dalton and won a spot representing the United States this summer in the 2010 Miss Universe pageant. She also gets a one-year lease in a New York apartment with living expenses, an undisclosed salary, and various health, professional and beauty services. During the interview portion, Fakih was asked whether she thought birth control should be paid for by health insurance, and she said she believed it should because it’s costly.”I believe that birth control is just like every other medication even though it’s a controlled substance,” Fakih said. Woolard handled the night’s toughest question, about Arizona’s new immigration law. Woolard said she supports the law, which requires police enforcing another law to verify a person’s immigration status if there’s „reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country illegally. She said she’s against illegal immigration but is also against racial profiling. „I’m a huge believer in states’ rights. I think that’s what’s so wonderful about America,” Woolard said. „So I think it’s perfectly fine for Arizona to create that law.” „The Office” actor Oscar Nunez was booed as he asked the question and asked the audience to wait until he finished the question before they reacted. The panel of judges came up with the questions themselves.Miss Virginia USA Samantha Evelyn Casey was the second runner-up, Miss Colorado USA Jessica Hartman was third runner-up, and Miss Maine USA Katherine Ashley Whittier was the fourth runner-up.Most of the field of contestants from all 50 states and the District of Columbia were eliminated just after the pageant began and the entire group danced onstage to „TiK ToK” by Ke$ha. A panel of eight judges, including NBA star Carmelo Anthony, Treasure Island casino-hotel owner Phil Ruffin and Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir, were judging the girls throughout the night. After 15 contestants strutted in swimsuits, five were eliminated. Another five were eliminated after the evening gown competition. Miss Nebraska USA Belinda Renee Wright won the Miss Congeniality award, roughly one week after her father was killed in a farm accident. Miss Alabama USA Audrey Moore won Miss Photogenic after an online fan vote.The pageant aired live to East Coast viewers on NBC. The competition, which is not affiliated with the Miss America pageant, was hosted by celebrity chef Curtis Stone and NBC correspondent Natalie Morales.
RI school district agrees to rehire fired teachers By ERIC TUCKER, Associated Press
CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. – A school district that gained the support of President Barack Obama for promoting accountability after it fired all its teachers from a struggling school announced on Sunday it had reached an agreement with the union to return the current staffers to their jobs.The two sides said a transformation plan for Central Falls High School for the coming school year would allow the roughly 87 teachers, guidance counselors, librarians and other staffers who were to lose their jobs at the end of this year to return without having to reapply. More than 700 people had already applied for the positions.The agreement calls for a longer school day, more after-school tutoring and other changes.”What this means is that they have come to an agreement about a reform effort and that will change the quality” of the education program at Central Falls, said Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, who applauded both sides for working together.The board of trustees overseeing the school system in Central Falls, one of the poorest communities in the state, voted in February to fire the staff of one of the state’s worst-performing schools. The school was under a mandate from the state to make improvements, and it opted for the mass firings after a breakdown in talks with teachers about other reforms that would have required more work, some without extra pay.Obama, during a national address on education in March, said the firings were an example of the need for accountability over student performance.”So if a school is struggling, we have to work with the principal and the teachers to find a solution,” Obama said. „We’ve got to give them a chance to make meaningful improvements. But if a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show any sign of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability.”He continued: „And that’s what happened in Rhode Island last week at a chronically troubled school, when just 7 percent of 11th-graders passed state math tests — 7 percent.”Details of the agreement were to be released following a ratification vote by Central Falls teachers at a meeting Monday. The union and district had been working with a mediator since March.”Both the school district and the union agree that while this has been a difficult process for everyone involved, the negotiations resulted in a newfound appreciation for shared responsibility, and a solid commitment to bring lasting solutions that will improve teaching and learning at Central Falls High School,” said a joint statement from the union and the district.Under the deal, teachers will need to recommit to their jobs and interview with the new principal. Other changes aimed at increasing student achievement include: a new evaluation system designed to inform teaching and learning, and targeted and embedded professional development.Central Falls Superintendent Fran Gallo said she was pleased to be welcoming the staff back. She said that among the changes would be the reassignment of the high school principal and assistant principal to the middle school.Central Falls Teachers Union President Jane Sessums said there had always been agreement that the sides wanted what was best for the students and that significant changes were needed.”Working together, we and the district have arrived at a solid, forward-looking agreement that provides supports for our students and the tools our teachers need to help them succeed,” Sessums said.Senior Valerie Florez, who is set to graduate next month, said rehiring the teachers was a good idea.”It’s not the teachers’ fault that students don’t want to learn,” she said.Florez said she used to be one of those students who didn’t want to learn, skipping class and failing to do assignments, but her teachers helped her turn around.Jonathan Beltran, a 19-year-old freshman at Roger Williams University who graduated Central Falls High School last year, had helped organize rallies and protests in support of the teachers. Beltran, who hopes one day to return to Central Falls as a math teacher, said he was happy about the agreement. „I love the teachers at Central Falls,” he said. „I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. I want to work side by side with them.”Antony Restrepo, who has two stepdaughters at the school, said he wanted to see improvements if all the teachers are to be rehired. But he said he wasn’t sure that the problems were entirely the staff’s fault.”They just want to be in the streets,” he said of some students.Associated Press writer Stephen Singer in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.
