WARSAW (AFP) – Mourners queued into the early hours of Wednesday to show their grief for Poland‘s first couple, killed in an air crash in Russia, as US President Barack Obama said he would attend their funeral.
The line of tearful people waiting to see the bodies of Polish president Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria lying in state at the presidential palace in Warsaw stretched for more than a kilometre (over half a mile).The bodies of 30 other victims were expected to be flown home later Wednesday, the first to be repatriated apart from the Kaczynskis since the presidential jet crashed in western Russia on Saturday in thick fog.All 96 people on board were killed. Most were senior government and military figures en route to a memorial for the 70th anniversary of the massacre of thousands of Polish officers by Soviet forces in World War II.”We all wanted to pay our last respects. We have been waiting here for four hours and still have a way to go but it’s worth the effort,” carpenter Boguslaw Siertien, 46, who came to the palace with seven family members, told AFP.Related article:Poles flock from afar to mourn presidential coupleThe White House said Obama would attend the Kaczynskis’ funeral on Sunday at Wawel castle in the southern Polish city of Krakow, the resting place of kings and other major figures from Poland’s often tragic history.”The president will travel to Krakow to express the depth of our condolences to an important and trusted ally, and our support for the Polish people, on behalf of the American people,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.French President Nicolas Sarkozy will also come to the funeral and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev may attend, his spokesperson said.But in a rare public breach of the national unity seen in Poland since Kaczynski was killed, several hundred people gathered in Krakow late Tuesday in protest at the decision to lay him to rest there.They chanted „Not in the Wawel” and waved banners marked „Is he fit to be a king?”The conservative nationalist Kaczynski, in office since 2005, was a divisive figure at home and abroad, but the mood since his death has been one of grief across the political spectrum, both at home and abroad.Interim president Bronislaw Komorowski, the former parliamentary speaker appointed after the accident, has said he could set a date Wednesday for new presidential elections but there has been no confirmation.Poland is due to hold presidential elections by June. A presidential ballot had been due by October with Komorowski, a liberal, expected to run against Kaczynski.The crash has also brought a rapprochement between bitter foes Poland and Russia, fuelled over the years by disagreements over the very massacre that Kaczynski’s delegation was on its way to commemorate.Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has meanwhile personally taken charge of the crash probe and the country has made open displays of grief over the accident.Russian investigators have pointed to pilot error, while air traffic controllers say the crew of Kaczynski’s ageing jet refused three times to heed advice to divert to another airport because of the fog.Related article:Polish pilots ‘refused to listen’ to air controllersThe Russian controllers also suggested language barriers had contributed to the crash near the city of Smolensk. Investigators have ruled out a fire or explosion as the cause.
China’s Hu rebuffs Obama on yuan By AP
BEIJING – Chinese President Hu Jintao rebuffed U.S. calls to re-value China’s currency, telling President Barack Obama that any tinkering with the yuan will be done by Beijing in accord with domestic interests.Hu defended China’s policy of pegging the yuan to the dollar at a Monday meeting with Obama in Washington and said changes to the exchange rate would not come from U.S. pressure.”Detailed measures for reform should be considered in the context of the world’s economic situation, its development and changes as well as China‘s economic conditions. It won’t be advanced by any foreign pressure,” Hu said in remarks released by China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. He said reform would come based on China’s „own economic and social development needs.”China’s currency has emerged as prominent friction in a relationship already troubled by disputes over trade, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and Obama’s meeting with Tibet’s exiled leader, the Dalai Lama.With high unemployment persisting in the U.S., Congress has been pressuring the Obama administration to punish China for the yuan-dollar peg — a tactic which economists say keeps the currency undervalued and gives Chinese exports an unfair advantage.Hu told Obama that a rise in the value of the yuan, also known as the renminbi, would not solve U.S. economic ills. „Renminbi appreciation would neither balance Sino-U.S.. trade nor solve the unemployment problem in the United States,” Hu said, according to the remarks.He reiterated his government’s standing line that China did not intentionally seek a trade surplus with the with U.S. and would buy more goods if Washington relaxed controls on exports of high technology goods.White House national security aide Jeffrey Bader said Obama reiterated his view that there needs to be „a more market-oriented exchange rate.”Despite Hu’s statements, many economists and financial analysts believe China will re-value the yuan in the second or third quarter this year. Options include a one-off revaluation or resuming a slow appreciation of the currency.Beijing used a combination of the two — a one-off revaluation followed by a crawling appreciation — in 2005 when it ended a decade long yuan-dollar peg. But China reverted to the peg in mid-2008 worried about the impact on its exports as the economic crisis took off in the U.S.The yuan was only one of several issues Obama and Hu discussed — Iran’s nuclear program chief among them. Bader described the meeting as „positive and constructive” and the presidents are „familiar and comfortable with each other.”In recent weeks, Washington and Beijing have sought to relax tensions that crept into relations late last year after the arms sales and contentious negotiations on climate change. Particular attention has been paid to trying to make discussions of the yuan less heated. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, on his way home from India, stopped in Beijing last week for a 75-minute discussion with Vice Premier Wang Qishan.
NASA begins science flights with robotic jet By JOHN ANTCZAK, A.P
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – One of NASA‘s newest research jets soared high over the Pacific Ocean Tuesday on a 24-hour mission to study Earth’s atmosphere.Its pilot remained seated in an office chair in a windowless room in the Mojave Desert, monitoring the autonomous flight of the Global Hawk via an array of computer screens.Global Hawks were designed to perform high-altitude, long-endurance reconnaissance and intelligence missions for the Air Force, which has turned over to NASA three versions built in the developmental process.This month, NASA has begun putting one to work for the first time with flights over vast areas of the Pacific to demonstrate the scientific usefulness of the unmanned aircraft.”It’s never been used by a civilian agency, and it’s never been used for Earth science,” said David W. Fahey, a research physicist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.Distinguished by its bulbous, whale-shaped nose, top-mounted engine and V-tail, the Global Hawk is 44 feet long and its wings span 116 feet — almost the wingspan of the latest Boeing 737s.Able to carry more than 1,000 pounds of science instruments, a Global Hawk can operate at altitudes up to 65,000 feet and stay aloft for 30 hours while flying a distance of more than 12,600 miles.This will allow Global Hawks to sample remote regions of the atmosphere such as the equatorial regions of the oceans and the arctic and Antarctic, Fahey said.”Given its range and duration, you can be away from these locations and effectively operate this platform to do the kind of sampling we’re interested in,” he said.The Global Hawk is effectively a hybrid between a satellite and an aircraft, said Paul Newman, senior scientist in NASA’s Atmospherics, Chemistry and Dynamics Branch at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.”This plane naturally flies in the stratosphere, so it’s a perfect platform for ozone-depletion science,” he said.In the fall, a Global Hawk will be tested for its ability to contribute to hurricane research in the Atlantic.Acquisition of the Global Hawks marks the latest conversion of military technology to civilian use by NASA.The space agency, for example, flies a converted high-altitude U-2 spy plane that has been redesignated ER-2, and a Predator B unmanned aircraft that has been given the Native American name Ikhana. In the 1990s, NASA used two Air Force SR-71 Blackbird spy planes for high-speed, high-altitude research.One of NASA’s immediate goals is to expand the envelope of the Global Hawks, Newman said.”The military typically flies at a constant altitude. They turn their instruments on when the get to a target, and they turn them off when they leave a target,” Newman said.Scientists, however, want to turn on their instruments on the ground and turn them off only when the aircraft is back on the ground to acquire a „vertical profile of information,” he said.Various problems prevent that for the time being.Also, for now the Federal Aviation Administration allows the Global Hawks to operate only over oceans while the safety of unmanned aircraft in the nation’s airspace is studied.The Global Hawk that departed Edwards on Tuesday was expected to fly north off the Pacific coast of North America, turn west along the Aleutian Islands and then south. Below the Hawaiian islands, the craft was to turn east and fly below the orbital path of a cluster of Earth-observing satellites known as the A-Train.This was to allow actual sampling of the particles of the atmosphere that the satellites measure remotely from space. One instrument aboard the aircraft is a laser identical to one in orbit.”So we can prove that those satellites are working correctly,” Newman said.The Global Hawk was expected to return to California at about 7 a.m. Wednesday. The first flight in the Global Hawk Pacific campaign occurred April 7 and lasted 14 hours. Three more flights are planned.
