amid global market turmoil, US central bankers predicted US growth would hit between 3.2 and 3.7 percent this year, up from a 2.8 to 3.5 estimate made in January.”Economic activity continued to strengthen and the labor market was beginning to improve,” according to minutes from the Fed’s rate-setting panel, which met at the end of April.”On balance, the economic recovery was proceeding at a moderate pace and that the deterioration in the labor market was likely coming to an end.”Members of the Federal Open Market Committee predicted unemployment would fall to between 9.1 and 9.5 percent by the end of the year, down from the previous estimates of 9.5 to 9.7 percent.Nearly one in 10 US workers is currently unemployed, posing a major economic and political headache for President Barack Obama‘s administration.But it was not all good news.The Fed’s meeting came amid a maelstrom of speculation about the that has since transformed into widespread turmoil on global financial markets.Members of the Fed panel expressed concern that belt-tightening across Europe could jeopardize the economic recovery.”If other European countries responded by intensifying their fiscal consolidation efforts, the result would likely be slower and potentially a weaker global economic recovery,” they said.”Some participants expressed concern that a crisis in Greece or in some other peripheral European countries could have an adverse effect on US financial markets, which could also slow the recovery in this country.”US markets found little succor in the news, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average again trading down on fears that US companies may be hit by the euro’s weakness against the dollar, making US exports more expensive.”Traders are fretting that weakness in the euro will begin to impact profits at multi-national US corporations,” said Elizabeth Harrow of Schaeffer’s Investment Research.The Dow finished the day down over 66 points.Seeing continued fragility in the US recovery, the Fed kept ultra-low borrowing costs at its April meeting, despite improvements in the labor and housing markets.The 10-member panel vowed to keep rates of zero to 0.25 percent for an „extended period,” in an effort to boost growth.That view was bolstered by Fed estimates that consumer prices will not top 1.5 percent this year, versus the 1.7 percent previously forecast.As expected, one member dissented from the rates decision, but there appeared to be wider disagreement about how and when the Fed offloads more than a trillion dollars worth of assets it bought to prop up the US economy. Acquired at the height of the financial crisis, the assets include toxic mortgage-backed securities, which fueled the collapse of Lehman Brothers and punched a hole in the books of many other Wall Street firms. While FOMC members agreed „the strategy should normalize the size and over time,” some argued for a quick offloading of assets. Others called for a five-year process.But most said the offload should only come after interest rates are raised from historic lows.”A majority preferred beginning asset sales some time after the first increase in the Federal Open Market Committee‘s target for short-term interest rates,” according to the minutes.”Such an approach would postpone any asset sales until the economic recovery was well established and would maintain short-term interest rates as the Committee’s key monetary policy tool.”Peter Newland of Barclays Capital said the minutes „reveal a range of views on the timing of asset sales,” noting that a five-year plan „looks likely.”
