ATLANTA – U.S. airlines never met a fee they didn’t like. Until now, it seems.Five major carriers on Sunday agreed not to follow the lead of a small Florida airline that plans to charge for carryon bags.
Their commitment comes just in time to keep travelers from running for the exits during the peak summer flying season, but it is doubtful that it marks a change in strategy.Airlines are going to tack on every fee they feel they can get away with because it bolsters their revenue stream while allowing them to keep base fares lower. They just don’t feel like passengers will tolerate losing their sacred free carryons — at least not right now.The promise to New York Sen. Charles Schumer from American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, US Airways and JetBlue Airways comes despite the fact that some of those same airlines are expected to report first-quarter losses next week. They were stung by higher fuel prices and the heavy February snowstorms.Ancillary fees for air travel — including baggage fees, reservation change fees and other miscellaneous operating revenue — have been piling up.For U.S. carriers they totaled $1.95 billion in the third quarter of 2009, roughly 36 percent higher than for the same period a year earlier. For 26 large U.S. airlines, those fees made up 6.9 percent of their total operating revenue in the third quarter of last year, according to the most recent government data available.But major carriers risk alienating customers if they follow Spirit Airlines‘ lead and impose a fee on carryon bags. In August, Spirit will begin charging customers up to $45 to place a bag in an overhead bin.Other fees haven’t stopped people from flying, but many can be avoided. Carryon bag fees would be hard to avoid.”We believe it is something that’s important to our customers and they value, and we will continue making that available to them at no charge,” American Airlines spokesman Roger Frizzell said.It wasn’t clear how long the five airlines had pledged not to charge for carryons. Frizzell couldn’t say, and a spokesman for Delta declined to comment.Schumer and five other Democratic senators — New Hampshire‘s Jeanne Shaheen, Maryland’s Ben Cardin, Minnesota‘s Amy Klobuchar, and New Jersey’s Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg — support legislation that would tax airlines if they charge carryon bag fees.Schumer said the legislation will move forward until it becomes clear that no airline will institute the charges. He will have an uphill battle changing the minds of Spirit executives when he meets with them soon.Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza told The Associated Press on Sunday that his airline is moving ahead with its carryon bag fee.”Our plan was never predicated on anyone matching us,” Baldanza said. „The fact that other people are saying they won’t has never changed our view that this is right.”He said his competitors’ decision actually puts pressure on those airlines because Spirit has lowered its fares more than the price of the new fee.”We knew we took a risk with this strategy, but we believe on balance it’s one that our customers will buy into,” Baldanza said.Analysts expect several major carriers to get back in the black in the current quarter — the second quarter — and in the second half of the year, thanks to the summer and holiday travel rushes. They wouldn’t want anything like an uproar over carryon bag fees to keep passengers from flying.Even so, for the financial improvement airlines have seen to be sustainable, revenue needs to keep rising — either through higher fares, more fees or both — and airlines need to better position themselves in case fuel prices spike even higher. On the last day of the first quarter — March 31 — the price of a barrel of oil closed at $83.76, more than 68 percent higher than on the same day a year earlier. That means if major carriers don’t charge for carryons, they could increase existing fees or institute new fees altogether. Any way you cut it, that adds up to less money in the pockets of U.S. air travelers.”As a practical matter, as industry conditions change and if profitability is further challenged, we’re likely to see some sort of price increase,” aviation consultant Mark Kiefer said.