Poland mourns as president and wife lie in state By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA and MATT MOORE, Associated Press
WARSAW, Poland – Thousands of grieving mourners tossed flowers on a slow-moving hearse and joined an enormous viewing line at the Presidential Palace to pay their respects Tuesday to Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife as their bodies lay in state.Kaczynski and his wife, Maria Kaczynska, were among 96 people killed Saturday in a plane crash in western Russia. Investigators are pointing to human error as the cause.Mourners knelt, prayed and cried before the first couple’s coffins in the palace’s Columned Hall, where the president appointed and dismissed governments. The line to get in swelled to over half a mile (1 kilometer).”We will wait as long as it takes,” said Alicja Marszalek, a retired telephone operator who was waiting with a friend. „We want to pay homage to them because they were wonderful people. He was a modest man, very well educated, intelligent and kind.”Polish television broadcast live images of mourners walking by the closed coffins. Many were families with children, parents and grandparents. A pair of soldiers flanked each coffin, standing crisp and still.Earlier Tuesday, Kaczynska’s body was greeted with tears and tulips after being flown home from Russia. Officials announced that the first couple would be buried Sunday after a state funeral at Krakow‘s Wawel Cathedral.Krakow Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz said the funeral rites would begin at 2 p.m. (1200 GMT) Sunday with a Mass at St. Mary’s Basilica. The bodies will then be carried in a funeral procession across the Old Town to the 1,000-year-old Wawel Cathedral — the main burial site of Polish monarchs since the 14th century and more recent heroes including the 20th century Polish statesman and military leader Jozef Pilsudski.The first couple will be buried in a crypt near Pilsudski, Dziwisz said.The last Polish leader killed in office, Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski — the exiled World War II leader who perished in a mysterious plane crash off Gibraltar in 1943 — is also interred there.Some Poles criticized the decision to bury Kaczynski, whose combative style earned him many opponents, in a place reserved for the most esteemed of national figures. Hundreds staged a protest in front of the archbishop’s residence in Krakow on Tuesday evening, carrying banners reading „Really worthy of kings?” and „Not to Wawel.”In Washington, the White House announced that President Barack Obama would travel to Poland to attend the funeral. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are also expected to attend.Kaczynska’s body, in a wooden casket draped with Poland’s white-and-red flag, arrived in a military CASA plane at Warsaw’s Okecie airport. It was met by her only child, Marta, and by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, her brother-in-law, the twin of the late president.Marta knelt by her mother’s casket and wept as an honor guard stood by.Kaczynska’s body was ferried slowly to the Presidential Palace in a black Mercedes-Benz hearse, as her husband’s had been on Sunday. Thousands of Warsaw residents lined the route, gently lobbing bouquets of tulips and roses on top of the hearse.”I’m here because it’s such a tragedy for Poland,” said Maja Jelenicka, 63. „I’m in despair. I feel as if I’ve lost a close relative. Maria Kaczynska was a wonderful woman, kind, with a heart of gold.”Parliament held an observance in memory of the president and the 18 lawmakers killed in the crash. In the assembly hall. Framed portraits of the lawmakers and flowers bedecked their empty seats.The names of the victims were read out. Senate Speaker Bogdan Borusewicz, his voice breaking, declared the crash the „greatest tragedy in Poland’s postwar history.”Investigators have suggested that human error may have been to blame for Saturday’s crash. The Tu-154 went down while trying to land in dense fog at Smolensk in western Russia. All aboard were killed, including dozens of Polish political, military and religious leaders. They had been traveling in the Polish government-owned plane to attend a memorial in the Katyn forest for thousands of Polish military officers executed 70 years ago by Soviet leader Josef Stalin‘s secret police. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Tuesday the plane appeared to have been functioning normally. „Judging by preliminary analysis of data from the black boxes, there was no explosion or fire aboard the plane, and the engines were working until the collision,” Ivanov said in televised remarks. The pilot had been warned of bad weather in Smolensk and advised by air traffic controllers to land elsewhere — which would have delayed the Katyn observances. He was identified as Capt. Arkadiusz Protasiuk, 36; the co-pilot was Maj. Robert Grzywna, also 36.Traffic controller Anatoly Muravyev, a member of the Russian team that handled the plane, told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper that the crew ignored their warnings about worsening weather.The crew „started landing with confidence and with no swerving,” Muravyev was quoted as saying. „But then the traffic controllers had doubts.”He said the head controller three times ordered the plane to reattempt the landing and then advised the pilot to fly to another airport.”The crew did not listen, although the controllers warned them about bad visibility and told them to get ready to fly to a reserve airport,” Muravyev said.Polish Prosecutor General Andrzej Seremet said Polish prosecutors were still reviewing data from the flight recorders and would discuss their findings Thursday.So far, 87 bodies have been recovered and 40 of them identified, he said.Associated Press Writer Marta Kucharska in Warsaw and Mansur Mirovalev in Moscow contributed to this report.