Tighter security this time at Obama’s state dinnerBy DARLENE SUPERVILLE and NANCY BENAC, Associated Press
WASHINGTON – promised tighter security for Wednesday’s state dinner — and it delivered.Among the hundreds who lined up to get in, at least one woman was turned away for lack of proper ID.Kathryne Mudge said her husband, , an assistant secretary of state, was supposed to bring the necessary identification.”We tried to be extra careful, but my husband is the absent-minded professor,” said.Their evening wasn’t spoiled, however.Mudge and her husband returned about an hour later and were allowed into the affair that President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama held for their Mexican counterparts, Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala.The White House promised to improve security after Obama’s first state dinner was overshadowed by an uninvited husband-and-wife couple who somehow slipped through security and got close enough to the president to shake his hand.As about 200 guests streamed into the White House, the Obamas greeted Mexico‘s first couple on the North Portico. Mrs. Obama wore a one-shoulder, shimmery, cobalt blue floor-length gown, with a wide silver belt and dangling silvery earrings. Zavala wore a plum-colored, sleeveless gown with an Aztec-inspired blue border around the square neckline.Among those with coveted invitations for the four-course dinner in the East Room were a celebrity contingent that included Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria Parker, George Lopez and Olympic speedskater Shani Davis.Goldberg said it felt like she was „coming home after a long drought.” She said she’d been a frequent visitor during Bill Clinton‘s years, but not at all during George W. Bush’s presidency. „I wasn’t here,” she said.Lopez, a comedian, joked when asked about the security. „The guy with the glove was nice,” he said.Longoria Parker talked policy, saying it was an important time to be holding such a dinner with Mexican leaders, given the hot temperatures over immigration right now.”You can’t have these states doing their own punitive laws,” she insisted, referring to Arizona’s tough new immigration law.Obama and Calderon launched the dinner with a toast to the friendship between their nations. Obama, in toasting Mexico’s , singled out „some very good food, including the food of the gods — chocolate.” Calderon, for his part, congratulated the American people „for having a president like Barack Obama,” and Obama „for having a wife and first lady like Michelle Obama.”Another 100 or so guests arrived later in the evening for after-dinner entertainment inside a white tent on the South Lawn, where the Mexican duo of Rodrigo y Gabriela strummed acoustic guitars. They were to be followed by Grammy Award winner Beyonce.”Today is a celebration of the bonds between the United States and Mexico, including the music that brings us together and moves us a little bit and hopefully gets us literally moving on the dance floor at some point,” Obama said after the party moved outside.The state dinner was a coming-out party of sorts for new White House social secretary Julianna Smoot, who waved quickly and sprinted away when reporters watching the guests arrive called out for her to stop and chat. Smoot’s predecessor, Desiree Rogers, resigned earlier this year; she’d been criticized for her high-profile approach to the job.For their second state dinner, Mrs. Obama recruited Chicago chef Rick Bayless — one of the couple’s favorites — to prepare the meal.Dinner opened with a salad of jicama with oranges, grapefruit and pineapple, followed by herb green seviche of Hawaiian opah. The main course of Oregon wagyu beef came with a Oaxacan black mole sauce that Bayless says uses more than 20 ingredients and takes days to come together. Grilled green beans and black bean tamalon accompanied the main course.Chocolate cajeta tart with toasted homemade marshmallows was on the dessert menu, along with a graham cracker crumble made with honey from the White House beehive and goat cheese ice cream. The two presidents and their wives sat at a rectangular head table, with guests at a mix of rectangular and round tables draped in three shades of Mayan blue to simulate rippling water. Bouquets of fuchsia flowers, including roses and orchids, and prickly pear cactus were made into centerpieces. Several female guests came in strapless gowns and baring cleavage. Vibrant solids seemed to be the color of choice, with blood orange particularly popular and worn by Longoria Parker and Oprah friend Gayle King, among others.On the lawn, the tent was outfitted with tiered seating and a dance floor. Guests entering the room were to get a feel for Monarch butterflies in flight. The White House said that decor was chosen to honor Calderon’s birthplace of Michoacan, Mexico, where the butterfly’s annual migration from Canada ends each spring.The duo of Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero formed in Mexico City but moved to Dublin after becoming frustrated with the late ’90s . They are known for dueling acoustic guitar instrumentals that blend heavy metal sounds with Latin rhythms.Associated Press writers Christine Simmons in Washington and Caryn Rousseau in Chicago contributed to this report.