NASA to astronauts: Rain delays likely for return By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA warned space shuttle Discovery‘s astronauts Sunday to expect rain delays as they wrapped up their two-week mission and got ready to come home.Discovery and its crew of seven were scheduled to land Monday morning at NASA’s Florida spaceport.Shuttle commander Alan Poindexter said Sunday that he enjoys spending extra time in orbit and doesn’t mind if Discovery can’t make it back to Earth until Tuesday.Mission Control promised to keep monitoring the weather in case the forecast improved. In the worst case, Discovery could always aim for the backup landing site in Southern California on Tuesday.Poindexter and his crew are returning from the International Space Station after stockpiling it with supplies, science experiments and extra spare parts, including a tank full of ammonia coolant. It took three spacewalks to install the tank.Providing Florida’s weather cooperates, Discovery will crisscross much of the United States during re-entry, zooming in from the Pacific Northwest. For safety reasons, NASA typically prefers to bring a space shuttle home from the southwest, up over the South Pacific, Central America and the Gulf of Mexico.It’s a lesson NASA learned the hard way in 2003, when Columbia shattered over Texas during re-entry. All seven astronauts were killed, but remarkably, no one was hurt on the ground by the wreckage.Since then, only one other shuttle mission has ended with a continental flyover, back in 2007.Before Discovery’s April 5 liftoff, NASA altered the flight path to maximize the astronauts’ work time in orbit without wearing them down.The rare U.S. flyover — weather permitting — was going to provide a streaking light show for those beneath the flight path. For Monday’s first landing opportunity at 8:48 a.m., Discovery would zoom over British Columbia and Alberta, swing down over Montana and the Dakotas, and pass over Sioux City, Iowa, and the middle of Missouri. Then it would come down over the eastern border of Arkansas and Tennessee, then over northeastern Mississippi and Alabama, southwestern Georgia and almost directly over Jacksonville.The second opportunity, 1 1/2 hours later, would have the shuttle crossing over Washington state and passing over more of the heartland.Flight director Bryan Lunney said it should be an impressive sight, with the shuttle visible from the ground for as long as a couple minutes. And then there’s the mighty sound. In 2007, the shuttle’s sonic booms could be heard almost as far north as Nebraska, he said.Of course, a landing in California would scratch all this.Discovery has enough supplies to remain in orbit until Wednesday. Regardless of when the shuttle returns, the volcanic eruption in Iceland and cloud of ash over Europe will pose no concern, Lunney said. The shuttle won’t be anywhere near that part of the world during re-entry.Only three shuttle flights remain. Pilot James Dutton Jr. said that was on his mind as he flew Discovery away from the International Space Station on Saturday.”Definitely as we were backing away from the space station yesterday, there were a lot of oohs and aahs on the flight deck,” Dutton told The Associated Press in an interview. „It was just absolutely beautiful to see that manmade creation up there, floating above the Earth.”He added: „The shuttle has made a huge contribution to space exploration.”The astronauts said they’ve been keeping up with news about NASA’s change of course. President Barack Obama outlined his exploration plans during a visit Thursday to Kennedy Space Center, promising astronauts would head to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars by 2035.”It’s cool to think that we’re back in the exploration business,” astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger told the AP.Metcalf-Lindenburger, 34, a former high school teacher, said she’s from a generation that did not get to witness the Apollo moon landings. So she was excited about the previous administration’s effort to return astronauts to the lunar surface.”But an asteroid is quite a challenge” and could save the planet from the kind of destruction and extinction that occurred in the past, she noted. „Wherever we go out in our solar system, from a teaching standpoint, I really hope that students are engaged in learning math and science, and taking as much advantage of the technology we have,” she said. „We should always try to be a leader in this.”
Obama to sell financial overhaul to country By AP
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is preparing to travel outside Washington in the coming weeks to sell his proposal for financial regulatory reform to the country.White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage announced the trip Sunday as Obama steps up his lobbying efforts in support of new rules for Wall Street. A showdown with Republicans on legislation in the Senate is expected later this month.Details on the timing and location of Obama’s trip are not available.Obama has been casting the issue as a choice for lawmakers between siding with American people and what he calls special interests. Getting the public on his side could help pressure Republicans who are lining up against the bill. They say it creates more problems than it solves.
World Bank set for capital boost, tough vote talks By Lesley Wroughton REUTERS
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Global finance leaders face fractious talks this week on how to shift more voting power at the World Bank to emerging economic heavyweights such as China, a prelude to a bigger fight over the IMF.World Bank President Robert Zoellick also told Reuters in an interview that plans were coming together for a $3.5 billion capital increase at the institution — its first in more than 20 years — with funds coming from rich countries and newly emerging powers.That would help the World Bank restore its firepower after lending heavily during the financial crisis to help developing countries cope with the plunge in global demand and steep decline in private capital flows.Shifting voting power in the Bank, which would generate a further $1 billion in new capital, is politically thorny because it means countries especially in Europe have to give up some of their voting power to developing countries.Britain, one of the Bank’s largest contributors, is in the