Boston tea rally has glaring absence: Scott Brown By GLEN JOHNSON, AP Political
BOSTON – When the Tea Party Express pulls into the city where the conservative movement got its name, the crowd will be as notable for who is not there as who is.Sarah Palin is the keynote speaker at Wednesday’s rally on Boston Common, but Republican Sen. Scott Brown — whose January election the movement claims as its proudest accomplishment — is skipping the event.Officially, he’s too busy with his congressional duties — but Brown also kept the movement at a respectful distance during his upset campaign to succeed the late Democrat Edward M. Kennedy.If he gets too close, the freshman senator, who’s still getting used to his national profile, risks being aligned with the tea party’s more radical elements, which have questioned the legitimacy of everything from President Barack Obama’s U.S. birthplace to his college degree.”His ‘business in Congress’ is getting re-elected in 2012, and to do that, he needs to present a moderate image. Going to a tea party rally is about the last thing he needs,” said Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Brown’s alma mater, Tufts University.”Brown doesn’t want to turn his back on his potential supporters, but he doesn’t want any photographs in the midst of an overly enthusiastic or bombastic event,” the professor added.Even one of those who is going, independent gubernatorial candidate Timothy Cahill, a former Democrat, was careful to parse the meaning behind his attendance.”He’s in campaign mode. He’s going to go where there’s mass groups of people,” said Cahill spokeswoman Amy Birmingham.The rally, being held in the shadow of the Statehouse on Boston Common, is forecast to attract 10,000 people. It will be the next-to-last event in the 20-day, 47-city Tea Party Express tour concluding Thursday in Washington.Palin spoke on the first day in Searchlight, Nev., hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democratic target of the movement. Her visit to Boston brings her to the site of the original Tea Party in 1773, where British opponents rallied against taxation without representation.Two others are embracing the modern tea party movement, which questions the Washington establishment, without reservation.Conservative talk show host Michael Reagan, son of Republican icon Ronald Reagan, spoke Tuesday at a tea party rally in Jefferson City, Mo. He told a crowd of about 400 that liberals and progressives are like „termites who eat away at the foundation” of freedom in the U.S. by imposing more government control.Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman was headlining at a tea party rally Tuesday night in his own capital city, Lincoln. Tea partiers also rallied Tuesday in Albany, N.Y.A Brown spokesman said the senator will be in Washington on Wednesday, attending to the business for which he was elected. Congress just returned after a two-week recess, during which Brown traveled to Afghanistan and toured flood-stricken areas of Massachusetts.”While he is unable to attend Wednesday’s event, the senator appreciates the strong grassroots support he received from a wide range of individuals, including those who are part of the tea party movement. He hopes they have a successful event,” spokesman Colin Reed said in a statement.The extent to which tea partiers factored into Brown’s win over Democrat Martha Coakley can’t be measured, since there was no exit polling. But his victory in a traditionally Democratic state, with an anti-Obama message echoing tea party complaints about the administration’s spending and health care overhaul, have made him a movement darling.Brown spoke a year ago at two tea party Tax Day protests in Massachusetts. His campaign also hosted a breakfast in early January for local tea party activists. But amid concerns about some of the tea party’s positions, Brown kept his embrace loose and made a point of saying he wasn’t sure whether activists from the movement had attended his rallies.Brown is expected to tread lightly through 2012, when he will be running for his first full term against a field that could include Kennedy’s widow, Vicki. Another high-profile Republican, gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker, is also skipping the rally. He will speak 40 miles away in the state’s second-largest city, Worcester. Christen Varley, who founded the Greater Boston Tea Party, was understanding about both Baker’s and Brown’s absence, though. „Would I have loved for him to come? Sure,” Varley said. „But did I elect him to come to a bunch of rallies? Heck, no.”
Fed officials see slow recovery, slack economy By Mark Felsenthal REUTERS
MORGANTOWN, West Virginia (Reuters) – U.S. Federal Reserve officials said on Tuesday the economy is operating well below full capacity and full recovery is a way off, in comments suggesting no urgency to begin tightening financial conditions.”The pain is still with many of us to be sure, and we are a long way from a full recovery,” Richmond Federal Reserve Bank Jeffrey Lacker told a regional Fed forum.Lacker, known to be one of the more aggressive anti-inflation hawks among policy-makers, said there were signs of stabilization in housing markets, but overbuilding means that sector won’t help lift the recovery.He said news that employers added 162,000 jobs in March was one of the most encouraging recent signs of economic healing, however he added that while the labor market seems to be lifting itself off the floor, rapid growth in employment this year seems unlikely.Another Fed official said there is little inflationary pressure in the economy that is operating well below its potential.”There are a lot of people who are unemployed, there are a lot of factories that are not producing at full steam, so we have excess slack,” Dallas Fed Bank President Richard Fisher said in an interview with Fox Business Network.Neither official is a voter this year on the Fed’s interest-rate setting Federal Open Market Committee. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is scheduled to discuss the economic outlook in congressional testimony on Wednesday.Bernanke did not talk about the economy or monetary policy in a speech on financial education on Tuesday.Lacker’s comments were somewhat more downbeat about the pace of recovery than in the past, suggesting pressure within the Fed to begin tightening financial conditions may be subdued.On Tuesday, he said inflation remains benign, although he stressed that the risks of a sharp decline in inflation had diminished.The Fed is not expected to change its commitment to hold rates exceptionally low for an extended period at a meeting at the end of the month. It has held benchmark borrowing costs near zero since December 2008.Some Fed officials would like to raise the discount rate, the level it charges banks for short-term loans, a Fed report showed on Tuesday. The Fed has taken pains to stress that the raising the discount rate nearer to pre-crisis levels signals a normalization of lending, not a tightening of financial conditions.Another Fed official, Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo, focused on financial regulation reform in comments that did not address the economic outlook.Regulators should consider conducting routine, publicly disclosed „stress tests” to gauge how well big financial firms could weather a crisis, he said.Tarullo, the central bank’s point person on regulatory reform, said releasing the information would help investors make informed decisions, and encourage public scrutiny of the regulators’ methods.The Fed led stress-testing of the 19 largest U.S. financial firms last year and disclosed the results, a controversial decision even inside the central bank. The concern was that weaker banks might be harmed by the public disclosure. (With additional reporting by Walter Brandimarte in New York and Emily Kaiser in Washington)
Astronauts take 3rd, final spacewalk; valve stuck By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A pair of spacewalking astronauts finished installing a fresh storage tank outside the International Space Station on Tuesday, but a stuck valve was threatening to jeopardize half of the cooling system.No sooner had Rick Mastracchio hooked up the fluid valves for the new ammonia tank on the third and final spacewalk of shuttle Discovery‘s flight, then flight controllers encountered the valve trouble in a separate pressurizing unit.Flight director Ron Spencer said the problem needs to be resolved as soon as possible and that spacewalking repairs may be needed sometime after Discovery leaves this weekend. The problem is exasperated by the fact that a period of intense sunlight on the space station is fast approaching, and the ammonia will be expanding more than usual with the added heat.The stuck valve is in a nitrogen tank assembly on the right side of the space station. Nitrogen is used to pressurize the ammonia, which circulates through large radiators. Without that capability, half of the station’s electronics eventually might have to be turned off. The cooling system on the left side — left alone on this flight — is operating just fine. For now, so is the one on the right side.”We do have a couple tricks up our sleeves” to remotely free the valve, Spencer told reporters. He said a spacewalk would be a last resort and that it was too soon to know when a decision might need to be made.The seldom-used valve cannot be replaced alone. The entire nitrogen assembly would have to be swapped out. Fortunately, two spares already are at the space station.As engineers struggled with the nitrogen valve, Mastracchio and Clayton Anderson were dealing with a stubborn bolt on the old ammonia tank, which had been removed on the previous spacewalk.In what almost seems to be a common occurrence on this flight, one of the four bolts on the tank would not engage. Mastracchio and Anderson were trying to secure the boxy, 1,300-pound tank in Discovery’s cargo bay when the problem cropped up. It appeared to be a misalignment, and they pulled out a pry bar to try to fix it. The pry bar wasn’t needed, but a torque-increasing device was.Mission Control told the astronauts that they had to drive in all four bolts all the way, one way or another.”How you guys feeling?” asked shuttle pilot James Dutton Jr.”I’ll feel better when we get this thing bolted in,” Mastracchio said. „No kidding,” Anderson added.When Mastracchio finally drove in the bolt, astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger shouted, „Now I can finally say good job, we have the ammonia tank in the payload bay.” Earlier, she was too quick in offering congratulations.NASA wants to return the old tank to Earth next week, in order to fill it and fly it back up this summer as a spare.The space agency is trying to stockpile as many big parts up there as possible. Only three shuttle missions are left after this one, and there will be limited room on the much smaller Russian, European and Japanese cargo ships that will be supplying the station until its projected end in 2020.President Barack Obama will outline his objectives for NASA’s human spaceflight program Thursday during a visit to Kennedy Space Center. He’s already axed his predecessor’s effort to return astronauts to the moon.The ammonia and nitrogen hoses for the new tank should have been connected during Sunday’s spacewalk. But the astronauts had trouble attaching the new tank to the space station because of a stubborn bolt, and some chores had to be put off. A couple other tasks were scuttled Tuesday because of all the time spent on the latest troublesome bolt.Mastracchio and Anderson wrapped up the 6 1/2-hour spacewalk with some prep work for the next shuttle visit, scheduled for just a few weeks from now. Down at the Florida launch site, Atlantis was moved out of its hangar for the short trip to the Vehicle Assembly Building, the last stop before the pad. NASA temporarily parked the shuttle outside in the sunshine so workers could snap pictures.It will be the last flight of Atlantis. Liftoff is targeted for May 14.The spacewalkers indulged in some picture-taking of their own.”Look over here,” Anderson told Mastracchio. „Oh, baby, you’re going to want to take this one to the grandkids.”