AP IMPACT: Wal-Mart pulls jewelry over cadmiumBy JUSTIN PRITCHARD AP
LOS ANGELES – Wal-Mart said Wednesday it is pulling an entire line of Miley Cyrus-brand from its shelves after tests performed for The Associated Press found the jewelry contained high levels of the toxic metal cadmium.In a statement issued three hours after AP’s initial report of its findings, Wal-Mart said it would remove the jewelry, made exclusively for the world’s largest retailer, while it investigates. The company issued the statement along with Cyrus and Max Azria, the designer who developed the jewelry for the 17-year-old „Hannah Montana” star.Wal-Mart Stores Inc. had learned of cadmium in the Miley Cyrus jewelry, as well as in an unrelated line of bracelet charms, back in February, based on an earlier round of testing conducted at AP’s request, but had continued selling the items. It said as recently as last month that it would be too difficult to test products already on its shelves.In its statement, Wal-Mart did not say whether it would also remove the bracelet charms.Exactly how many of the items have been sold was unclear. The charms — also available exclusively at Walmart stores — were sold under the name „Fashion Accessories,” though Wal-Mart has not said when they began appearing on shelves. The Miley Cyrus jewelry hit stores in December.Long-term exposure to cadmium can lead to bone softening and kidney failure. It is also a known carcinogen, and research suggests that it can, like lead, hinder brain development in the very young.Cadmium in jewelry is not known to be dangerous if the items are simply worn. Concerns come when youngsters bite or suck on the jewelry, as many children are apt to do.Wal-Mart said that while the jewelry is not intended for children, „it is possible that a few younger consumers may seek it out in stores.””We are removing all of the jewelry from sale while we investigate its compliance with our children’s jewelry standard,” Wal-Mart said.That was a reference to a policy Wal-Mart voluntarily implemented last month, under which suppliers are required to prove their products contain little cadmium, or else Wal-Mart would not accept them.The company’s policy of not checking products already on the shelves appears to have changed: In its statement, Wal-Mart said it reviewed children’s jewelry and pulled „the few products that did not” comply with its new testing regimen.Cadmium in children’s jewelry became a public concern in January when the AP published the that showed items at Walmarts and other large chains were as much as 91 percent of the toxic metal by weight. That testing was conducted by chemistry professor Jeff Weidenhamer of Ashland University in Ohio. In February, Weidenhamer was asked to provide to Wal-Mart headquarters detailed results of tests on items he bought at Walmarts as part of testing he had done for AP. Those items included 10 of the charms and three from the Cyrus line.To judge the continued availability of pieces that Wal-Mart has known were contaminated, AP dispatched reporters throughout the country last month to buy any of the 13 items they could find. The packaging said they were made in China; all were bought for $6 or less.All but one of the 13 were on store shelves in the eight states where AP reporters looked. Contrary to Wal-Mart’s statement Wednesday, which said the Miley Cyrus jewelry was sold in the women’s apparel section, AP reporters found the items either in the jewelry section or discount bins.The items were then tested by Weidenhamer. Of 61 samples, 59 contained at least 5 percent cadmium by weight, with 53 of those measuring 10 percent or higher.Weidenhamer’s prior research has shown that the testing method he used — an X-ray gun that can roughly tell the amount of cadmium in an item — typically underestimates how much is present.Representatives of the jewelry industry have argued that the presence of cadmium, even at high levels, is not by itself proof that an item is dangerous. The important thing, they say, is how much can escape if the item is sucked, bitten or swallowed.Lab testing conducted by Weidenhamer at AP’s request showed that several items easily shed the metal when exposed to a mixture that simulated human stomach acid. The day after AP’s original report, Wal-Mart said it was pulling two of the highlighted items — pendants with themes from the Disney movie „The Princess and the Frog.” Within three weeks, the chain had agreed to recall all the pendants already sold. Since then, federal regulators have issued two more recalls, for charm bracelets sold at the international jewelry chain Claire’s and at a Dollar N More store. Last week, the agency’s spokesman said there will be more recalls. While AP’s January investigation focused on jewelry clearly intended for children, the items tested for AP this time were labeled „not intended for children under 14 years.” That is an : Under current law, children’s items are defined as for kids 12 and under, and children’s products are subject to regulations that others are not.For reasons that are not fully understood, girls ages 