midst of a national election and there are concerns it may not be able to take a position until after the ballot on May 6.Even Nordic countries, traditionally generous with development aid, are reluctant to accept less voting power.Leaders from the Group of 20 major developed and developing countries agreed at meetings in Pittsburgh last year to a 3 percent shift in overall voting power in the World Bank and at least 5 percent for the International Monetary Fund.Emerging economies, which have pushed for a 6 percent shift in voting power at the World Bank, expressed concern that even 3 percent could be a tough sell.”I don’t think we will manage more than 3,” one Brazilian official told Reuters.The G20 pressed for an agreement on voting power at the World Bank at this week’s meeting to coincide with the larger capital increase for the institution, while the shift in power at the IMF will be decided early next year.The World Bank and IMF said on Sunday they expect to go ahead with the April 22-25 meetings of global finance chiefs despite air travel disruptions across Europe caused by volcanic ash.RECORD LENDING-Like other development banks, the World Bank committed record sums of funding — more than $100 billion over the past 18 months — to support developing countries as global trade collapsed and access to credit disappeared due to the crisis.Zoellick said demand for such help should fall as the world economy recovers but nothing is certain.”The strength of the recovery is a serious question mark,” he told Reuters ahead of the meetings.He said part of the Bank’s lending strategy during the crisis has been not just to hand over money to countries but to invest it in ways that boost productivity, whether it is infrastructure or education.With the budgets of rich donor countries squeezed by the financial crisis and public debt levels rising, Zoellick has tackled the resource increase in two parts: through a general capital increase — the first in more than 20 years — and the other through adjustments in members’ subscriptions, or quotas.The latter would increase the voting power of developing countries that recognizes the growing economic clout of rising powers like India, China, Russia and Brazil, and also poorer ones in Africa and Latin America. „People are coming together on the capital increase and I think people are looking at about $3.5 billion for that,” Zoellick said in an interview with Reuters. „That to me would be a good result.”Zoellick acknowledged that while he has been able to find compromise on the capital increase by convincing emerging market countries to increase their contributions, the shift in members’ quotas is a decision that is out of his hands.Developing nations have raised their contributions including through higher interest charged on their bank loans.”It’s a shareholder decision and one (where) I have less levers because they have to decide,” said Zoellick. „On this one, the allocation remains a difficult issue for the shareholders to work out.” Asked whether it was possible for an agreement to be concluded this week on at least a 3 percent shift from developed to developing countries, Zoellick said he was cautiously optimistic. „I believe the shareholders are committed but it’s a fractious process.” RECOGNIZING GLOBAL CHANGES -In a speech last week, Zoellick said rich countries can no longer impose their will on developing countries that are now major sources of global growth. He said this shift had profound implications for multilateralism, global cooperation and the work of institutions such as the World Bank. Members’ willingness to cough up more resources for the World Bank has also come with demands for Bank reforms. Zoellick’s biggest accomplishments have been in the way he has accelerated support to help countries cope with the global food price crisis and world financial turmoil.In a document prepared for discussions by World Bank member countries this week, the Bank has outlined reforms to modernize its products and services, and an ambitious program to put more staff in the field. Zoellick also said that from July 1 the Bank would become more transparent and disclose more internal documents including country assistance strategies and project appraisals before they go to the board for approval.(Editing by Kim Coghill)
Democrats add aggressively to 2010 election coffers By David Morgan REUTERS
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congressional Democrats facing competitive re-election bids added aggressively to their financial war chests in early 2010, girding themselves for an expected onslaught from Republicans and special-interest groups, analysts and official documents said.In the House of Representatives, some freshman Democrats targeted by Republicans for their support for healthcare reform ended the first quarter with cash reserves at or near the $1.4 million mark that was the average price tag for a House seat in 2008, Federal Election Commission disclosure documents showed.Rep. Tom Perriello of Virginia raised $587,000 to end the January-March period with $1.4 million in cash, while fellow freshman Rep. Betsy Markey of Colorado built up a $1.3 million war chest by collecting just over $500,000 from donors.In the Senate, vulnerable Democrats ended the quarter with huge cash reserves, some approaching $10 million.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whom Republicans have vowed to oust from office, ended the first quarter with $9.4 million in cash on hand after raising $1.8 million — more than three times as much as his closest would-be Republican rival.Democrats Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania both fell behind their rivals in fundraising but retained much larger cash reserves.FEC disclosure data released late last week provide a snapshot of campaign fundraising as House and Senate races approach primary elections that will choose each party’s nominees and set the stage for the November general election battle for Congress.HIGH-SPENDING RACES-„What we seeing are incumbents, particularly on the Democratic side in the House, expecting a difficult election season. Therefore, they’ve put a premium on early fundraising,” said Anthony Corrado of Colby College in Maine, a leading expert on political finance.”There’s a push to build up war chests either to discourage challengers or at least be in a position to be able to match