MIAMI – President Barack Obama said Thursday he’s amused by the anti-tax tea party protests that have been taking place around Tax Day.Obama told a fundraiser in Miami that he’s cut taxes, contrary to the claims of protesters.”You would think they’d be saying thank you,” he said.At that,
many in the crowd at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts stood and yelled, „Thank you!”The fundraiser was one of two Obama held after a speech at Cape Canaveral on his administration’s space policy. The other was hosted by Gloria and Emilio Estefan, a $30,400-per-couple fete that stirred some controversy in the traditionally Republican Cuban-American community. Together, the events raised $2.5 million for the Democratic National Committee.In introducing Obama, Gloria Estefan said her father would have been proud to know that his daughter was hosting a president who had called for an end to repression in Cuba and the release of all political prisoners there.”The beauty of this amazing nation is that anything is possible,” she said. „Even hosting a very political evening to get the ‘ear’ of my president when I am politically nonaffiliated, but the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. put it succinctly when he said, ‘We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.'”DNC Chairman Tim Kaine spoke before Obama and delivered a sobering assessment of the party’s chances in the November midterm elections, noting that the party in power traditionally sustains losses in the midterms.”There are a lot of prognosticators who are saying this is going to be a very tough year for the Democrats,” Kaine said.”We sort of have to assume that we’re running into a headwind,” Kaine said, but he contended Democrats were accustomed to being underdogs.Obama called on Republicans and Democrats to come together to pass strong financial regulation legislation. He said every member of Congress would have to decide „between special interests and the American people.”Obama cheered the special-election victory of Florida Democratic state Sen. Ted Deutch in Tuesday’s special election to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler. It was the first House election since passage of his controversial health care bill and Obama noted that commentators viewed the election as a referendum on that legislation or on Obama himself.”And it was!” he said.Associated Press writer Christine Armario contributed to this report.
White House, CIA lawyers angry at tape destruction By ADAM GOLDMAN and MATT APUZZO, Associated Press
WASHINGTON – White House counsel Harriet Miers was „livid” and CIA counsel John Rizzo was „clearly upset” that the spy agency destroyed interrogation videos showing waterboarding in 2005, newly released CIA documents show.The documents show that, not long after destroying the videos, CIA officials worried they’d done something improper. The internal CIA e-mails foreshadow a controversy that has lingered at the agency for years and remains the subject of a Justice Department investigation.The videos showed CIA interrogators using waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique, on terrorism suspect Abu Zubaydah. The videos showed that interrogators did not follow the waterboarding procedures authorized by President George W. Bush’s administration, the documents show.The e-mails, released by the Justice Department under a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union, showed that Bush’s top lawyer, Miers, and her CIA counterpart, Rizzo, were both angry the tapes were destroyed.”Rizzo is clearly upset because he was on the hook to notify Harriet Miers of the status of the tapes because it was she who had asked to be advised before any action was taken,” reads a November 2005 e-mail from an unidentified CIA officer to the agency’s No. 3 official, Kyle „Dusty” Foggo. „Apparently, Rizzo called Harriet this afternoon and she was livid.”
Obama signs $18 billion jobless benefits bill By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press
WASHINGTON – Just hours after Congress passed an $18 billion bill to restore unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, President Barack Obama made it the law of the land.The measure comes as welcome relief to hundreds of thousands of people who lost out on the additional weeks of compensation after exhausting their state-paid benefits. They now will be able to reapply for long-term unemployment benefits and receive those checks retroactively under the legislation.The bill also restores full Medicare payments to doctors who were threatened by a 21 percent cut and refloats the flood insurance program.Obama signed the bill when he returned to the White House on Thursday night from fundraisers in Miami and a speech earlier in the day at Cape Canaveral, presidential spokesman Bill Burton said.Obama thanked Congress for passing the temporary extension, saying it was critical to help struggling families make ends meet.”Millions of Americans who lost their jobs