States’ budget woes hitting programs for kids hard By DON BABWIN, Associated Press
CHICAGO – Now the crisis is reaching the children.In Arizona, a program that helped blind high school students care for themselves and find jobs is suspended. In South Carolina, all five state-run group homes for kids closed and a program that helped paroled youths get jobs is shuttered. And in Hawaii, a program to reduce child abuse and neglect was cut so much that two years after serving 4,000 families, it now serves 100.All over the country, the financial crisis has forced states to make historic cuts to close what the National Conference of State Legislatures found was an overall budget gap of $174.1 billion this fiscal year and has lawmakers looking to trim another $89 billion next year. That means slashing services to the one population they’ve long protected: children.The scope of the cuts is unprecedented, child advocates say. Hit are programs that addressed everything from childhood obesity to child abuse, and from prenatal care to preschool inspections. Some can’t serve as many kids, while others are forced to deal with monthslong delays and many programs simply disappear.”We were really taken aback at just the sheer magnitude of the cuts,” said Linda Smith, executive director of the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, which released a study in January that found programs for children were cut or eliminated in more than 40 states.And now, advocates worry all the gains they’ve made in improving children’s lives will be lost and juvenile crime, child abuse, child neglect and other problems will climb.”We will end up with a kid who is killed or will kill someone else,” said Karen McLeod, president of Children and Family Services Association-N.C., an organization in North Carolina, where the state’s mental health system was cut by $155 million last year. „We are very, very worried about what is going to happen.”Already, cutbacks to programs have led desperate parents to take increasingly desperate steps. They’re leaving kids home alone or in households with a history of domestic violence. One mom in North Carolina camped out with her teenage son at a county facility for eight days, waiting for state officials to find him a bed in a state mental hospital.Salima Mabry’s son is autistic and mentally disabled. Fearing that taking him home even for a few hours would mean having to start the waiting process over, the two slept in chairs, took sponge baths in a public restroom sink and ate food friends and family brought.”You’re in a sitting chair like you wait for the doctor,” Mabry said, adding that the setup didn’t suit her son. „He had a fit (and) they had to restrain him (because) he didn’t like sitting in a room.”Officials eventually found him a hospital bed.The checks that agencies get from the state are about to get smaller or already have.In Oklahoma, which has a $1.2 billion budget shortfall, the health department is shuttering 17 of its 33 child-guidance centers where children with significant behavioral problems can be assessed.”Some kids just won’t get services,” said Oklahoma State Department of Health Commissioner Terry Cline.Oftentimes agencies are in limbo: They don’t know how much state money they’ll get, or how long it will take lawmakers to make funding decisions. Last year, Illinois’ budget process dragged on so long two crisis nurseries were forced to close on the weekends and overnight — a potentially dangerous move given that some parents drop children off because of domestic violence or medical emergencies.”People don’t plan a crisis in their lives,” said Nancy Ronquillo, president of Children’s Home + Aid, a nonprofit group that provides services in Illinois and oversees two of the state’s six crisis nurseries.William Schultz is a single parent who leaves his 4-year-old son at Mother House Crisis Nursery in Rockford, Ill., a couple times a week and said he doesn’t know what he would do without it.The 37-year-old dad is recovering from bacterial meningitis that caused a series of strokes largely affecting his left side. „I can’t function as well as I did,” said Schultz, an unemployed construction worker.The center allows him to go to physical therapy and on job interviews. And since he cannot afford day care, the nursery is his son’s only chance to interact with other kids.Mother House is helping another parent get the dialysis she needs. Before learning about the nursery, the woman would skip treatments because she had nowhere to take her kids.”She was risking her own life because there was no child care,” said Robin Carlson, the nursery’s program manager. Carlson said gutting such programs will only cause problems to escalate to the point where they become medical emergencies and crimes.”One way or another we’re going to have to pay for these services,” she said.In South Carolina, Department of Juvenile Justice director William R. Byars Jr. worries that loss of about $20 million in state funding will add up to an invitation to street gangs.”One of the things gangs use to draw kids in is that they can give them a job,” said Byars, of a now-defunct training program for juvenile parolees. „The first job offer they get is with the gangs, on a street corner (and) we got them into legitimate businesses … in stores, mechanic shops, flipping hamburgers.”And in Hawaii, State Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland said the reduction in funding from $15 million years ago to $1.3 million this year for Healthy Start, her state’s nationally recognized child-abuse prevention program, will cause more children to be abused.”We have a 99.8 percent success rate in having all those families (in the home visitation program) not abuse or neglect their children,” Chun Oakland said.Also, eliminating some programs will push people to lean on the government for help. In Arizona for example, Marc Ashton, the CEO of the Foundation for Blind Children, said skills taught by the independent living program he had to suspend are exactly what high school students need to become self-sufficient.”It eliminates a dependency on the state,” he said. „It teaches them how to get off the dole.”And having them working and paying taxes is much cheaper for states.”It costs $7,000 a month to lock a kid up and a couple hundred dollars a month to provide counseling,” Ronquillo said. „You do the math.”Associated Press Writer Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.