President Obama to Revive NASA’s Scrapped Orion Spacecraft By Amy Klamper Space News
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – A top NASA official said U.S President Barack Obama will announce plans to continue development of a stripped-down version of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle for use as a crew lifeboat on the International Space Station. Obama, who is scheduled to deliver a space policy speech at NASA’s Kennedy Space Station in Florida April 15, will also unveil plans to initiate development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle by 2015, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver told reporters following remarks at the 26th National Space Symposium here April 13. Orion – part of NASA‘s five-year-old Constellation program designed to replace the retiring space shuttle with new rockets and spacecraft optimized for the moon – was targeted for termination in Obama’s 2011 budget request. Since then lawmakers from both parties have sharply criticized Obama’s proposal to scrap Constellation in favor of investing in privately developed crew taxis capable of ferrying astronauts in low Earth orbit. Garver said NASA’s Orion contract with Denver-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems would be restructured to develop a variant of the space capsule that could be launched unmanned to station within the next couple of years to serve as a crew lifeboat. Garver said the plan would allow the agency to retain some of its multibillion-dollar investment in the program while reducing U.S. reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft currently used as an emergency crew escape capability on the space station. „It allows you to keep the ability to go beyond low Earth orbit with humans,” Garver said, adding „the investment we made in Constellation along those lines is something that will benefit our program as well as allows us to rely on the Russians for a shorter period of time.” Garver said NASA has no plans to continue development of Orion for exploration beyond low Earth orbit. „We will ask them to focus Orion for the government purposes on our unique requirement of crew escape,” she said, adding that Lockheed Martin would be welcome to use the Orion capsule to bid on the agency’s $6 billion commercial crew program proposed in the president’s 2011 budget. „That would be a company decision on bidding for commercial crew technology,” she said. Garver said Obama also would announce a plan select a heavy-lift vehicle design by 2015, an element previously missing from the human spaceflight plan put forward in Obama’s 2011 budget. That omission has drawn fire from lawmakers concerned that a heavy-lift development program is needed to maintain the nation’s leadership in manned space exploration. „We’re going to have a date specific to make a decision about the heavy lift vehicle in 2015,” she said, adding that the $3.1 billion Obama proposed to study advanced heavy lift propulsion capabilities over the next five years „is going to have us much further along down the path, and when we choose that vehicle we’ll be able to have a running start.”Meanwhile, NASA will have five years to flesh out concepts for other technologies that could be developed to support human space exploration beyond low Earth orbit, including on-orbit propellant depots, inflatable habitats, and in space resource production.”Things that allow you to size your architecture in a way that we’ll be able to go beyond [low Earth orbit] farther, faster, with a heavy lift that truly makes sense for the program,” she said. „And using more of the advanced technology that we’ve invested in the heavy lift program.”
Forty years after astronauts called down from space reporting, „Houston, we’ve had a problem,” it was Mission Control‘s turn Tuesday to call up to the crew with a similar but far-less life-threatening call.Problems with pressurized tanks led to both calls. For the Apollo 13 crew in 1970, it was the explosion of an oxygen tank midway to the moon that required flight controllers on Earth to scramble to save the lives of the astronauts.For the International Space Station‘s (ISS) Expedition 23 crew, as well as the visiting shuttle Discovery astronauts, the stuck valve between a newly-installed ammonia tank and a nitrogen tank responsible for feeding coolant to half of the station was causing Mission Control concern but it was not an emergency for the 13 people in space.”The severity of this problem is obviously much lower than on Apollo 13,” said ISS flight director Ron Spencer on Tuesday.Although not as an immediate a concern as the problem four decades ago, if Spencer’s team cannot devise a fix in the coming weeks and months, it could force them to shut down half of the station’s systems.Spencer did, however, see parallels between how Mission Control today approaches problems like this and how his Apollo 13-era colleagues worked. „I think the way we deal with problems is the same as it was back then,” Spencer said. „The methodology that goes on in Mission Control for running the mission and having contingency plans, that’s all identical.”A testament to teamwork-However, had the problem been more serious Discovery’s commander believed his crew could have also met the challenge.”Jim Lovell and his crew, as highly trained as they were, we would hope that we could achieve what they did in the face of adversity,” STS-131 commander Alan Poindexter told collectSPACE.com before he launched. „Those guys were real pros.”Clayton Anderson, one of the spacewalkers responsible for installing the new ammonia tank, shared a similar hope largely due to the support teams on the ground.”What I remember about Apollo 13 aside from the fact that it was a very tense and very stressful time, was that we succeeded, that the United States of America solved the problem and brought these guys home safely,” Anderson said in a pre-flight interview. „And now to be one of those guys and to work with the folks [in Houston] at Johnson Space Center and all around NASA as an organization, it is extremely comforting to me to know the pedigree of the people who work here and work on this program.””I have true confidence in all the folks who I’m associated with because they are such true professionals. They are so dedicated and they’ll do anything to make this mission a success,” he said.”It really is a testament to teamwork,” remarked mission specialist Stephanie Wilson from space. „Flight crews, the mission control centers, the folks who train us and work on procedures, folks that get our vehicles ready and really know the ins and outs of the vehicles, really all have to come together in an emergency.””But from every emergency, we learn something new, we update our procedures, we update our response times and it really is an opportunity to get to be more familiar with things but also to come together and work better together as a team,” Wilson said during a media interview.Failure is (still) not an optionDiscovery’s pilot Jim Dutton was only two years old when Apollo 13 became NASA’s „successful failure” but as he learned about the mission growing up, it stood out to him.”Even though they didn’t accomplish their primary mission of landing on the moon, it was still one of the most inspirational missions that NASA has ever had. Why? Because they faced tremendous adversity. I mean, they never really should have survived,” Dutton said during an interview with collectSPACE.com.”And yet of course, there is the famous saying, „Failure is not an option.” While we all know sometimes failure does happen, it’s that mindset that we are not going to consider it an option, that we’re going to do everything in our power and not consider that we can fail.”For Spencer, failure is not an option for freeing the stuck valve, but neither is another spacewalk, at least for now.”Going EVA to fix this problem is not the first option,” he told reporters. There’s going to be a couple of other things we can try… EVA is the last option.”