in this economic crisis depend on unemployment and health insurance benefits to get by as they look for work and get themselves back on their feet,” Obama said in a statement. „But as I requested in my budget, I urge Congress to move quickly to extend these benefits through the end of this year.”The legislation cleared both houses of Congress on Thursday night. The House passed the bill 289-112 just two hours after it emerged from the Senate on a 59-38 vote that capped an unusually partisan debate. Republicans largely chose to take a stand against the legislation for adding to the $12.8 trillion national despite backing it by wide margins in December and again recently.”It increases the deficit by $18 billion, a cost to be paid for by future generations,” said Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. „This legislation is yet another unfortunate example of business as usual in our nation’s capital.”Several other popular programs had also expired, including federal flood insurance, higher Medicare payment rates for doctors and generous health insurance subsidies for people who have lost their jobs.The situation became more urgent Thursday afternoon when Medicare announced that it would start paying doctors’ claims at a 21 percent lower rate. That won’t be necessary now.Thursday’s measure provides up to 99 weekly unemployment checks averaging $335 to people whose 26 weeks of state-paid benefits have run out. It’s a temporary extension through June 2 that gives House and Senate Democrats time to iron out a measure to fund the program through the end of the year.Fewer than 1 in 3 House Republicans voted for the measure. Just three Senate Republicans did. The sole Democrat to oppose it was longtime budget hawk Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee.The bill also extends a program created under last year’s economic stimulus bill that gives unemployed people a 65 percent subsidy on health care premiums under the so-called COBRA program.On successive votes earlier in the day, Democrats narrowly turned back two amendments by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that would have paid for the measure over time by cutting spending and raising almost $10 billion in revenues with a variety of Democratic-backed ideas to tighten the tax code. One of Coburn’s amendments was killed by a 50-48 vote.The topic of providing additional weeks of jobless benefits in the midst of bad times had been regarded as routine. But with conservative voters and tea party activists up in arms about the deficit, conservative Senate Republicans upset about the deficit have twice caused interruptions of jobless benefits and other programs.In February, Jim Bunning, R-Ky., single-handedly blocked an extension of unemployment benefits in an unsuccessful bid to force Democrats to pay for them. The measure passed on a 78-19 vote after Republicans were smacked by a public relations backlash.But many Republicans believe it was a stand worth taking, including Coburn, who blocked a vote last month on another short-term extension.By the time Senators returned from a two-week recess on Monday, only four Republicans — Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and George Voinovich of Ohio — voted with Democrats to defeat a GOP filibuster of the bill. Only Voinovich, Collins and Snowe voted for the bill on Thursday. Democrats said it was the wrong topic for Republicans to take a stand on the deficit after voting for tax cuts, wars and a new Medicare drug benefit without paying for them.”They seem to have discovered fiscal responsibility when it comes time to extend unemployment benefits but not when it came to paying for tax cuts for the rich and the Iraq war,” said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich.Twenty-one Senate Republicans voted for the earlier extension last month and House GOP leaders opted against even forcing a vote. But Thursday’s vote came after senators spent two weeks among their constituents — and as thousands of tea party activists came to Washington to protest on deadline day for filing taxes.”I think people spent two weeks out listening to people about spending and debt,” Coburn said.The House has twice this year approved short-term extensions of jobless benefits and other expired programs.The various programs in the longer-term legislation represent much of the Democrats’ remaining agenda on job creation. One of the reasons the short-term legislation was needed is that House and Senate Democrats are having difficulty resolving their differences on how to pay for a package of expired tax breaks for individuals and businesses.Other elements of the jobs agenda such as cash to build roads and schools and help local governments keep teachers on the payroll, remain on the shelf for a lack of money to pay for them. Democrats said deficit-financed jobless benefits not only needed to help people unable to find work but that they are one of the most effective ways to pump up the still-struggling economy.