6 to 11 — an age range that includes many ‘ „Hannah Montana” TV show, movies and CDs — appear to be more at risk from cadmium. Data from a major national study found that girls of that age absorb more cadmium than other children or adults, according to Bruce A. Fowler, a toxicologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The increased absorption could be because those girls typically have iron deficiency and their bodies grab on to cadmium as a substitute, Fowler said, or it could be because they encounter more of the metal in objects such as jewelry.The importer of the bracelet charms, Cousin Corp. of America, said that earlier this year, it persuaded one of the Chinese factories with which it works to stop using cadmium. The cadmium-heavy jewelry Weidenhamer tested was produced in 2008 and 2009 at the problem factory, said Roy Gudgeon, vice president of merchandise at Florida-based Cousin.”Our intention as a company is to never willingly cause ,” he said.Federal regulators’ own research says that kids start becoming interested in making their own jewelry around ages 6 to 8. As for products featuring Cyrus, her fans include teenagers, tweens, even kindergartners.Associated Press writers Briana Bierschbach in Minneapolis, Ben Dobbin in Rochester, N.Y., Ray Henry in Atlanta, David Mercer in Savoy, Ill., Kathleen Miller in Alexandria, Va., Thomas Peipert in Denver, Bob Salsberg in Boston, Terry Tang in Phoenix, and Michael Tarm in Chicago contributed to this report.
Consumer inflation vanishes, a boon for borrowersBy MARTIN CRUTSINGER and JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics
WASHINGTON – Inflation has essentially disappeared, and that gives the Federal Reserve more room to keep interest rates at record lows. fell in April for the first time in more than a year. The figures released Wednesday were welcome news for people who qualify for loans and want to take on more debt. But low rates hurt savers, especially those on fixed incomes.The Fed now appears more likely to keep rates at record-low levels well into next year, economists say. Some had thought it would start increasing rates at the end of this year.Paul Ashworth, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said he thinks the Fed won’t start raising rates until late next year — and possibly not until 2012.Declining gas prices pulled overall prices down 0.1 percent last month. Gas prices are predicted to sink lower still this summer.Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, was flat in April. Over the past 12 months, it has risen just 0.9 percent — the in 44 years.The weakness of the economy has kept inflation so low that some economists are beginning to worry about the possibility of deflation — a and wages.Normally, if interest rates are kept too low for too long, it raises fears of inflation. But not now, with inflation having disappeared. Those low rates could provide some protection to the U.S. economy if the European debt crisis were to spread globally.The Fed’s record-low rates influence rates charged to consumers. The prime lending rate used by major banks to set rates on some credit cards and consumer loans will remain at about 3.25 percent. That’s its lowest point in decades.Economists had expected overall prices and core prices to edge up 0.1 percent in April. The drop in overall prices was the first decline since a similar dip in March 2009.Energy prices fell 1.4 percent, the biggest one-month decline since March 2009. Gasoline prices dropped 2.4 percent. Analysts expect further declines in coming months because crude oil prices have fallen nearly 20 percent since April.Food costs rose 0.2 percent in April, the same modest increase posted in March. Economists had expected a bigger increase because of a winter freeze on Florida vegetable and citrus crops.Clothing costs dropped 0.7 percent. The cost of new vehicles was unchanged. Airline tickets rose 2.2 percent, one of the few areas to show price pressures last month.The sluggish economy has made most businesses reluctant to raise prices, said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors.Even though inflation is largely absent, workers have not been able to benefit much. Their paychecks have been shrinking because the weak job market has left workers with little bargaining power. Average hourly earnings, adjusted for inflation, dropped 0.6 percent for the 12 months ending in April.Inflation at such low levels raises concerns of deflation, which would lead many consumers to delay purchases in the expectation that prices would drop further.But most economists say they still think the deflation threat remains remote. The overall economy has begun growing again and hiring is starting to pick up. The United States has not had to battle deflation since the 1930s.For now, the biggest losers are savers. The average yield on a one-year certificate of deposit has sunk to 0.7 percent, according to Bankrate.com. That’s the lowest it’s been since Bankrate starting tracking the figure in 1983.AP Business Writer Candice Choi in New York contributed to this report.