Abortion foes capitalize on health law they fought By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press
WASHINGTON – Abortion opponents fought passage of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul to the bitter end, and now that it’s the law, they’re using it to limit coverage by private insurers.An obscure part of the law allows states to restrict abortion coverage by private plans operating in new insurance markets. Capitalizing on that language, abortion foes have succeeded in passing bans that, in some cases, go beyond federal statutes.”We don’t consider elective abortion to be health care, so we don’t think it’s a bad thing for fewer private insurance companies to cover it,” said Mary Harned, attorney for Americans United for Life, a national organization that wrote a model law for the states.Abortion rights supporters are dismayed.”Implementation of this reform should be about increasing access to health care and increasing choices, not taking them away,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of the Senate leadership. „Health care reform is not an excuse to take rights away from women.”Since Obama signed the legislation law March 23, Arizona and Tennessee have enacted laws restricting abortion coverage by health plans in new insurance markets, called exchanges. About 30 million people will get their coverage through exchanges, which open in 2014 to serve individuals and small businesses.In Florida, Mississippi and Missouri, lawmakers have passed bans and sent them to their governors. Most of the states allow exceptions in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Insurers still could offer separate policies to specifically cover abortion.Three other states may act this year — Louisiana, Ohio and Oklahoma. Overall, there are 29 states where lawmakers or public policy groups expressed serious interest, Harned said.”You are going to see more actions like this,” said Tom McClusky, a lobbyist for the socially conservative Family Research Council. „This is not something we are just going to let fall by the wayside.”Before the overhaul became law, five states had limits on private insurance coverage of abortion — Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, North Dakota and Oklahoma. Abortion rights supporters are concerned that the list is growing as a result of the new federal law.Murray had joined in voting down a federal abortion coverage ban when the Senate debated health care last year. Now she and other abortion rights supporters worry the same sorts of restrictions could spread from state to state.”It’s really going to be a patchwork of state laws by the time these exchanges are set up,” said Jessica Arons, director of women’s health at the Center for American Progress, a liberal public policy institute.Most private health insurance plans cover abortion as a legal medical procedure, but research indicates many women opt to pay directly.The federal law allows private insurance plans in the exchanges to cover abortion as long as they collect a separate premium. That money must remain apart from public subsidies available to help pay insurance premiums for most customers in the exchanges.That compromise split abortion foes in Congress and around the country. Anti-abortion organizations including National Right to Life and the U.S. Catholic bishops called it a fig leaf, and continued to oppose the legislation. But Catholic hospitals and many religious orders of nuns supported it.Abortion rights supporters were cool to the compromise, but it broke a political deadlock threatening the bill.Anti-abortion Democrats in the House cast critical votes for the legislation after Obama also agreed to an executive order affirming long-standing federal policy against the use of taxpayer funds for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother — known as the Hyde amendment.Tennessee already has enacted a far stricter ban, with no exceptions. Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, who allowed it to become law without his signature, said in a statement it „creates a prohibition much broader than that found in current law and could unintentionally negatively impact the quality of health care options for Tennesseans.” All eyes are now on Florida, where Gov. Charlie Crist will decide soon whether to sign a bill that restricts abortion coverage in that state’s insurance exchange. Florida is a politically diverse state, not known as a bedrock of social conservatism. Crist is running for the U.S. Senate as an independent, after it became clear that he would lose the Republican primary to former state Rep. Marco Rubio.Crist, who opposes abortion, has indicated he has problems with a part of the bill that would require a woman seeking an abortion to view an ultrasound of the embryo.”Florida has always been pretty much of a middle-of-the road state,” said Stephanie Kunkel, executive director of Planned Parenthood’s affiliates in the state. „If Florida passes it, it could really open up more moderate states to passing these bans.”Conservatives say they won’t forgive a Crist veto. „You can count him as done if he vetoes this bill before him now,” said McClusky of the Family Research Council.