On to Mars: Obama declares, ‘I expect to see it’ By SETH BORENSTEIN and ERICA WERNER, Associated Press CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – President Barack Obama boldly predicted Thursday his new plans for space exploration would lead American astronauts on historic, almost fantastic journeys to an asteroid and then to Mars — and in his lifetime — relying on rockets and propulsion still to be imagined and built.”I expect to be around to see it,” he said of pioneering U.S. trips starting with a landing on an asteroid — a colossal feat in itself — before the long-dreamed-of expedition to Mars. He spoke near the historic Kennedy Space Center launch pads that sent the first men to the moon, a blunt rejoinder to critics, including several former astronauts, who contend his planned changes will instead deal a staggering blow to the nation’s manned space program.”We want to leap into the future,” not continue on the same path as before, Obama said as he sought to reassure NASA workers that America’s space adventures would soar on despite the impending termination of space shuttle flights.His prediction was reminiscent of President John F. Kennedy’s declaration in 1961, „I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” That goal was fulfilled in 1969.Obama did not predict a Mars landing soon. But he said that by 2025, the nation would have a new spacecraft „designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the moon into deep space.””We’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history,” he said. „By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it.”The biggest criticisms of Obama’s plans have been that they have lacked details and goals. Thursday’s speech was an attempt to answer, especially since an asteroid is the next step away from Earth’s reach.Asteroids zip by Earth fairly often and have occasionally smacked the planet with disastrous results. For example, asteroids have been blamed for the extinction of the dinosaurs.Landing on an asteroid would give scientists a better idea of how to handle a future killer asteroid that could wipe out much of life on Earth. Also, it would be a feat sure to win great attention — and there is far less gravity than the moon, meaning it would be easier and cheaper to leave.”I think he said all the right things” in declaring a commitment to space exploration, said George Washington University space scholar John Logsdon, who has served on several NASA advisory boards. „I don’t know what more you could have asked for.”But several Republicans, including Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana and Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, assailed Obama’s plan and speech, calling his plans „job-killing.””The president’s new plans for NASA are flat-out irresponsible,” Vitter said. „He has evidently decided … that it’s time for us to simply walk away from manned space exploration for the foreseeable future, with no clear timeline for returning or for achieving any of our goals for deep space exploration.”Obama said he was „100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future.” He outlined plans for federal spending to bring more private companies into space exploration following the soon-to-end space shuttle program.He acknowledged criticism for his drastic changes to the space agency’s direction. But, he said, „The bottom line is: Nobody is more committed to manned space flight, the human exploration of space, than I am. But we’ve got to do it in a smart way; we can’t keep doing the same old things as before.”Obama said the space program is not a luxury but a necessity for the United States.He noted that the Kennedy Space Center has inspired the nation and the world for half a century. He said NASA represents what it means to be American — „reaching for new heights and reaching for what’s possible” — and is not close to its final days.Obama sought to explain why he aborted President George W. Bush’s return-to-the moon plan in favor of a complicated system of public-and-private flights that would go elsewhere in space, with details still to be worked out.”We’ve been there before,” Obama said of the nation’s moon landings decades ago. „There’s a lot more of space to explore.” He said his administration would support continued manned exploration of space „not just with dollars, but with clear aims and a larger purpose.”The Obama space plan relies on private companies to fly to the space station, giving them almost $6 billion to build their own rockets and ships. It also extends the space station’s life by five years and puts billions into research to eventually develop new government rocket ships for future missions to a nearby asteroid, to the moon, to Martian moons or other points in space. Those stops would be stepping stones on an eventual mission to Mars itself.Addressing concerns of job losses to space program workers, particularly in Florida, Obama said that „despite some reports to the contrary,” his plan would add more than 2,500 jobs to the Cape Canaveral region over the next two years than would the plan worked out by his predecessor.”We’ll modernize the Kennedy Space Center, creating jobs as we upgrade launch facilities. And there is potential for even more job creation as companies in Florida and across America compete to be part of a new space transportation industry.”This holds the promise of generating more than 10,000 jobs nationwide over the next few years. Many of these jobs will be created in Florida, an area primed to lead in this competition,” he said.Among his most vocal critics has been Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Obama did not mention Armstrong, who did not attend the speech, but he did praise Buzz Aldrin, one of Armstrong’s Apollo 11 crewmates.Aldrin did attend the speech — flying in with Obama on Air Force One.Obama also said his administration would rescue a small part of the moon program: its Orion crew capsule. But instead of taking four astronauts to the moon, the not-yet-built Orion will be slimmed down and used as an emergency escape pod for the space station. Obama spoke in the vast launch complex’s Operations and Checkout building — the place where Orion is scheduled to be eventually prepared for launch. The president said, „This Orion effort will be part of the technological foundation for advanced spacecraft to be used in future deep space missions. In fact, Orion will be readied for flight right here in this room.” White House science adviser John Holdren summed up Obama’s program as „a faster pace in space, more missions to more destinations sooner at lower cost.”