Spacewalking ‘superhero’ untangles cable on boom By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A spacewalking astronaut freed a snagged cable on the inspection boom for shuttle Atlantis on Wednesday, accomplishing the job in a matter of minutes and earning a „superhero” title.With that behind him, whipped through a slew of space station battery replacements.Bowen and his spacewalking partner, Michael Good, plugged in four new batteries at the and even repaired a loose antenna.The had prevented the shuttle astronauts from thoroughly inspecting their ship for any possible damage from last week’s launch. NASA wanted it fixed as soon as possible and added the chore to Wednesday’s spacewalk, the second in three days.Astronauts working inside moved the end of the 100-foot within easy reach of Bowen.”Keep coming. Another 6 inches or so,” Bowen called out. „Perfect. Stop.”A few minutes later, he announced: „I have it unsnagged.””Well done, superhero,” Dominic „Tony” Antonelli radioed from inside.As he was tying the cord back so it wouldn’t get tangled again in camera equipment on the boom, Bowen discovered another wire tie that was already there and causing the cable to get hung up. He slid the loose wire tie into a position Mission Control deemed adequate. Indeed, the camera-tilting system on the boom later checked out fine in a series of tests.The bulk of the seven-hour spacewalk involved the batteries on the far left side of the space station. The batteries were somewhat cumbersome to handle — 3-foot boxes weighing 375 pounds apiece — but the astronauts managed to replace four of them, one more than planned.Bowen and Good were running so far ahead that they also squeezed in some antenna work.They tightened bolts on a spare antenna that was installed earlier in the week, then wiggled it to make sure it was secure.”It seems to me like you guys are cruising, like you’re riding the tsunami,” Antonelli said.As the shuttle-station complex soared 220 miles above the South Pacific, the crew inside urged the spacewalkers to take a momentary break and check out the Southern Lights. They managed to catch a glimpse of the aurora.Two more batteries will be replaced Friday during the third and final spacewalk of Atlantis’ flight.Atlantis delivered the fresh batteries over the weekend, along with a Russian compartment that was installed Tuesday.”I don’t think Mission Control could be any more proud,” flight director Emily Nelson said after the spacewalk ended.The astronauts conducted a curtailed survey of Atlantis on Saturday, the day after liftoff. NASA wanted the cable on the end of the 100-foot inspection boom untangled so the shuttle could be checked properly before it heads back to Earth next week.Flight controllers have no reason to believe Atlantis was damaged during liftoff by flyaway foam insulation. But they may yet order up a survey while Atlantis is docked to the space station, Nelson said.At the very least, the astronauts will check the shuttle’s wings and nose cap following Sunday’s undocking for any micrometeorite damage that may have occurred in orbit.The safety inspections were put in place following the 2003 Columbia disaster. Columbia shattered during re-entry because of a hole in the wing that was left by a slab of broken foam.Nelson said engineers still do not know how the cable on Atlantis’ inspection boom got tangled.This is Atlantis’ final flight as the shuttle program winds down. Only two missions remain, later this year.