Atlantis docks with space station on final mission by Jean-Louis Santini AFP
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AFP) – The shuttle Atlantis has linked up with the International Space Station (ISS) for the final rendezvous of its 25-year career, ahead of a first space walk set for Monday.NASA said Atlantis and its crew of six astronauts successfully docked with the orbiting space lab at 1428 GMT Sunday about 220 miles (350 kilometers) above the South Pacific.Its arrival was not without drama as a piece of debris threatened to force Mission Control to order the space station to perform an emergency maneuver to avoid a collision.As things turned out the unidentified piece of space debris passed by safely some five miles away from the docking procedure and no special operation was required.After an hour spent checking the soundness of the seal, the shuttle and station crews opened the hatches and held a traditional welcome ceremony before beginning preparations for the first of three planned spacewalks.NASA said that three station crew members snapped 398 photographs of Atlantis’s all-important heat shield on Sunday.”The images were taken as the shuttle performed a back-flip prior to docking… and were sent down to Earth for analysis,” the US space agency said in a statement.Mission Specialists Garrett Reisman and Steve Bowen were „‘camping out’ in the Quest airlock overnight to purge nitrogen from their circulatory system. The pair are preparing for the first of three spacewalks which occurs Monday at 8:15 am (1215 GMT) and is scheduled to last 6.5 hours,” NASA added.The mission is the 32nd and final scheduled voyage for Atlantis, which first launched in 1985 and has logged some 115 million miles over a career spanning a quarter of a century.Only two more shuttle launches remain — one in September for Discovery and the final blast off for Endeavour in November — before the curtain falls on this era of human spaceflight.The United States will then rely on Russia to take astronauts to the station aboard three-seater Soyuz spacecraft until a new fleet of commercial space taxis is operational.During a mission of almost 13 days, most of which will be spent moored to the ISS, Atlantis and the crew will unload more than 12 tonnes of equipment, including power storage batteries, a communications antenna and a radiator.The biggest single element is the five-ton Rassver research module, or MRM-1, which will provide additional storage space and a new docking port for Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft.The Rassver — „Dawn” in Russian — will be permanently attached to the bottom of the space station’s Zarya module and carries important hardware on its exterior including a radiator, airlock and a European robotic arm.The spacewalks were scheduled to install the new batteries and communications antenna on the space station.President Barack Obama effectively abandoned in February plans laid down by his predecessor George W. Bush to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020 and perhaps on to Mars with a new generation of rocket and spacecraft.Constrained by soaring deficits, Obama submitted a budget to Congress that encouraged NASA to focus instead on developing commercial transport alternatives to ferry astronauts to the ISS after the shuttle program ends.Nonetheless, Obama set a bold new course in April for the future of US space travel, laying out a vision to send American astronauts into Mars orbit within the next three decades. He envisaged the design of a new spacecraft by 2025 for human travel deep into space and said he believed missions to asteroids and to orbit Mars by the mid-2030s were achievable.By the time the final three missions are complete, the space shuttles — characterized by NASA as the most advanced machines ever built — will have flown 134 missions into orbit.The ISS, a joint project involving 16 countries, has cost around 100 billion dollars, mostly funded by the United States.NASA said Atlantis would be processed on return as normal just in case she was needed for a „rescue mission” in the event of an emergency with the two remaining shuttle flights.But NASA has not entirely ruled out the possibility of Atlantis taking flight one last time on a comprehensive mission to the ISS next year — provided Obama gives the go-ahead. „If it happens to turn into a mission to the space station, we will do what is necessary,” said NASA launch director Mike Leinbach.
Shuttle Atlantis arrives at space station By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Atlantis arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday for what could be its last visit, delivering fresh batteries and other equipment to help keep the outpost running long after the shuttle program ends.For now, Atlantis’ dance card is empty after this flight, and NASA has just two missions remaining. But there’s a push to keep the space shuttles flying until next June and to give Atlantis one last hurrah.Shuttle commander Kenneth Ham was visibly moved as he floated into the space station. He grabbed two of the station astronauts in a tight embrace.”It’s bigger than we remember and, speaking for myself, better than I remember,” Ham said. „I love this place.”The rendezvous by Atlantis was accompanied by considerably more picture-taking than usual, to make up for a curtailed safety survey the day before.Three of the six space station residents snapped a total of 398 pictures using zoom lenses as Atlantis made its final approach. The shuttle performed a slow backflip so all its surfaces could be photographed. An hour later, it docked flawlessly with the station, 220 miles above the South Pacific.On Saturday, a snagged cable prevented the six shuttle astronauts from properly inspecting their ship. NASA ordered up extra pictures and added an additional space station photographer.The astronauts may try to free the cable during a spacewalk this week.”Thanks for the pictures. It’s all about the pictures,” shuttle pilot Dominic „Tony” Antonelli told the station crew.”The perfect lighting, and you guys look marvelous,” replied Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.The photo shoot lasted just a few minutes against a breathtaking backdrop of the Portuguese coast, Spain, France and northern Italy.Ham was struck by the space station’s beauty as he guided Atlantis in. „You are brilliantly glowing. It’s an absolutely stunning view,” he said.Noguchi’s greeting to Atlantis was more to the point. „Yee-haw!” he shouted.Ham and his crew will spend a week at the orbiting science complex, installing a new Russian compartment and replacing six batteries. Three spacewalks are planned, beginning Monday. If the cable repair is approved, it would be added to the second spacewalk on Wednesday or the third on Friday.A cable at the end of Atlantis’ inspection boom is caught on a protruding sensor that’s part of a camera system. The problem prevented the astronauts from thoroughly checking the left wing and some other areas of the shuttle Saturday.Flight director Mike Sarafin said he may ask the astronauts to look at some of the missed sections later in the week, using the robot arm.Shuttle inspections became mandatory in orbit following the 2003 Columbia tragedy.Engineers don’t know how the cable became snagged. Photos taken before Friday’s liftoff show it was in the right position.A piece of space junk, meanwhile, harmlessly passed 10 miles from the shuttle and station an hour after Sunday morning’s docking.Flight controllers had been monitoring the unidentified object for a few days and determined Saturday night that there was no need for the space station to move out of the way.Discovery is due at the space station in September, followed by Endeavour in November. NASA will need approval from the White House if Atlantis is to return in June 2011.The Obama Administration wants NASA out of the low-Earth orbit business and focused instead on asteroid and Mars expeditions. American astronauts will hitch rides to the space station on Russian rockets until U.S. private companies can pick up the slack.