Why go to an asteroid? By REUTERS WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama made his case to NASA workers in Florida on Thursday for abandoning plans to return to the moon and instead aim for asteroids, Mars and more robotic missions.Visiting a nearby asteroid would be a small step with a big impact.Not only can asteroids tell scientists how planets formed, but they may contain some more primordial elements from the early solar system.And studying them can help NASA understand how to break them up if needed.NASA’s Near Earth Object Program has identified more than 1,000 „potentially hazardous asteroids.” None is on a collision course with Earth but asteroids have struck before — one wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.Sometimes they come really close — in March 2009 an asteroid passed by Earth at a distance of just about 49,000 miles.In October, a government-appointed panel led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine recommended a trip to an asteroid instead of the moon. Lockheed builds NASA’s Orion spacecraft.NASA has already sent spacecraft to an asteroid. In February 2001, the remotely controlled NEAR spacecraft touched down on asteroid Eros, in part to practice landing on a moving object in space but also to study the make-up of asteroids.(Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Sandra Maler)
Soaring meteor lights up skies across the Midwest By DINESH RAMDE, Associated Press MILWAUKEE – A large meteor streaked across the Midwestern sky momentarily turning night into day, rattling houses and causing trees and the ground to shake, authorities said Thursday. There were no immediate reports of injuries.Witnesses say the meteor lit up the sky Wednesday about 10:10 p.m. National Weather Service offices across the Midwest said it was visible from southwestern Wisconsin and northern Iowa to central Missouri.Radar information suggests the meteor landed in the southwest corner of Wisconsin, either Grant or Lafayette counties, said Ashley Sears, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Milwaukee office. Officials in both counties said no one reported seeing a meteorite or crater.Lafayette County Sheriff Scott Pedley said his office received multiple reports of a very bright light in the sky followed by houses and the ground shaking.”There were reports of four to five minutes of explosions or rumbling,” he said. He couldn’t say what the sound was but speculated it may have been a sonic boom if the meteor broke the sound barrier.A dashboard camera in the squad car of a Howard County sheriff‘s deputy in Iowa caught a glimpse of the fireball. In the video, the object streaks toward the ground, then swells and brightens in an apparent explosion before disappearing behind a distant clump of trees.As large as the halo seems, history suggests the object might only be the size of a softball or basketball, said James Lattis, the director of the University of Wisconsin Space Place in Madison.”These things are surprisingly small,” Lattis said. He noted meteor showers can produce streaks visible from miles away even though the objects that are burning up might be the size of a grain of sand.Lattis said because Wednesday’s meteor apparently exploded, it’s possible it will never be recovered. Unless the fragments landed on a rooftop, car, yard or other prominent place, they could be virtually indistinguishable from other rocks and pebbles on the ground.”In that case it will just be luck if anyone happens to recognize it,” he said.Lattis said there’s even a chance the sighting wasn’t a meteor, noting an object such as a broken satellite part could create a similar effect. A message seeking comment was left with NASA.Sean Thompson was watching television in his Iowa City, Iowa, apartment when a bright light caught his eye for about 10 seconds before it disappeared.”It was somewhat alarming to me,” Thompson said. „I’ve seen shooting stars, but I’ve never seen something jetting across the sky with flames shooting off it.”Some initially speculated the object was part of a two-week-long meteor shower currently under way. But Lattis said it most likely wasn’t part of the Gamma Virginids shower because it came from the opposite direction.The Gamma Virginids shower began April 4 and is expected to last through April 21. Thursday is expected to be the second straight day of peak activity.Meteors are caused by bits of space debris, such as that left by a comet. Dust and debris burn up in the atmosphere and create streaks of light. Unlike other celestial sightings that require a telescope or binoculars, the best way to watch a meteor shower is with the naked eye.Associated Press Writer Molly Hottle in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.
Astronauts remove troublesome cargo container By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – After struggling for hours with a balky latching system, shuttle Discovery‘s astronauts successfully removed a cargo carrier from the International Space Station on Thursday.They used a giant robot arm to move the compartment close to Discovery’s payload bay. Because it was so late in the crew’s day, Mission Control put off stowing the carrier inside the shuttle until Friday.”Good job, guys,” Mission Control said when the carrier finally came unlatched late Thursday afternoon.The astronauts stayed up late to accomplish the job. They spent virtually all day dealing with the troublesome latching system.The cargo carrier, filled with trash and old equipment, needs to return to Earth aboard Discovery so it can be outfitted and fly back up in September on the last shuttle flight.Earlier Thursday, Mission Control managed to clear another space station problem, at least for the time being. Managers ruled out the need for an emergency spacewalk by the shuttle crew to fix a stuck valve in the cooling system.Any valve repairs can wait until after Discovery leaves, engineers concluded following two