Obama to propose $6 billion NASA budget increase By REUTERS
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama will outline a revamped space policy on Thursday that will use $6 billion in new funding over five years to create 2,500 new jobs in Florida with the ultimate goal of going to Mars.Obama has been facing criticism from some members of the far-flung U.S. space community over the direction of space policy after NASA officials announced plans in March to kill the Constellation program that had been designed to launch astronauts into orbit and return Americans to the moon.The Constellation program, developed under the Bush administration, was aimed at returning astronauts to the moon in the 2020s to clear the way for a Mars mission.White House officials said on Tuesday that Obama wants NASA to begin work on building a new heavy lift rocket sooner than envisioned under the canceled Constellation program, with a commitment to decide in 2015 on the specific rocket that will take astronauts deeper into space.”This is a rocket that is going to happen two years earlier than would’ve happened under the past program,” a senior White House official said.Obama would restructure the Constellation program and allow NASA to develop the Orion crew capsule to provide stand-by emergency escape capabilities for the International Space Station.His policy would also direct NASA to launch into space a steady stream of robotic exploration missions to scout locations and demonstrate technologies to increase the safety and capability of future human missions.To ease the transition for workers dislocated while the new space strategy is being implemented, Obama is proposing to dedicate $40 million of the funds requested for the Constellation transition to transform the regional economy around NASA’s Florida facilities and prepare its workforce for the new opportunities.”This new strategy means more money for NASA, more jobs for the country, more astronaut time in space, and more investments in innovation,” said a senior White House official.(Reporting by Steve Holland, editing by Philip Barbara)
Former astronauts pan Obama’s proposal for NASA space program By Richard Luscombe THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – Some of NASA’s most accomplished astronauts, including four of the 12 who’ve walked on the moon, are accusing President Obama of reducing America’s space program “to mediocrity” by scrapping plans for further lunar exploration.In a searing open letter coinciding with Mr. Obama’s visit to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center this week, veterans of the Apollo, Mercury, Gemini, and space shuttle programs say the president is “throwing away” America’s dominance in human spaceflight after “50 years of unparalleled achievement.”Moonwalkers Alan Bean, Charlie Duke, Harrison Schmitt, and Eugene Cernan, the last man on the lunar surface in 1972, joined other NASA luminaries in the attack – including Apollo 13 astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise, Apollo flight director Eugene Kranz, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s former chief Michael Griffin.In all, 27 people signed the letter, including 21 former astronauts. All the signatories are retired.“We strongly urge you to drop this misguided proposal that forces NASA out of human space operations for the foreseeable future,” they wrote in the letter, released two days before Obama will visit Cape Canaveral to explain his decision to shut down the next-generation Constellation program, which was to have taken astronauts back to the moon by 2020.â€œFor those of us who have accepted the risk and dedicated a portion of our lives to the exploration of outer space, this is a terrible decision,â€The letter comes during commemorations this week for the 40th anniversary of one of NASAâ€™s finest achievements â€“ bringing the Apollo 13 astronauts home safely after an onboard explosion. Messrs. Haise and Lovell, the two members of the crew still alive, attended events at the Kennedy Space Center and at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.Obama announced earlier this year that he planned to ax for budgetary reasons the Constellation program, first outlined in predecessor George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration in 2004. Development of the new Orion spacecraft and the Ares rockets that were to lift them into orbit had already cost more than $9 billion over the previous five years. While proposing to give NASA $100 billion over the next half decade, Obama pledged extra funds for scientific research and support of commercial enterprises that might eventually take American astronauts into space. Obama’s plan would have NASA focus on developing technologies for powerful rockets that could take astronauts beyond Earth orbit, although the timetable and destinations are more open-ended. But the letterâ€™s signatories say this is not the right time for Obamaâ€™s proposals. The space shuttle program is slated is to end later this year, which raises the prospect of the United States relying on Russia to ferry its astronauts to the International Space Station. “We are very concerned about America ceding its hard earned global leadership in space technology to other nations,” the letter says. “We are stunned that, in a time of economic crisis, this move will force as many as 30,000 irreplaceable engineers and managers out of the space industry.”Thousands of space shuttle engineers and other agency workers staged a rally last weekend outside the space center to protest against the job cuts.Senators representing Florida and Texas, where most of NASA’s workers are employed, have promised to fight Obama’s proposals in Congress.Not all of NASA’s noted alumni are critical of the Obama’s plans, however. In February, Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step on the moon, issued a statement applauding Obama’s vision, saying: „A near-term focus on lowering the cost of access to space and on developing key, cutting-edge technologies to take us further, faster, is just what our Nation needs to maintain its position as the leader in space exploration for the rest of this century.”Still, those who signed the letter worry that a vital opportunity to educate and inspire American youths is being lost.“We see our human exploration program, one of the most inspirational tools to promote science, technology, engineering and math to our young people, being reduced to mediocrity,” they wrote. “This is not the time to abandon the promise of the space frontier for a lack of will or an unwillingness to pay the price.”
Obama to outline US space plans in NASA visit by Jean-Louis Santini AFP
WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama visits Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday to deliver a „major space policy speech” outlining the new future for US space exploration, NASA officials say.But Florida lawmakers, NASA employees and others who make a living from the US space program are hoping the president will offer details on the „bold and ambitious new space initiative” which the White House proposed in February.Plans unveiled two months ago proposed scrapping the Constellation program, which was developing a new rocket to take Americans back to the moon; and giving private industry the role of building the space vehicles to take humans to the International Space Station (ISS).NASA, meanwhile, would concentrate on research and development.The proposals caught many space officials and aficionados, as well as Florida lawmakers, off guard, and they are hoping Obama will ease fears about everything from job cuts to loss of US prestige.Former NASA administrator Michael Griffin called the new path a „total surprise,” while lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have vowed to work together to change the White House proposals, which Democratic Representative Susan Kosmas described as „unacceptable.”The proposed changes would result in huge job losses for a state already battered by the slack economy, she said.Some 9,000 highly skilled professionals would lose their jobs on the Space Coast, the nickname given to Florida’s Atlantic shoreline and home to the Kennedy Space Center, a region already reeling from double-digit unemployment, said Kosmas.Additionally, three local support jobs would be lost for each skilled job cut at the space center, said Melissa Stains, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Cocoa Beach, which lies just south of the Kennedy Space Center and sees an influx of tourists and space industry workers for each shuttle launch.”Three times 9,000 is 27,000 jobs in our area… it’s huge,” said Stains.”We are in a recession, we have high unemployment… and now we might lose the biggest employer in the county,” she said.The change of direction for NASA would coincide with already announced plans to retire the space shuttle. That decision was made by former president George W. Bush in 2004.After the shuttle fleet is grounded, the United States would have to depend on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, the construction of which has been almost exclusively funded by the United States.Constellation was to have taken over where the shuttle left off, but only after a gap of at least five years.But with financial reasons forcing Obama to propose that the hugely expensive and over-budget rocket project be scrapped, the United States could be a space hitchhiker for several years, until private industry can build a new launch vehicle and fill the gap.”We are very concerned about losing our leadership in space,” said Kosmas, who with Republican congressman Bill Posey has introduced a bill in Congress that would extend the space shuttle’s life and speed up development of a new US spacecraft.She is hoping Obama will announce plans to continue with manned space flight and suggests keeping the shuttle operational.”Since the shuttle is the only US space vehicle currently with the capability of servicing and supporting the ISS, we should continue to use that capability,” she said. Dale Ketcham, president of the private think tank Spaceport Research and Technology Institute, was also concerned that the United States would lose its leading role in space exploration and called on Obama to chart a clear path in space for the United States. „I think people fear Obama is abandoning US leadership in space… I believe he does want to go to the moon, to Mars, but he has to come down here and say that. „We need to know where we are going,” Ketcham said.