Japanese Solar Sail Headed for Venus and Beyond By Jeremy Hsu SPACE.com
An ambitious solar sail mission designed by Japan is poised for launch tomorrow could become the first successful mission powered solely by sunlight, but that’s not all. The spacecraft is also aimed at Venus and beyond, and could pave the way for a future hybrid space engine.The solar sail will hitch a ride aboard an H-2A rocket slated for launch on Monday (Tuesday local time) from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center. That rocket carries the main mission of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Venus Climate Orbiter called Akatsuki — which means „Dawn” in Japanese.But only Akatsuki has a planned meet-up with Venus, even though the sail — called Ikaros (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun) — will also launch along the same trajectory toward the mysterious planet.”This will be the world’s first solar powered sail craft employing both photon propulsion and thin film solar power generation during its interplanetary cruise,” said a JAXA mission website. Venus would mark just a six-month pit stop for the solar sail during a three-year trek toward the far side of the sun.”To me it’s a very bold activity to be conducting a technology test like this on an interplanetary mission,” said Louis Friedman, an executive director of the Planetary Society in Pasadena, Calif. „I think it shows a lot of foresight on their part.”Past solar sail demonstrations have fallen short of achieving actual solar-propelled spaceflight, but that certainly has not stopped JAXA from planning an ambitious technological debut. Even Ikaros itself represents just a stepping stone to a „hybrid” space engine that incorporates solar sail technology, mission planners have said.Space hybrid vehicle-The kite-shaped Ikaros relies upon the pressure of sunlight for propulsion, but it also carries thin film solar cells built within its sail. Such cells could generate electricity from the same sunlight pushing the solar sail along.That won’t do much good by itself for a solar sail without an engine. But JAXA hopes that the power-gathering demonstration could eventually lead to spacecraft with ion-propulsion engines that draw electricity from solar cells and also take advantage of solar sail propulsion — a hybrid propulsion system.”They want to ultimately have a solar electric [ion propulsion] and solar sail vehicle that would be used for outer planetary missions,” Friedman told SPACE.com.Yet the history of solar sail tests presents a sobering reminder of the troubles that can arise. The California-based Planetary Society attempted to fly its Cosmos-1 solar sail in 2005, but lost their prototype because of a Russian rocket malfunction. NASA’s NanoSail-D was also lost in the third failed flight of SpaceX’s Falcon 1 rocket in 2008.A British shoebox-sized mission slated for launch next year might also test solar sail propulsion, but would mainly test the sails as brakes for taking defunct satellites down.Japan did deploy a solar sail from a sounding rocket in 2004, but did not actually attempt to demonstrate controlled flight. If that represented the dry run, then Ikaros comes as the real deal.True solar sailing-Ikaros is designed to unfurl its sail during its first stage by taking advantage of its spinning momentum, and then actively deploying the rest of the way during a second stage.”The membrane is deployed, and kept flat, by its spinning motion,” the JASA mission website stated. „Four masses are attached to the four tips of the membrane in order to facilitate deployment.”The Planetary Society still has ambitions to someday launch a solar sail mission into deep space, but its first planned solar sail test would involve a much smaller spacecraft than Ikaros, which stretches almost 66 feet (20 meters) at the diagonal of its square sail.A refitted NASA solar sail might weigh a little less than 10 pounds (4.5 kg) compared to the 700-pound (315 kg) Ikaros.The Planetary Society would aim first for launch to low-Earth orbit, before eventually launching a second mission that lasted perhaps weeks. Only the third mission would try for interplanetary traveler status, Freidman said.For now, Friedman and the Planetary Society will share technological information and results from the JAXA mission, and keep an eye on their own hopes for the future.”We wish we were first, of course, but it doesn’t matter,” Friedman said. „It’s about advancing solar sail technology.”