days of analysis.”Our first priority is to understand: Is it really failed and non-recoverable,” said Kirk Shireman, NASA‘s deputy space station program manager. If it is, then the entire assembly will need to be replaced by spacewalking astronauts.Shireman said it’s unlikely any spacewalk repairs will be conducted before or during the next shuttle flight in mid-May. But he stressed nothing has been ruled out. For now, the space station’s cooling system is doing its job.The nitrogen valve failed to open Tuesday after a new ammonia tank was installed. The nitrogen is needed to pressurize the ammonia.The latest problem was with one of the control panels that send commands to release the bolts that lock the cargo carrier in place on the space station. Flight controllers noticed strange electrical signals coming from the panels and, indeed, the astronauts found a sheared screw on one connector. The astronauts taped the screw in place and double- and even triple-checked all the electrical connectors.Controllers huddled in Mission Control as the problem dragged on, apologizing to the astronauts for the slow step-by-step instructions.”I’m going to let you know that in my line of sight right now, I have seven flight directors talking about this,” Mission Control radioed.”Wow, that sounds like a party, dude,” Anderson replied.The cargo carrier flew up on Discovery, filled with fresh station supplies and science experiments. The next time the chamber flies, it’s supposed to remain permanently at the space station and serve as an extra closet.Discovery is scheduled to undock from the space station Saturday and return to Earth on Monday. The astronauts should be able to carry out a full inspection of the shuttle’s wings and nose Friday as planned, despite the added workload involving the cargo carrier.Back at NASA’s launch and landing site, meanwhile, hundreds of journalists and dignitaries gathered for an afternoon visit by President Barack Obama.Obama pitched his post-shuttle plans for NASA, including development of a rescue capsule for space station astronauts and expeditions to first an asteroid and then Mars over the next couple decades. Once Discovery lands, only three shuttle flights will be left. NASA hopes to wrap up the last mission — along with space station construction — by the end of September.
Obama tries to sell NASA on new space plan By Steve Holland and Irene Klotz REUTERS
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – President Barack Obama sought to blunt criticism of his new space policy on Thursday by telling NASA employees his plan would save some jobs and advance exploration of the solar system.Obama laid out his case on a visit to Kennedy Space Center, where a sense of a looming crisis has taken hold because thousands of jobs are drying up when the space shuttle is retired at the end of the year. Many also fear the U.S. space program will no longer be a world leader.Obama told a crowd of about 200 people at Kennedy Space Center, a key source of jobs in the election battleground state of Florida, that he understood their worries and addressed some of the critics, who included Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon.”The bottom line is, nobody is more committed to manned space flight, to human exploration of space, than I am. But we’ve got to do it in a smart way,” Obama said to applause.He said a $6 billion increase in NASA’s budget will help ramp up exploration of the solar system, increase Earth-based observation to improve an understanding of climate change and bolster support for private space companies which he said have formed a bedrock of America’s space programs.To those who would return America to the moon as had been planned, Obama said: „I just have to say pretty bluntly — we’ve been there before … There’s a lot more space to explore and a lot more to learn when we do.”Obama has faced sharp criticism for proposing to abandon the Constellation moon program after $9 billion has been spent and allocate $6 billion to support private companies in developing space rockets to carry astronauts to the International Space Station.HEAVY-LIFT ROCKET-Getting a glimpse of what he hopes will be the future of the space program, Obama took a walk to look at a Falcon 9 rocket set to lift off in a test next month. It is a product of SpaceX, a private company, and company chief Elon Musk was on hand to tell Obama about the rocket.In his speech, the president announced that he wants to accelerate development of a large, heavy-lift rocket to carry astronauts beyond low-earth orbit. He called for making a decision on the new rocket design in 2015.”I think we can make the decision much sooner,” said Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, who accompanied Obama on the trip. „We’re going to keep testing the monster rockets at Kennedy Space Center.”Obama stuck to his decision to cancel the Constellation program, designed by the previous Bush administration to return Americans to the moon but behind schedule.He would salvage from Constellation a crew capsule called Orion, which was to carry astronauts to the moon but will serve instead as an emergency escape vehicle at the International Space Station.That would free American astronauts from having to rely on Russia’s Soyuz capsule to return to Earth in an emergency.The Obama administration estimates the new plan would create an estimated 2,500 jobs in the Cape Canaveral area.To ease the transition for workers dislocated, Obama proposed a $40 million fund to help transform the regional economy around NASA’s Florida facilities and prepare its workforce for new opportunities.The skeptical and disheartened community expects to lose 9,000 Kennedy Space Center jobs when the shuttle program ends and Constellation is shut down.Another 14,000 job losses could take place in related industries, including restaurants, hotels and retail shops.”It’s not just the local community that will be affected. It’ll be the whole nation. We won’t be No. 1 in space anymore,” said Karan Conklin, who oversees the U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum in Titusville, Fla. „After 50 years of manned spaceflight, now all of a sudden in what seems like a weekend, it’s gone.” The changes prompted Apollo 11 astronaut Armstrong to emerge briefly from his habitual reclusion to complain that the U.S. space program, long the world leader, was at risk of being reduced to a „second or even third rate stature.””