Blast from the past: a new type of exploding star by Marlowe Hood AFP
PARIS (AFP) – Astronomers have discovered a new type of that spews huge quantities of calcium and defies the two known categories of supernovae, according to a pair of studies released Wednesday.Only a handful of these novel star bursts have been spotted over the last few years, but they could explain the abundance of calcium observed in galaxies like our , the researchers said.They could even account for the calcium present in our bones, and in all life on Earth.Up to now, supernovae — the most energy-intense and brilliant events visible in the universe — have been grouped into two classes.Type Ia are thought to arise when the gravity of a burnt-out rump star called a draws off enough material from a similar star nearby — a process known as accretion — to become unstable.At a critical tipping point, the star’s ultra-dense core of carbon and oxygen ignites into a shattering thermonuclear blast.Light curves generated by are so regular and predictable that they are used as benchmarks to measure the speed with which the universe expands.The other known path to stellar destruction involves the gravitational and catastrophic collapse of a hot, inner core.When these stars — dubbed Type II, or Type Ib or Ic — become supernovae, they give birth to neutron stars or black holes.But as to tools for peering into the heavens become more powerful, astronomers have come across supernovae that do not fit neatly into either category.”We’re discovering weird ones that may represent different physical mechanisms compared with the two well-known types, or may just be variations on the standard themes,” said Alex Filippenko, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and co-author of one of the studies.Both studies, published in the British journal Nature, focus on one such anomalous stellar burst, known as SN 2005E, which became visible in the halo of nearby galaxy NGC 1032 in January 2005.Like a Type Ia supernova, SN 2005E appeared to arise from . But the calcium and titanium thrust out by the blast some 110 million years ago was evidence of a nuclear reaction involving helium, rather than the Type Ia’s signature carbon and oxygen.At the same time, the lack of any recent star formation nearby, and the relatively paltry mass ejected by the explosion, did not jibe with the Type II core-collapse scenario either.”The SN 2005E was a different kind of ‘bang’,” said Filippenko. „It and other calcium-rich supernovae may be a true suborder, not just a one-of-a-kind.”If so, the discovery could explain two puzzling observations.One is the abundance of calcium. Researchers calculate that about half of the mass thrown out by the explosion was calcium, which means that a couple such supernovae every century would be enough to produce the rich stores of the element found in galaxies such as our own.The other is the concentration of particles called positrons — the anti-matter counterpart to electrons — in the centre of galaxies.The most widely accepted explanation for the presence of positrons is the decay of putative dark matter.”Dark matter may or may not exist, but these positrons are perhaps just as easily accounted for by the third type of supernovae,” said Avishay Gal-Yam, a researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and co-author of one of the studies.
Atlantis astronauts complete second spacewalk By AFP
WASHINGTON (AFP) – US astronauts on Wednesday completed the second of three planned spacewalks from the shuttle Atlantis on its rendezvous with the .Mission Specialists Stephen Bowen and Michael Good completed their seven-hour spacewalk at 1:47 pm (1747 GMT), finishing a checklist of housekeeping chores that included tightening up bolts connecting the space-to-ground antenna dish and boom.They also removed the tether that had been holding the dish and boom together and released the launch locks, allowing the antenna dish to rotate.During a first spacewalk on Monday, Atlantis astronauts installed a space-to-ground communications antenna and a spare parts platform on Dexter, the two-armed robotic device on the orbiting ISS.The shuttle and its crew of six docked with the Sunday, about 220 miles (350 kilometers) above the South Pacific.During the 13-day mission, Atlantis and its crew will unload more than 12 tons of equipment, including the communications antenna, , and a radiator.The voyage is the last scheduled mission for Atlantis, which first launched in 1985 and has logged some 115 million miles in its career.Only two more 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.