Monster Black Hole Flung Out of Galaxy by Clara Moskowitz SPACE.com
A monster black hole has been flung from its home galaxy and is careening through space, according to a new study.Astronomers spotted the supermassive black hole – the type usually found lurking in the center of galaxies – hightailing it out of a distant galaxy at considerable speed. The cosmic ejection is taking place more than half a billion light-years from Earth. The discovery was made with archived observations from the Chandra X-ray Observatory.Though black holes themselves don’t shine, the material they gobble up heats as it falls in and releases radiation in the form of X-ray light. Normally these bright X-ray spots are seen in the centers of galaxies, but in this case, researchers found one offset to the side.The kicked-out black hole could result from a special set of circumstances, according to computer simulations. Supermassive black holes can contain the mass of more than a billion suns. Just how they accumulate all that mass is unknown, but some astronomers think they form when two smaller black holes collide.Depending on the direction and speed with which the two black holes rotate before they merge, the resulting gigantor may be thrown out of the galaxy, resulting in the cosmic interloper spotted in the Chandra observations.Studying such recoiling black holes could provide more clues about how supermassive black holes form.Undergraduate student Marianne Heida of the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands spotted the rogue black hole monster while poring through the Chandra Source Catalog – a listing of bright X-ray sources in the sky made by the orbiting observatory. Heida, who worked on a project at the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, compared these X-ray spots with the known positions of millions of galaxies to map out the locations of supermassive black holes.This oddball black hole may be just the first of many similar discoveries to come, the researchers said.”We have found many more objects in this strange class of X-ray sources,” Heida said. „With Chandra we should be able to make the accurate measurements we need to pinpoint them more precisely and identify their nature.”Heida and the research team, led by SRON astronomer Peter Jonker – reported their findings in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Report: Hundreds of drug offenders executed yearly By VERONIKA OLEKSYN, Associated Press
VIENNA – Hundreds of drug offenders are executed annually and the number likely tops 1,000 if figures from countries that don’t disclose their death penalty data are included, a new report said Monday.The number of states carrying out death sentences for drug offenses, however, appears to be declining while others are observing moratoria on all executions, according to the report by the International Harm Reduction Association.”Since the 1980s, as the number of countries worldwide retaining the death penalty dropped, there was a concurrent rise in the number of states expanding the application of the death penalty to include drug offenses,” it said. „This trend, however, appears to have reversed or at the very least stalled.”Even Malaysia and Singapore — known historically for putting many people to death for drug-related crimes — appear to have greatly reduced the number of people they execute each year, Roger Hood of Oxford University writes in the report’s foreword. And Vietnam „may be giving serious consideration to its policy and practice,” he added.Of the 32 states or jurisdictions around the world that have legislation allowing capital punishment for drug offenses, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia are most committed to carrying out the practice, the report said.”The death penalty for drug offenses is an issue of considerable human rights concern,” the report said. „Its imposition violates international human rights law and dehumanizes, in the most final and irreversible of ways, those convicted of drug offenses.”While China keeps its death penalty statistics a secret, its use of capital punishment is widely thought to „dwarf” the combined total of the rest of the world, the report said. The country’s tough counter-narcotics efforts and policies make it likely that a „sizable portion” of those executed each year are drug offenders.In other countries, such as Iran, drug offenders also make up a large degree of those put to death each year.”It is beyond dispute that Iran is one of the world’s most active death penalty states and that drug offenders represent a significant proportion of those executed,” the report said.In Iran, where 172 drug offenders were executed in 2009, drug smuggling cases are often referred to revolutionary courts. Concerns over trial standards have also been raised in Egypt, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba, as well as other in countries.In Saudi Arabia, the report said, human rights monitors have raised „well-founded concerns” about the proportion of foreign nationals facing execution.While 36 of Saudi Arabia’s 40 drug-related executions in 2007 were of foreign nationals, at least 17 of the 22 drug offenders who were put to death the following year were from abroad. The foreigners included Iraqis, Pakistanis, Indians, Thais, Nigerians, Afghans, Syrians and Jordanians.The International Harm Reduction Association released its findings on the first day of a meeting in Vienna of the U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.
Australian teen sailor says she yearned for land by Madeleine Coorey AFP
SYDNEY (AFP) – Australian teenager Jessica Watson says that she talked to herself and yearned for land during the seven-month voyage which saw her become the youngest person to sail solo around the world.Watson sailed into Sydney Harbour a national hero on Saturday, with tens of thousands of people gathered to welcome the 16-year-old home from the unassisted journey during which she had battled towering waves and loneliness.She said the reception, which was led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, was „pretty amazing” after months at sea during which she barely saw another boat, let alone a fellow human being.Asked whether she had begun to talk to herself because of the solitude, she said: „I’ve always done that. I did notice that towards the end I was probably talking to myself more.””Everyone seems to think, ‘Out there by yourself, ooh spooky, creepy. But it’s not actually like that out on the water,” she told Network Ten, adding that there had been some occasions when it was so calm it was eerie.Watson, who had earlier told reporters she had been craving fresh fruit and a salad after her voyage, revealed she hardly ever slept at night on the boat, preferring to nap during the early hours of the morning.And she said it was the rocking of the waves, as much as the physical efforts of sailing, which wore on her during the 23,000-nautical mile voyage.”Just the constant motion, it just gets you after a while. Especially after a rough week,” she said in the first of several carefully arranged media interviews recorded shortly after her arrival.”All you want to do is just walk around a room, or lie down, do anything without clinging on, holding on the whole time.”The teenager, who had been criticised before her departure as too young and inexperienced for the perilous journey after she crashed into a freighter in a trial run, also admitted to doubts about the voyage.”For a while there it was driving me mad because I hadn’t actually done any solo sailing and there I was telling the world I was about to sail solo, non-stop, unassisted around the world,” she said.”I knew I could do it but it was just that niggling doubt.”Watson was Sunday keeping a low profile, resting at a Sydney hotel with her nearest and dearest and enjoying her first sleep-in in several months, while the media hailed her a hero.”You little beauty,” read The Sunday Telegraph’s front-page headline, adding that the petite Watson had „sailed into our harbour and into our hearts yesterday.”The Sun-Herald also praised the plucky Queenslander, saying the nation was riding a „wave of inspiration” after she brought her 10-metre (33-foot) bright pink yacht safely home after 210 days at sea.Watson’s manager Andrew Fraser said the world had now changed for Watson, who turns 17 on Tuesday and who has said she wants to finish school and learn how to drive a car.”She’s going to be very busy… she knows that, but for now she’s looking forward to it,” he said.The schoolgirl will spend the next couple of months completing a book about the voyage, to be called „True Spirit,” and a television documentary. On her return on Saturday, Prime Minister Rudd, who was waiting at the Opera House, praised her as „our newest Australian hero.””At 16 years old, you are a hero for all young Australians, you are also a hero for all young Australian women, you do our nation proud. This is a great day for our country,” Rudd said.Still a little shaky on her feet after so long at sea, Watson disagreed.”I don’t consider myself a hero, I’m an ordinary girl,” she told the welcoming crowd.”You don’t have to be someone special to achieve something amazing, you’ve just got to have a dream, believe in it and work hard. I’d like to think I’ve proved that anything really is possible if you set your mind to it.”