Apollo hero Armstrong condemns Obama space plan By AFP
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Apollo 11 hero Neil Armstrong Tuesday lashed out at President Barack Obama‘s decision to axe NASA plans to return to the Moon, describing the move as „devastating” to the US space program.Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the lunar surface, was one of three former astronauts who signed an open letter to Obama ahead of his visit to Florida on Thursday where he will deliver a space policy speech.Budget plans unveiled two months ago proposed scrapping the Constellation program, which was developing a new rocket to take Americans back to the moon; and giving private industry the role of building the space vehicles to take humans to the International Space Station (ISS).However Armstrong and fellow Apollo program commanders James Lovell and Eugene Cernan bemoaned the proposals for the US space effort in a letter released to NBC News on Tuesday.Armstrong, Lovell and Cernan said that while some of Obama’s NASA budget proposals had „merit,” the decision to cancel the Constellation program, the Ares 1 and Ares V rockets and the Orion spacecraft, was „devastating.”American astronauts could now only reach low Earth orbit and the ISS by hitching a ride on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft „at a price of over 50 million dollars per seat,” the letter said.”For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature,” the astronauts said.”Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity,” they added in the letter.
NASA Chief: Change is Vital for Space Agency’s Future By Clara Moskowitz SPACE.com
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Change may be difficult for NASA but it is vital for the space agency’s future, NASA chief Charles Bolden told an audience of space industry experts and representatives Tuesday. Bolden’s talk, delivered to government, military and private industry space workers here at the 26th National Space Symposium, comes just two days ahead of a major space policy speech President Barack Obama is preparing to deliver Thursday in Florida. Both leaders are facing the tough job of defending their new vision for NASA to a sometimes skeptical public and Congress.The Obama administration outlined the new plan for the United States’ space agency in its 2011 budget proposal released in February. That vision calls for an increased focus on technology development aimed toward possible missions to the moon, asteroids or Mars.It also replaces NASA’s current Constellation program to go back to the moon and beyond, which Bolden called „unsustainable.”Some of the controversy about what were about to do – I think a lot of it comes from people who are nervous about doing new things,” Bolden said. „I would say, as we are about to do something that a lot of people don’t think we can do, take a deep breath and help us figure out a way to make these things work. Because I’m convinced we can do it.”Constellation Lost?A point of contention over the new plan has been the cancellation of Constellation’s Ares rockets and the Orion crew module planned to fly atop them. These spacecraft were designed to replace the space shuttle, which is due to be retired later this year. Just four more shuttle flights remain, one of which is under way right now aboard the shuttle Discovery.Instead of developing those new spaceships, President Obama proposes that NASA encourage private companies to development a transportation system to take astronauts to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station. „Government has blazed the path to low-Earth orbit in the past,” Bolden said. „New players are now ready to engage that field.”That would free up NASA to work on new space technologies to travel farther out into the cosmos.Bolden mentioned inflatable space habitats, novel space propulsion mechanisms, and next-generation heavy-lift rockets as a few of the avenues for research. He has said repeatedly in the past that NASA will not abandon the work performed under the Constellation program. The agency will carry over know-how and research to the new plan as it applies, Bolden has said.”The fundamental goal has not changed – to boldly advance human presence beyond the cradle of Earth,” he added Tuesday.Committed to spaceflight-Bolden reaffirmed President Obama’s support for NASA and for the future of space exploration. In an era of extreme budget pressure, he said, the president has decided to increase NASA’s budget.”President Barack Obama is strongly committed to our future in space,” Bolden said. „We are so committed that we made the hard choice to undertake a new direction… to find a more affordable and sustainable path.”Between the space symposium underway here, and Obama’s speech on Thursday, Bolden said it’s an important time for the space industry.”This is a big week for the entire nation,” he said. „A week in which probably more people than ever before will be thinking about space.”Another important element of the new plan for space is the emphasis on education and outreach to youth, Bolden said.”I can’t emphasize enough how passionately President Obama and I feel about educating and inspiring the next generation,” he said.
Distant planets turn space theory upside down By AFP
LONDON (AFP) – A dominant theory about planets has been challenged by the discovery of nine worlds transiting distant stars, astronomers reported on Tuesday.The belief that planets always orbit their sun in the same direction, imitating the rotation of the star itself, has been turned upside down, they said.”This is a real bomb we are dropping into the field of exoplanets,” said Geneva Observatory astronomer Amaury Triaud, referring to planets outside the Solar System.Triaud’s team are to report their findings at a meeting this week of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) in Glasgow, Scotland.Their revolutionary notion is based on the discovery of nine exoplanets, which bring the tally of these phenomena to a grand 452 since they first came to light in 1995.The latest planets are especially useful, as they were not discovered indirectly — by calculating their gravitational pull on the star’s light — but because they passed directly in front of the sun.These rarely-captured „transit” events are especially coveted, for they can yield much more information about the planet.After combining the new results with previous observations of transiting exoplanets, Triaud and fellow astronomers Andrew Cameron and veteran exoplanet hunter Didier Queloz were stunned.Six of 27 exoplanets they sampled were found to orbit in the opposite direction of their host star.The big hypothesis about planets is that they coalesce from a disc of dust and gas orbiting a young star and move in the same direction of the star’s own rotation.”The new results really challenge the convention wisdom that planets should always orbit in the same direction as their stars spin,” said Cameron, of the University of St. Andrews, Edinburgh.The transiting planets are so-called „hot Jupiters,” or planets with a mass similar to or greater than Jupiter.Unlike our Jupiter, which encircles the Sun at a great distance, hot Jupiters are found very close to their star, sometimes roastingly so.Until now, hot Jupiters were believed to form from material far from the host star and then gradually migrate to a closer orbit as a result of gravitational interaction between the star and the proto-disc of planetary dust.How the „renegade” hot Jupiters came to exist dents this theory, too.It could be that, in their infant stage, these planets became caught up in a „gravitational tug-of-war” with distant planets or even nearby stars, the astronomers suggest in a press release.As a result, the exoplanet would have been hauled into a tilted or elongated orbit. Eventually, due to a phenomenon called tidal friction, it would have been snared by the star, parked in a weird, randomly tilted orbit close by.Another question is what this means about hopes for finding another Earth — a small, rocky planet that is in the „Goldilocks zone,” where it is neither too hot nor too cold but just right so that water can exist in liquid form. The Jupiter in our Solar System is believed to play a protective role, its huge mass taking the hit from rogue comets or asteroids that could smack into the small, vulnerably rocky planets nearer the Sun, including Earth. But the new retrograde hot Jupiters would be killers, not guardians. Essentially, they would be like a giant ball in a game of space billiards, wiping out any smaller planet in the vicinity as they lurched around.”A dramatic side-effect of this process is that it would wipe out any other smaller Earth-like planet in these systems,” said Queloz, also of Geneva Observatory.The discoveries, made using the European Southern Observatory‘s giant 3.6-metre (11.7-feet telescope in La Silla, Chile, have been submitted to peer-reviewed journals for publication, ESO said.