Atlantis Astronauts Gear Up for Second Spacewalk By Clara Moskowitz SPACE.com
Two shuttle Atlantis astronauts plan to float outside the International Space Station Wednesday on a spacewalk to fix a snagged cable on their spacecraft and install new solar array batteries on the orbiting laboratory.Mission specialists Michael Good and Stephen Bowen will make the excursion, which should last about seven hours. It will be the second of three spacewalks scheduled for Atlantis’ 12-day STS-132 mission, its last planned mission before the shuttle is retired.The spacewalkers plan to exit the station’s Quest airlock at 7:15 a.m. EDT (1115 GMT), half an hour earlier than previously planned, in order to squeeze in the repair of a snagged cable on a shuttle sensor system. The six astronauts aboard space shuttle Atlantis woke this morning a little after 2:20 a.m. EDT (0620 GMT) to the song „Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones, played especially for mission specialist Piers Sellers. „We are awake, and ready for another day,” he radioed down to Mission Control.Atlantis astronauts discovered the cable issue when they tried to complete an inspection of their orbiter’s heat shield Saturday, their first full day in space after launching Friday afternoon. The sensor camera normally used for the task wouldn’t tilt fully because one of its cables was pinched by another piece of hardware on the shuttle. The astronauts were able to complete most of the scan using a backup camera.Mission managers are hoping that 20 to 30 minutes of work by Bowen at the start of Wednesday’s spacewalk will free the cable and fix the camera.”That should restore that capability so that the camera and its sensors are available to the orbiter as required,” said lead station flight director Emily Nelson during a Tuesday briefing.Once the cable issue is resolved, the spacewalkers can move on to the main goal of today’s spacewalk, or extravehicular activity (EVA).”EVA 2 really is dedicated to one thing and that’s changing out six batteries at the end of the port truss,” Bowen said in a preflight interview. The batteries are located on the P6 truss area all way out on the left side of the station’s backbone.Shuttle Atlantis carried up a set of six new batteries to replace the aging units currently on the station. They have a design life of six-and-a-half years, but the ones currently on the station have working even longer.Good and Bowen will aim to swap out three on Wednesday, and Good and mission specialist Garrett Reisman will replace the last three on a follow-up spacewalk Friday.The job is more complicated than it sounds, because each battery weighs a hefty 375 pounds (170 kg). They have a design life of 6 1/2 years, but the ones currently on the station have working even longer.”These aren’t double A’s,” Good said. „These are big. They are about the size of a big suitcase, maybe two suitcases.”The work is part of a quest to outfit the space station with spares and backups so it can continue functioning in top shape after NASA’s space shuttle fleet is retired later this year. While Russian Soyuz spacecraft will continue ferrying astronauts up to the lab, and a group of unmanned vehicles will make cargo runs, none of them has the cargo-carrying capacity of the space shuttles with their massive payload bays.NASA currently hopes to keep the space station running through at least 2020, a decade after the shuttles are due to retire.While the spacewalk is the main goal for Wednesday, some Atlantis astronauts have a full plate of other interior tasks to move equipment and outfit the station. „Meanwhile inside the station we’re going to have a busy day as well,” Nelson said.The spaceflyers plan to carry out some robotic arm maneuvers to relocate hardware around the outside of the station, and will complete other station maintenance tasks.
Air France-KLM posts record loss amid safety concerns by Eve Szeftel AFP
PARIS (AFP) – posted record losses of 1.55 billion euros on Wednesday, as a shock new book on its safety record added to the problems facing Europe‘s biggest airline.The giant net loss for the 2009-2010 financial year came as the Franco-Dutch carrier grappled with the global economic crisis and the fallout from a deadly accident last year.Slumping air traffic, particularly for cargo, drove the company to its biggest loss since Air France and KLM merged in 2004. The latest results followed 811 million euros (1.0 billion dollars) in red ink the previous year.”2009-10 will go on record as our ‘annus horribilis.’ The global economic crisis had a profound effect on the entire ,” chief executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said in a statement.He noted the company also had to grapple with an accident last June that saw Air France Flight 447 from Rio to Paris break apart and plunge into the Atlantic, killing all 228 people on board.Against that backdrop, the company scrapped its dividend payment for the 2009-2010 financial year.Gourgeon said restructuring of the airline’s cargo business began bearing fruit in the fourth quarter, although the company’s fuel bill rose for the first time during the year as the price of jet fuel surged 31 percent.The outlook for the current year was „subject to the definitive cost of the closure of European airspace” due to a huge cloud of ash belched out of an Icelandic volcano, he noted.The figures were released as the company’s safety record came under harsh scrutiny with „The Hidden Face of Air France,” an investigation by journalist Fabrice Amedeo into what he alleges are failures in Air France’s management culture leading to a lax attitude to flight safety.The carrier rejects the allegations.Air France flights have fallen victim to several accidents in recent years and, according to the French daily Liberation, statistics compiled online rank its safety record as only the 65th best in the world.And with 1,783 fatalities in its history, according to a tally compiled by the Swiss-based website „Aircraft Crashes Record Office,” Air France has been the second deadliest airline for passengers after Russia’s Aeroflot.Germany’s Lufthansa, which is of similar size and age, is in 43rd place.The cause of the Rio-Paris crash has not been officially determined, but investigators found that cockpit flight computers were receiving incorrect airspeed readings and Air France has since replaced speed probes on its other jets.In July 2000, an Air France Concorde supersonic airliner caught fire after taking off from Paris and exploded, killing all 113 on board.”Air France has a fleet of ultramodern planes, and its pilots are among the best in the world… but its safety statistics are those of a second division company,” Amedeo wrote in his book.”The problem appears not to be technical but cultural,” he said, accusing the airline’s executives of a „certain laxity” in responding to incidents and adapting safety procedures.Gourgeon told reporters the book „is not worth a response,” insisting that safety was the „number one concern of Air France.”The company said separately that its safety standards „meet the most stringent requirements in the international aviation industry,” noting it was continuously working on improving flight safety.
NATO, Russia to link tactical anti-missile systems By AP
BRUSSELS – NATO and Russia said on Wednesday they intend to boost efforts to develop a joint system to protect their troops from attack by short-range missiles.Neither Russia nor NATO face imminent threats from such battlefield weapons. But cooperation in this field is seen as opening the way for the former Cold War rivals to work together on developing a much wider anti-missile system designed to protect Europe and North America against Iran‘s nascent long-range missile capability.The Theater Missile Defense System used now by some NATO nations is based on upgraded versions of the U.S. Patriot anti-aircraft missiles. Russia has its own S-300 Gladiator short-range system.The short-range battlefield systems are separate from President Barack Obama’s proposal for a much more sophisticated ballistic missile defense system for Europe. NATO nations are likely to approve that at a summit next November in Lisbon, Portugal.NATO has already urged Moscow to join into the wider, territorial missile defense system, identifying Iran’s missile program as a threat to both Russia and NATO’s 28 member states.”More than 30 countries have or are developing ballistic missiles, not all of whom are friends. Iran is an obvious example,” NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.Typically, the range of battlefield missiles is about 300 kilometers (nearly 200 miles). While Iranian tactical weapons would be unable to reach either Russia or NATO countries, they could be employed against U.S. and NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq.
Australia ‘economically stupid’ on Aborigines: Geldof By AFP
SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia was „economically stupid” for leaving thousands of Aboriginal people outside the workforce, anti-poverty campaigner said Wednesday.The former Boomtown Rats lead singer urged business to stop ignoring the talents of the nation’s indigenous, whom he said were treated as exiles in their .”You’ve removed from your society, from having a go, 500,000 of your own,” Sir Bob said. „That is absurd. It’s economically stupid.”Geldof said Australia had to improve the lives of Aboriginal people, many of whom live in entrenched poverty in remote townships and who experience much higher rates of unemployment than other Australians.”You are beginning to deal with a problem that has been festering but can be resolved and needs to be resolved if the is to be genuinely realised,” he told a business breakfast in Brisbane.”And I don’t mean that in any emotional sense or a cultural sense, I mean it in an economic sense.”Geldof met on Tuesday with mining magnate and decided to speak at Forrest’s „GenerationOne” event which is encouraging businesses to pledge to provide 50,000 jobs to Aborigines.On Australia’s foreign aid, something Geldof described three years ago as „pathetically embarrassing”, the Irishman said the situation was improving.”Australia is coming up… they’re on track,” he told news agency AAP.Prime Minister Kevin this month lifted Australia’s foreign aid contribution by 500 million dollars (429 million US) to 4.3 billion dollars a year — equivalent to 33 cents in every 100 dollars of national income.