Turkey, Brazil seal deal on Iran nuclear fuel swap By Parisa Hafezi REUTERS
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Turkey said on Sunday Iran had agreed on a nuclear fuel swap deal which could help end Tehran’s stand-off with the West over its atomic programme.Full details of the agreement were not immediately released by Turkish and Brazilian officials mediating in Iran’s dispute with leading world powers, who suspect Tehran of covertly developing a nuclear bomb.Turkey’s foreign ministry said a formal announcement might be made on Monday after any final revisions by the Brazilian and Iranian presidents and the Turkish prime minister.”Yes, it has been reached after almost 18 hours of negotiations,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Tehran when asked if there would be an agreement.Earlier, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan flew to Tehran to join Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who has been negotiating with Iranian officials in what Western and Russian authorities have said is probably the last chance to avoid new U.N. sanctions against Iran.A U.N.-backed deal offered Iran last October to ship 1,200 kg (2,646 lb) of its low enriched uranium — enough for a single bomb if purified to a high enough level — to Russia and France to make into fuel for a Tehran research reactor.Iran later said it would only swap its LEU for higher grade material and only on its own soil, conditions other parties in the deal said were unacceptable. It denies seeking to build an atomic bomb.”I am going to Iran because a clause will be added to the proposal which says the swap will take place in Turkey,” Erdogan had said earlier.”We will have the opportunity to start the process regarding the swap,” he said. „I guarantee that we will find the opportunity to overcome these problems, god willing.”Lula also told reporters after holding talks with Iranians that „the level of hope (to reach an agreement) has increased.”SANCTIONS LOOM-Lula has met President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s most powerful authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say on all state matters like Iran’s nuclear activities.”America is angry over the proximity of independent countries like Iran and Brazil…That is why they made a fuss ahead of your (Lula) trip to Iran,” state television quoted Khamenei as saying.Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday that Lula’s mediation effort would fail.Iran has denied Western accusations it is developing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian nuclear programme.Turkey and Brazil, both non-permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have offered to mediate to find a resolution to the impasse at a time when world powers are in talks to impose a fourth round of U.N. sanctions on Iran.Iran had said it viewed the mediation positively.The Islamic state started higher enrichment in February to create fuel for the research reactor itself, after the failure of talks with major powers over the nuclear swap. The step brings Iran’s enrichment closer to levels needed for making weapons-grade material — uranium refined to 90 percent purity.(Additional reporting by Fernando Exman, Tulay Karadeniz and Pinar Aydinli; Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by Jon Boyle)
Reports: Hatoyama, Clinton to discuss US base By ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press
TOKYO – Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who will reportedly meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this week, vowed Monday to do all he can to resolve an impasse over the future of a major American Marine base by the end of the month.Hatoyama is under increasing pressure to come up with a plan to move operations off the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on the southern island of Okinawa in keeping with a pledge he made before becoming Japan’s leader last September.He has promised to resolve the issue by the end of this month, though that goal now seems unrealistic because Okinawans oppose his suggested solutions and the United States is holding firm to an earlier agreement that Hatoyama wants to revise.Hatoyama will meet with Clinton in Tokyo on Friday to discuss the issue, according to reports over the weekend in several Japanese newspapers. Government officials in Tokyo and Washington refused to confirm Clinton’s schedule.”I knew from the start the situation would be tough,” Hatoyama told reporters Monday. „I will do all I can by the end of the month.”Okinawa hosts more than half the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan under a security pact. To ease Okinawa’s burden, Japan and the U.S. agreed in 2006 to move the sprawling Futenma air field to a less crowded part of the island, and move 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.Hatoyama froze the 2006 deal amid local opposition and has been searching for alternatives. He has floated the idea of building a replacement airstrip on raised pilings to reduce its environmental impact on nearbly coral reefs, and of shifting training by the Marines to other areas outside of Okinawa.Opponents on Okinawa want Futenma completely closed down and its replacement built off the island.Last month, 90,000 Okinawans protested the base and the relocation plan — the biggest demonstration against the base ever. On Sunday, to mark the 1972 reversion of Okinawa from U.S. to Japanese administration, a human chain around Futenma drew 17,000 protesters.Japanese and U.S. negotiators met last week in Washington to discuss the base, but the talks ended without a resolution.About 2,000 Marines are stationed on Futenma, which is a hub of helicopter and transport plane operations.