Backwards Alien Planets Challenge Theories By SPACE.com
Several extrasolar planets have been discovered to be orbiting backwards – that is, they revolve in the opposite direction that their host star rotates – challenging accepted ideas of how planets form, according to the astronomers who made the discovery.”This is a real bomb we are dropping into the field of exoplanets,” said team member Amaury Triaud, a Ph.D. student at the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland.The team announced the discovery of nine new transiting exoplanets today at the annual meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in Glasgow, Scotland. Transiting exoplanets are ones that were discovered as they passed in front of their host star from the perspective of Earth, causing a dip in the light coming from that star.Oddball backward planets-When the new results were combined with earlier observations of 18 other transiting planets, the astronomers were surprised to find that six out of that larger sample of 27 exoplanets were orbiting in the opposite direction of the rotation of their host star (called retrograde motion) — the exact reverse of our own solar system. Astronomers first discovered a backwards-orbiting exoplanet in August 2009.The new finding suggests that astronomers might have to revise some aspects of planet formation.Planets are thought to form in the disc of gas and dust that surround a young star. This proto-planetary disc rotates in the same direction as the star itself, and it was thought that any planets that formed out of the disc would revolve in their orbits in that same direction.The planets found in the new study are so-called hot Jupiters, which are Jupiter-sized planets that orbit very close to their parent stars, experiencing extreme temperatures.It was originally thought that hot Jupiters formed far from their star and migrated inwards over a few million years as a result of gravitational interactions with the disc of dust from which they formed. But this theory doesn’t account for the new observations, the team said.How do ‘hot Jupiters’ form?To explain the retrograde motion of the six exoplanets, the hot Jupiters may have migrated in due to the gravitation tug-of-war between them and more distant planetary or stellar companions over the course of hundreds of millions of years. After these disturbances have bounced a giant exoplanet into a tilted and elongated orbit it would suffer tidal friction, losing energy every time it swung close to the star. It would eventually become parked in a near circular, but randomly tilted, orbit close to the star.”The new results really challenge the conventional wisdom that planets should always orbit in the same direction as their star’s spin,” said team member Andrew Cameron of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.In two cases, the retrograde planets have been found to have more distant, massive companions that could have caused the migration.These planetary wanderings also have implications for likelihood of finding Earth-like planets in these systems.”A dramatic side-effect of this process is that it would wipe out any other smaller Earth-like planet in these systems,” said Didier Queloz, also of Geneva Observatory.
Germany hopeful China will back Iran sanctions by P. Parameswaran AFP
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Germany was hopeful Tuesday China will support new sanctions on Iran over a disputed nuclear program as the United States reportedly pledged to help Beijing secure oil supplies if Tehran retaliated.”I see a positive development, even if it is moving slowly and we can’t say whether it will lead to sanctions,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters, adding „I’m veryhopeful.” „China is now part of the process, even though we can’t say clearly what the outcome will be,” she said on the sidelines of a landmark nuclear summit in Washington launched by US President Barack Obama.Germany is among the six world powers leading negotiations with Iran to try to get Iranian leaders to rein in their suspect nuclear program, and Merkel again urged Tehran to meet its international commitments.China has been the most reluctant of the group known as the P5+1 to impose a fourth set of UN sanctions on the Islamic republic, which is a key trading partner for Beijing.Merkel’s statement came amid conflicting signals about China’s stance over imposing tough new sanctions against Iran, which the United States and its allies accuse of covertly working on a nuclear weapon.Iran says it is pursuing only civilian power.Chinese President Hu Jintao told the summit of 47 nations on nuclear security Tuesday that Beijing firmly opposed the spread of nuclear arms, while backing civilian atomic energy.”We firmly oppose nuclear weapons proliferation and strongly support efforts to enhance international nuclear security,” he said, as the summit agreed Tuesday to secure loose nuclear materials around the world within four years.On Monday, a top White House official said Obama and Hu agreed during talks to jointly push for new nuclear sanctions on Iran.”They are prepared to work with us,” said Jeff Bader, Obama’s top official responsible for East Asia on the National Security Council, referring to China.”The two presidents agreed the two delegations should work together on sanctions.”However China, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, undercut hopes for a consensus when it said sanctions were not a solution.”China always believes that dialogue and negotiation are the best way out for the issue. Pressure and sanctions cannot fundamentally solve it,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters Tuesday.Jiang said China backs a „dual-track strategy” consisting of continued dialogue with Tehran, but at the same time maintaining the possibility of sanctions if talks fail to halt sensitive nuclear work.Amid the mixed signals, the New York Times reported Tuesday that Obama had vowed to help keep fuel flowing to China if Iran cuts off supplies in retaliation for joining a drive for the UN sanctions.Obama assured Hu that he was „sensitive to China’s energy needs,” the Times said, adding that the US administration had already sounded out other oil producers to help reassure Beijing that there would be no drop in supply.White House advisor on Iran Dennis Ross travelled to Saudi Arabia last year to seek a pledge that it would step in to help China if needed, the paper said. It also reported that the US president had laid out details of a proposed Security Council sanctions package to Hu — the fourth that would be imposed on Iran over its suspect enrichment program.The measures would include denying Iran access to international credit, choking off foreign investment in its energy sector and slapping restrictions on companies owned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, the paper said.”Until two weeks ago the Chinese would not discuss a sanctions resolution at all,” it quoted a senior White House official as saying.World credibility is at stake in the push to impose tougher sanctions on Iran, said US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley.UN Security Council members had a „special responsibility,” he said. „They have to make their own judgement, but we think at this point the credibility of the international community is at stake,” he said.
CANBERRA, Australia – There are ways to police illegal material on the Internet without resorting to a mandatory filter such as the one proposed by Australia’s government, a U.S. diplomat says.The comments by Jeff Bleich, the U.S. ambassador to Australia, to the Australian news program „Q&A” on Monday came barely two weeks after the U.S. State Department expressed concern about the online restrictions, which would make Australia one of the strictest Internet regulators among the world’s democracies.”The Internet needs to be free,” Bleich said. „We have been able to accomplish the goals that Australia has described, which is to capture and prosecute child pornographers … without having to use Internet filters.”Bleich said Washington was sharing with Canberra other methods of combating illegal content.Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says the filter would block access to sites that include child pornography, sexual violence and detailed instructions in crime or drug use.The plan needs the support of Parliament to become law later this year.Some critics of Australia’s proposed filter have said it puts the nation in the same censorship league as China, and Internet giants Google and Yahoo have criticized the plan as heavy-handed.The U.S. State Department said last month that open Internet access encouraged economic prosperity and the free flow of information.
World safer after nuclear summit, Obama says by Stephen Collinson AFP
WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama declared the world safer after a 47-nation summit agreed to a four-year deadline to lock down loose nuclear materials to prevent them from falling into militant hands.”Because of the steps we’ve taken the American people will be safer and the world will be more secure,” Obama said at the end of the summit in Washington.The unprecedented gathering met a challenge laid down by Obama, who said the world was littered with poorly guarded fissile material and that a nuclear-armed militant group could threaten global „catastrophe.””We welcome and join President Obama’s call to secure all vulnerable nuclear material in four years, as we work together to enhance nuclear security,” the leaders said in a joint communique.Hosting the largest summit in the United States in over six decades, Obama also pressed China and other UN Security Council skeptics to back UN sanctions on Iran over its controversial nuclear program.Related article:China ready to discuss ‘new ideas’ on Iran”I am going to push as hard as I can to make sure that we get strong sanctions that have consequences for Iran,” Obama said.Amid mixed signals from Beijing, Chinese President Hu Jintao told the summit that Beijing „firmly” opposes atomic weapons proliferation, while backing civilian uses.Beijing kept the world guessing, though, as to whether it would fully endorse the US-led push for a fourth set of UN sanctions on Iran, although a Chinese official said later Tuesday it was ready to discuss „new ideas.”In a boost to Obama however, several countries including Ukraine, Mexico and Canada declared their intention to give up highly-enriched uranium at the summit. And Russia and the United States signed a protocol to get rid of 34 tons of plutonium each, equivalent to 17,000 weapons.Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hailed the summit as a „full success” as Moscow announced plans to shut down its last weapons-grade plutonium reactor.Related article:Nuclear summit brings glow to US-Russia tiesA Russian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, provided no further details but confirmed to AFP that Medvedev had unveiled the plans at the summit in Washington.Obama welcomed the move, calling the closure of the Soviet-era site in Siberia an „important step” for bolstering nuclear security.On what are commonly referred to as loose nukes, the US leader pressed his guests „not simply to talk, but to act,” the US president said.”Nuclear materials that could be sold or stolen and fashioned into a nuclear weapon exist in dozens of nations.”He said Al-Qaeda had tried to obtain a nuclear bomb, and that radioactive material as small as an apple was enough to kill thousands of people.”It would be a catastrophe for the world — causing extraordinary loss of life, and striking a major blow at global peace and stability.”The summit leaders agreed in their communique to non-binding, only partly defined measures to combat nuclear trafficking, including sharing information and detection, forensics and law enforcement expertise.The leaders said they „recognize the need for cooperation among states to effectively prevent and respond to incidents of illicit nuclear trafficking.” But increased security must „not infringe upon the rights of states to develop and utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and technology,” summit participants said. Experts said afterwards that Obama’s goals while lofty were by no means assured. „I think it’s ambitious, it’s underfunded and it’s going to take a lot effort by the United States and other countries to make it work,” Ken Luango, president for Partnership for Global Security, told AFP. Meanwhile, Obama appealed for 10 billion dollars in an initiative with Canada to improve nuclear security worldwide. The US leader also addressed fears about the nuclear arsenal in Pakistan, a major stronghold for Al-Qaeda and militant groups at war with US forces in Afghanistan, saying he felt „confident” about security levels. „But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t improvement to make,” Obama said. A manual on securing stocks of separated plutonium and weapons grade uranium, as well as advice on how to dispose of the dangerous materials, was issued at the end of the summit.However, all the steps are voluntary and the plan for accomplishing the four-year plan remains sketchy.