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,” he said in letter to NBC writtenly jointly with astronauts James Lovell of the Apollo 13 mission and Eugene Cernan of the Apollo 17 mission.Armstrong’s Apollo 11 colleague, Edwin „Buzz” Aldrin, however, has backed Obama’s new plan.Aldrin flew with the president to Cape Canaveral on Air Force One, which landed on the space shuttle landing strip.(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
China Shifts Space Station Project Into Overdrive By Clara Moskowitz SPACE.com
COLORADO SRINGS, Colo. – China is planning to launch three spacecraft between 2011 and 2016 to form the basis of a manned space station, the director of the Chinese Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) said Wednesday.China plans to launch its first space station module, Tiangong 1, during the first half of 2011, said Wang Wenbao, CMSEO director general, addressing an audience of American and international space industry workers here at the 26th National Space Symposium.The endeavor is part of an ambitious space program for China, which is only the third nation, after Russia and the United States, to independently launch humans to space. The country’s third manned spaceflight, the Shenzhou 7 mission in 2008, featured China’s first spacewalk.”Space is the common resource of all humankind,” Wenbao told SPACE.com. „The basic curiosity, desire to explore the unknown, are all the same universal human nature.”During the second half of 2011, China intends to launch the unmanned Shenzhou 8 mission, which will meet up with Tiangong 1 in space, performing China’s first in-flight rendezvous and docking. Then, China plans to follow up with two more missions – Shenzhou 9 and 10 – in the first and second halves of 2012 respectively, to „make breakthroughs and master the necessary technologies of rendezvous and docking,” Wenbao said through a translator. The Shenzhou spacecraft are designed to carry three astronauts, or taikonauts. But these subsequent rendezvous and docking flights will only be manned if the first unmanned foray goes well.”For Shenzhou 9 to be manned or unmanned depends on Shenzhou 8,” Wenbao told SPACE.com. The most challenging aspect of planning for this feat has been designing the docking mechanism and the „training of astronauts to maneuver and masterfully control the spacecraft on orbit,” Wenbao said.The Tiangong 1module is intended as the cornerstone of a Chinese space outpost that will host research in the life sciences, materials sciences, and agriculture, including the cultivation of seeds in space.The second module of the Chinese space station, Tiangong 2, is set to debut during a 2013 liftoff. Tiangong 3 will follow sometime in 2014 to 2016. Then China will continue constructing the space station between 2016 and 2022. Once established, the laboratory should run for about three years.”Astronauts can stay in the space station for long term and carry out space experiments on a large scale,” Wenbao said.To supply this orbiting laboratory, China is developing a cargo-carrying spacecraft that will hold no less than 5.5 tons (5,000 kg), Wenbao said. That’s about twice as much cargo capacity as Russia’s Progress unmanned spacecraft, which currently services the International Space Station (ISS), and a little less than the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV), which also flies to the ISS.”Our cargo spacecraft will be developed on the basis of our manned spacecraft and space lab,” Wenbao said.China’s launch into to the field of human spaceflight began in 2003, with the successful launch of a Shenzhou spacecraft carrying astronaut Yang Liwei into orbit. A second spaceflight, this time with two astronauts aboard, followed in 2006.China’s Shenzhou spacecraft are derived from the three-module Soyuz spacecraft built by Russia. They consist of an orbital module, a crew capsule and a propulsion module. But unlike Russia’s Soyuz, the Shenzhou’s orbital module has its own solar arrays, allowing it to linger in orbit for months after its crew has returned to Earth. China is also looking to foster closer relationships with the space programs of other nations, he said. He invited the representatives of the world’s space agencies to come visit China’s space facilities „to discuss cooperation with our experts in the field of manned space and together to promote the development and the progress of space technology.”
Presidential visits to Kennedy Space Center By The Associated Press
Barack Obama is making the first presidential stop at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., in more than a decade. A look at presidential visits:April 15, 2010: Barack Obama attends space conference.Oct. 29, 1998: Bill Clinton visited for Sen. John Glenn’s space shuttle launch.Oct. 1, 1978: Jimmy Carter celebrated NASA’s 20th anniversary.Nov. 14, 1969: Richard Nixon visited for Apollo 12 launch. He was the first sitting president to witness a NASA launch.Sept. 27, 1966: Lyndon Johnson visited with West German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard.Sept. 15, 1964: Johnson made an impromptu visit and inspected a booster prepared for launch.Nov. 16, 1963: John F. Kennedy visited Cape Canaveral and watched launch of Polaris missile from submarine.Sept. 11, 1962: Kennedy and Vice President Johnson toured launch complex.Feb. 23, 1962: Kennedy and Johnson awarded medals to NASA leaders.Feb. 10, 1960: Dwight Eisenhower visited.Source: NASA.