England upset Australia for first world title By Simon Evans REUTERS
BRIDGETOWN (Reuters) – England won the World Twenty20 in magnificent style with a 111-run partnership from South Africa-born batsmen Kevin Pietersen and Craig Kieswetter setting them up for a seven-wicket win over Australia on Sunday.At a sun-blessed Kensington Oval, England restricted Australia to 147 for six before knocking off the runs with little trouble to claim their first men’s world title in limited overs cricket.England’s triumph comes last than a year after they suffered an embarrassing defeat to the Netherlands at Lords in the 2009 World Twenty20.That humiliation must have felt a lifetime away as skipper Paul Collingwood struck the winning runs with 18 balls to spare and his team raced on to the field in scenes of wild celebration.Collingwood, who helped England win the Ashes in 2005, said the victory was amongst the best he has enjoyed.”It’s right up there, its got to be, this is the first World Cup we’ve ever won,” he said. „When you want to be the best you’ve got to beat the best. When we got them three wickets down early doors, we gave ourselves a great opportunity.”This is the first (world) trophy we’ve ever won, we’re going to enjoy it, we’re going to savour it.”David Hussey’s intelligent 59 had helped Australia recover from a dreadful start where they lost their opening three wickets for just eight runs.Australia, the 50 overs World Cup and Champions Trophy holders, were searching for a unique treble of limited overs world titles.The defeat came 48 hours after Australia’s thrilling comeback win over Pakistan in St Lucia in the semi-final and Clarke said his team had been outclassed.”We needed to be at our best and we weren’t. England played some wonderful cricket,” Australia captain Michael Clarke said.”They outplayed us today, they are very talented and play a lot of Twenty20. They executed their plans under pressure, we are disappointed but we can hold out heads high,” he said.Clarke’s side were favourites but England responded well to losing opener Michael Lumb early, as Pietersen (47 from 31) and Kieswetter (63 from 49) went on the attack and destroyed Australia’s bowling.Even when both lost their wickets, Eoin Morgan and Collingwood kept their nerve to steer England to glory without any of their customary nerves.Clarke said Australia had been at least 30 runs short of a score that would have really stretched England and it was the early bowling and fielding that set up their win.The stuttering start began when Shane Watson was caught by Graeme Swann at slip off Ryan Sidebottom after keeper Kieswetter had spilled the ball out.Hard-hitting left-hander Dave Warner was then run out after a hesitant call from Clarke and then Brad Haddin was controversially ruled caught behind when replays showed Sidebottom’s leg side delivery brushed his hip.After Clarke went, caught by Collingwood off the excellent Swann, Cameron White (30 off 19) and David Hussey led the recovery with a 50 run partnership in 6.2 overs. Hussey had been dropped by Stuart Broad when on just 25 but Broad made some amends by taking a fine catch to remove the dangerous White. Mike Hussey, who scored 60 off 24 balls in the semi-final, joined his brother and the pair put on 47 from 22 balls but England’s batsmen wiped out that hard work with clinical ease.England had lost three times in World Cup finals, in 1979, 1987 and 1992 and also were defeated in the 2004 Champions Trophy final in their barren 35-year spell.
Cathay plane escorted to Vancouver after „bomb hoax” By REUTERS
VANCOUVER (Reuters) – A Cathay Pacific airliner from Hong Kong was escorted by military fighter jets to its destination in Vancouver, Canada, after what the airline called a „bomb hoax,” but no bomb was found, police said on Saturday.Police searched the aircraft and luggage after the flight landed at Vancouver International Airport, but „nothing of concern” was found and there was no danger to passengers, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.Two Canadian CF-18 Hornets were scrambled from a military base on nearby Vancouver Island to escort the Cathay Pacific Airways plane in response to the threat, according to police and the Hong Kong-based airline.”The Vancouver Airport Authority had earlier received an anonymous bomb threat,” Cathay said in a written statement.”As a precaution, two military jets escorted the CX838 as it came into land. The jets did not land with CX838, but returned to their base,” it added.”The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are conducting an investigation into the bomb hoax and at this stage it is inappropriate for us to comment any further,” Cathay added.The flight had 272 passengers and 14 crew on board.Police did not release details on the threat, but a spokeswoman for Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Authority said the bomb threat had been made by phone.No arrests have been made and passengers were allowed to leave the aircraft after it landed safely.The A340 aircraft was parked at a secure area of the airport for a „thorough security search” and screening of baggage, before being cleared, the airline said.”They told us there was some sort of terrorist problem and the baggage would be held up,” an unidentified male passenger told Canada’s CTV News after disembarking.When asked if he was aware that the flight had been escorted by military jets into Vancouver, another male passenger said: „No, no idea. That’s news to me.”(Reporting Allan Dowd; Additional reporting in Hong Kong by Don Durfee, James Pomfret and Saikat Chatterjee; Editing by Sandra Maler and Jerry Norton)