Verdict due in China official’s mafia trial by Robert Saiget AFP
BEIJING (AFP) – A Chinese court on Wednesday was to deliver its verdict in the case of a former top official accused of sheltering criminal gangs in the city of Chongqing, where mafia kingpins ran rampant for years.Wen Qiang, who once headed the judiciary and served as deputy police chief in the southwest mega-city, stands accused of taking more than two million dollars in bribes, multiple rapes and protecting organised crime networks.An official at the Number Five Intermediate Court in the municipality, which is home to more than 30 million people, said the verdict would be read out at 3:00 pm (0700 GMT).Wen, 54, was the highest-ranking public figure ensnared in a massive crackdown launched last year that has so far resulted in more than 3,300 detentions and hundreds of prosecutions. Nearly 100 officials have been tried.He could face the death penalty if convicted.At least seven people have been reported executed or sentenced to death in the trials, which have shocked the public by exposing the impunity enjoyed by mafia bosses who terrorised Chongqing — and the officials who protected them.”Wen Qiang provided the biggest protection umbrella for the Chongqing mafia — his sentencing will show that Chongqing’s crackdown on organised crime is rather complete,” Gao Yaoxian, a legal expert at the Legal Institute of Sichuan University, told AFP.”Whether he is sentenced to death or not will be up to the court to decide, (but) it will serve as a warning to other corrupt officials.”The Chongqing trials have captivated the public, due in no small part to the salacious details revealed in court. Wen allegedly raped a number of women including B-list film and music starlets, and had affairs with subordinates.Wen — who was deputy police chief for 16 years — owned numerous flats and villas, had a fleet of foreign luxury cars, and maintained a treasure trove of antiques and artworks worth hundreds of millions of yuan, press reports said.At his February trial, Wen admitted he took money from others on numerous occasions but that no corruption was involved and much of it was for „birthday and New Year” greetings, according to state media.He was tried with his wife and three former Chongqing police associates, who will also hear their fate on Wednesday.In November, Wen’s sister-in-law Xie Caiping was sentenced to 18 years in prison on charges of running illegal gambling dens and drug dealing.Dubbed the „Godmother” by Chinese media, Xie reportedly drove a Mercedes-Benz, owned several luxury villas and kept a stable of 16 young men to provide her with sexual services.The crackdown is widely seen as a bid by Bo Xilai — who was appointed party secretary in Chongqing in 2007 and is considered one of the party’s most popular and charismatic figures — to move up in the national hierarchy.President Hu Jintao has warned that graft threatens to undermine the party’s legitimacy and in recent months has repeatedly called for a continued crackdown on corruption.
AA flight makes emergency landing in Iceland By AP
REYKJAVIK, Iceland – An American Airlines flight with 145 people on board made an emergency landing in Iceland on Tuesday after five crew members became ill, apparently from chemical fumes in the cabin.American Airlines Flight 49 traveling from Paris to Dallas-Fort Worth landed safely at Keflavik Airport just after 1345 GMT (9:45 a.m. EDT). Airport spokesman Fridthor Eydal said mechanics and civil aviation investigators were examining the plane to find the cause of the problem.”They were apparently having some sort of problems with some sort of fumes in the cabin,” said spokesman Tim Smith of American Airlines, a unit of AMR Corp.Frodi Jonsson, an official at the airport’s fire department, said the fumes might be traced to boxes in the hold containing plane parts with oils and liquids. He said the cargo would be examined in an investigation.”There was nothing unusual going on,” he told the Icelandic National Broadcaster when asked whether he suspected a terrorist attack.The airline sent a replacement plane from London to pick up the 133 passengers and 12 crew members. The replacement flight left Iceland at about 9 p.m. local time for Dallas, Smith said.The five crew members were in the cooking area of the Boeing 767-300 when they became ill, Civil Protection Agency officials said in a statement. Eight ambulances were sent to the airport but were not used.Eydal said the crew members who complained of dizziness or nausea were treated at the scene and no one was taken to hospital.Keflavik, Iceland’s international airport, is located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of the capital, Reykjavik.
Group urges Colombia to probe journalist’s death By AP
BOGOTA – Reporters Without Borders is condemning as hasty the conclusion by Colombian police that the murder of an indigenous radio station director was a crime of passion. It wants authorities to investigate the case further.Colombia’s National Indigenous Organization says Mauricio Medina Moreno was killed Sunday in Tolima province. Moreno, director of CRIT 98.0 FM, belonged to the Pijao ethnic group.Police Col. Jose Herrera says Moreno was stabbed 25 times and investigators believe it was a crime of passion.In a Web posting Tuesday, Reporters Without Borders says the conclusion was made almost immediately after the body was found. It says the „crime of passion” motive is too often used to avoid investigating possible links to a victim’s work.
Ethiopia and EU agree on monitoring elections By AFP
ADDIS ABEBA (AFP) – Ethiopian authorities and the European Union signed accords Tuesday allowing EU observers to monitor May’s general elections in the Horn of Africa country, officials said.”The decision to send a full-fledged observation team was taken last week by (EU foreign affairs chief) Baroness Ashton,” the EU representative in Ethiopia, Dino Sinigallia, said during a signing ceremony with the electoral commission.”The mission will be composed of approximately 200 persons,” Sinigallia added, and will have a budget of 7.2 million euros (9.8 million dollars). „A request was sent by the Ethiopian government on October 8, 2009.”The Dutch head of the EU mission is due to arrive in Ethiopia on Wednesday. Thijs Berman, a member of the European Socialist Party in the European Parliament, has already headed a team to monitor elections, in Afghanistan in 2009.”The elections in Ethiopia will be observed by international standards,” another European diplomat told AFP Tuesday.The general elections are planned on May 23.The polls will be the first at national level since the vote of 2005 saw the opposition to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi win the highest scores on record.But that election was followed by bloodshed. Some 200 people were killed in clashes triggered by opposition claims of fraud.The European Union, particularly mission chief Anna Gomez, then denounced irregularities in the polls, leading to high tension with the Ethiopian authorities.