Powerful Lightning at Saturn Revealed in Video By Denise Chow SPACE.com
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured images of lightning at Saturn that allowed scientists to create the first movie showing lightning flashing on another planet. „The visible light images tell us a lot about the lightning,” said Ulyana Dyudina, a Cassini imaging team associate based at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, Calif., who was the first to see the flashes. „Now we can begin to measure how powerful these storms are, where they form in the cloud layer and how the optical intensity relates to the total energy of the thunderstorms.”After waiting years for Saturn to dim enough for the spacecraft’s cameras to be able to detect bursts of light, scientists were able to create the movie, complete with an accompanying soundtrack that features the crackle of radio waves emitted when lightning bolts struck. [Watch the video] „This is the first time we have the visible lightning flash together with the radio data,” said Georg Fischer, a radio and plasma wave science team associate based at the Space Research Institute in Graz, Austria. „Now that the radio and visible light data line up, we know for sure we are seeing powerful lightning storms.”Very powerful storms-Cassini, launched in 1997, and NASA’s Voyager mission, launched in 1977, had previously captured radio emissions from storms on Saturn.A belt around the gas giant, where Cassini previously detected radio emissions and bright, conservative clouds, even earned the nickname „storm alley.” Cassini’s cameras, however, had been unable to obtain pictures of lightning flashing.Since the robotic spacecraft’s arrival at Saturn in 2004, it has been difficult for Cassini to see lightning because the planet is very bright and reflective. Sunlight that shines off of Saturn’s enormous rings makes even the night side of Saturn brighter than a full-moon night on Earth.The equinox period around August 2009 finally brought enough darkness needed for Cassini’s cameras. During equinox, the sun shone directly over the planet’s equator, lighting the rings edge-on only, leaving the bulk of the rings in shadow. The movie and radio data collected by the scientists suggest extremely powerful storms, with lightning that flashes as brightly as the brightest super-bolts of lightning on Earth, according to Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging science subsystem team member at Caltech. „What’s interesting is that the storms are as powerful – or even more powerful – at Saturn as on Earth,” Ingersoll said. „But they occur much less frequently, with usually only one happening on the planet at any given time, though it can last for months.”Making the videoThe first images of lightning on Saturn were captured in August 2009, during a storm that lasted from January to October 2009, longer than any other observed lightning storm in the solar system. In order to make a video, scientists needed more pictures with brighter lightning and strong radio signals. Data collected during a shorter subsequent storm, which occurred from November through mid-December 2009, was also used. The frames in the video were obtained over a period of 16 minutes on Nov. 30, 2009. The flashes lasted less than one second. The images also show a cloud as long as 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers) across, with the regions illuminated by the lightning flashes reaching approximately 190 miles (300 kilometers) in diameter. Scientists used the width of the lightning flashes to gauge the depth of the bolts below the cloud tops.Lightning that strikes on Earth and Saturn emit radio waves at a frequency that can cause static on an AM radio. The audio in the video approximate that static sound, based on Saturn’s electrostatic discharge signals that were detected by Cassini’s radio and plasma wave science instrument.Scientists monitoring the Cassini orbiter were busy during this equinox period, having already observed clumps in Saturn’s rings that are as high as the Rocky Mountains.The Cassini-Huygens mission is a joint project involving NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Obama sees U.S. manned missions to Mars, asteroids By REUTERS
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said on Thursday he expects the United States to send astronauts to an asteroid and a manned mission to Mars by the mid-2030s, as he defended his revamped U.S. space policy.”What we’re looking for is not just to continue on the same path, we want to leap into the future. We want major breakthroughs, a transformative agenda for NASA,” Obama told workers at the Kennedy Space Center, where thousands of jobs are drying up as the space shuttle is retired at the end of this year.”The bottom line is, nobody is more committed to manned space flight, to human exploration of space, than I am. But we’ve got to do it in a smart way,” Obama said to applause.(Reporting by Steve Holland)
SKorea says external explosion likely sank ship By KWANG-TAE KIM, Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea – An external explosion most likely sank a South Korean navy ship that split apart three weeks ago, an investigator said Friday, amid concerns about possible North Korea involvement in the disaster.The 1,200-ton Cheonan split into two pieces after exploding March 26 during a routine patrol near the tense maritime border with North Korea. Fifty-eight crew members were rescued, but 46 were missing for weeks.There has been some suspicion but no confirmation of North Korean involvement in the sinking. The disputed western sea border has in the past been the scene of three bloody inter-Korean naval battles. South Korean officials have said they will look into all possibilities, including that the ship might have been struck by a North Korean torpedo or a mine left over from the 1950-53 Korean War. The conflict ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the Koreas still technically at war.North Korean officials have reportedly denied their country’s involvement in the blast.The salvage operation began Thursday, with officials retrieving 38 bodies so far. Eight other remain unaccounted for, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.A team of 38 investigators, including U.S. navy officials, conducted a preliminary investigation of the ship’s stern after lifting it out of the water. The stern was to be moved to a naval base to investigate the cause of the explosion while the remaining two-thirds of the ship is to be salvaged next week, military officials said.”There is a high possibility of an external explosion rather than an internal explosion,” chief investigator Yoon Duk-yong told reporters Friday. He said further analysis and time are needed to determine the exact cause of the blast, after salvaging the ship’s other wreckage and collecting debris.He also said the explosion may have occurred near the ship or that something may have hit the ship.To ascertain whether North Korea was involved, authorities would have to look at the shape of broken ship parts and recover splinters of a torpedo or a sea mine and determine whether the North had such weapons, said Lee Hyun-yup, a marine engineering expert at Chungnam National University in South Korea. It could take years to find the exact cause, he said.The sinking was one of South Korea’s worst naval disasters. In 1974, a ship sank off the southeast coast in stormy weather, killing 159 sailors and coast guard personnel. In 1967, 39 sailors were killed by North Korean artillery.South Korea has asked the U.S., Australia, Britain and Sweden to send experts for a joint investigation. A team of eight U.S. investigators, led by Rear Admiral Thomas J. Eccles, arrived in South Korea earlier this week, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry. Meanwhile, a Lynx helicopter carrying four crew crashed into the country’s southwestern waters during a patrol Thursday night, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Navy and coast guard vessels recovered a body and parts of helicopter wreckage and were searching for the three other flight crew.
US air base in Kyrgyzstan resumes all flights By YURAS KARMANAU, Associated Press
MANAS, Kyrgyzstan – The U.S. air base near Kyrgyzstan‘s capital was fully back in action Thursday providing critical support to the NATO campaign in Afghanistan, with planes taking off and landing throughout the day.The flights were halted April 7 after a day of violent protests that ousted the president and as a new provisional government worked to establish control. The upheaval also raised concerns about the future of the U.S. base, but the leader of the new government said Tuesday that the lease would be extended.The Manas base provides refueling flights for warplanes over Afghanistan and serves as a major transit hub for troops.The full resumption of operations was announced Thursday by the U.S. Embassy, which also confirmed that some embassy personnel and their families have been temporarily moved to the base as a security precaution.The air base, located 32 kilometers (20 miles) north of the capital, Bishkek, is surrounded by a two-meter-high (seven-foot-high) iron fence and barrier made of large bundles of cotton wrapped with barbed wire.The resumption of troops transports was good news for about 200 Polish soldiers finishing up their tour in Afghanistan. They had flown into the base Wednesday and were hoping to make it home in time for Sunday’s funeral of President Lech Kaczynski, who died in a plane crash.”I hope I will be on time to say goodbye to my president,” said Polish soldier Piotr Dacko, who spent seven months in Afghanistan.”Kaczynski’s death was a real shock,” he said. „You never know where you’ll find your death — in Afghanistan, from where I’m returning alive, or on board the presidential plane.”Last month, 50,000 troops passed through Manas, which Senior Master Sgt. Mike Litsey said was a record.A base spokesman said the disruption posed no danger to NATO operations against the Taliban.”There’s contingency plans for everything, and there’s plans upon plans upon plans,” said Manas public affairs officer Rickardo Bodden. „That’s why when everything started we made sure that the transit center in Manas is still supporting operations.”Refueling flights had resumed within two days, but troop transports were suspended for a week, other than a brief resumption on April 9 to allow a few hundred troops who were stranded at the base to fly back to the United States, according to the U.S. Central Command.U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake was in Bishkek for talks with the new leadership, but he said Manas was not the main focus.”But we do appreciate the statements the provisional government has made about their intention to continue to abide by the agreement that we have,” Blake told reporters.