the type of high-spending race they expect in the fall.”All 435 members of the House and one-third of the 100-seat Senate are up for re-election this year.Republicans hope to make gains in both the House and Senate in part by capitalizing on anti-incumbent voter sentiment in competitive congressional districts represented by Democratic lawmakers.Analysts say Democrats could also be the main targets of a potential surge in special-interest money sparked by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows companies and unions to finance campaigns that favor or oppose specific candidates.Democrats could be most vulnerable in the House, where Republicans need to pick up about 40 seats to win control of the chamber. Fifty-nine Democrats face competitive races there, according to the Cook Political Report.Meanwhile, Republicans have six vulnerable incumbents, according to Cook. But vulnerable Republicans appear to have built up less of a fund-raising advantage so far. In Pennsylvania, Republican Jim Gerlach raised over $500,000 to end the first-quarter with $336,000 in cash, while Democrat Douglas Pike raised less but had a cash reserve of $1.2 million.”Fundraising by Democrats is like putting plywood over the windows of your house because you know a big hurricane’s coming. Republicans think they’re going to be in the eye of the storm,” said Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.Embattled Republican Senator Robert Bennett of Utah, who faces strong opposition from his own party and conservative Tea Party activists, raised $739,000 in the first quarter. That gave him a cash war chest of $1.1 million. Overall, Bennett has raised about $2.7 million in the current election cycle so far.Analysts have begun combing through the campaign finance data for any sign that corporate donors may be shifting away from Democrats in response to Obama’s healthcare reform and prospects for new financial and climate change regulations. The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks money in politics, says Democrats received about 57 percent of all campaign donations in the current election cycle as of December 31. By contrast, Republicans claimed about 62 percent of campaign donations just before they lost control of Congress in 2006.(Editing by Eric Walsh)
Discovery readies return to Earth unhampered by ash cloud by Mark Carreau AFP
HOUSTON, Texas (AFP) – Discovery astronauts prepare to return to Earth Monday ending a successful supply mission to the International Space Station that leaves NASA‘s soon-to-retire shuttle program with just three more flights.The crew aims for touchdown at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1248 GMT with no threat from the huge ash cloud from an erupting Icelandic volcano that has shut down air traffic over Europe, the US space agency said.”Iceland‘s erupting volcano won’t affect Discovery’s landing Mon (Monday). Reentry course isn’t near ash cloud,” read a message from the Kennedy Space Center on micro-blogging service Twitter.Over a 14-day mission, Discovery’s seven-member crew delivered nearly eight tons of scientific equipment and other supplies intended to fortify the orbiting science laboratory for operations beyond NASA’s final shuttle launch.If scheduling holds, Discovery will lift off for the space station on September 16 for the final flight of the remaining three shuttles.The United States will then rely on Russia for transportation of astronauts to the station until a new fleet of commercial space taxis is operating, a controversial policy that President Barack Obama re-enforced during a visit to the shuttle’s Florida landing site last week.Monday’s forecast at Cape Canaveral includes overcast skies and a chance of showers, but shuttle commander Alan Poindexter and his crew have a backup landing opportunity in Florida later in the morning at 1423 GMT.The astronauts took power conservation measures Sunday in case Mother Nature delays their return by a day.”The weather situation is always fluid, and we will keep watching it,” Mission Control in Houston told Discovery.The shuttle is provisioned to remain in orbit until Wednesday if necessary, said Bryan Lunney, NASA’s supervising flight director.Monday’s descent will follow a rare northwest to southeast course over the United States, leaving a glowing contrail visible to observers across several states should skies remain clear.Discovery lifted off on April 5. The astronauts docked with the space station two days later, overcoming a communications antenna failure that crippled their rendezvous radar.The linkup united 13 US, Russian and Japanese astronauts from the two craft for 10 days. Four were females, the most women in space at one time.Over the course of three spacewalks, astronauts replaced a bulky external coolant tank. The ammonia reservoir circulates a coolant through outstretched radiators to disperse the heat generated by the station’s internal electronics, including the life-support systems.The science hardware delivered by Discovery included an Earth observations rack to hold cameras and spectral scanners for studies of the atmosphere, land forms, coastal areas as well as weather-induced crop damage. Another new experiment will measure changes in muscle and joint health of astronauts during their long exposures to weightlessness.A new freezer will hold blood and other specimens collected for experiments.During his April 15 visit to Kennedy, Obama made no mention of a shuttle program extension, disappointing some in Congress and those employed by the multi-billion-dollar space flight program.At NASA, the looming reality that the United States will soon be unable to launch its own astronauts for the first time in three decades has begun to sink in. „I’m sure that it’s running through people’s minds, but we are professionals and we are working really hard on the missions in front of us,” said Richard Jones, lead NASA flight director for the Discovery mission. „As we get closer, that will be forefront on people’s minds.”Discovery’s pilot Jim Dutton, who was making his first and possibly last space flight, echoed the sentiments.”I think everyone feels a little bittersweet,” Dutton said. „We love the shuttle, but we have to press on into the future.”
Shuttle’s descent may be visible across U.S By Irene Klotz REUTERS
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – Early risers across the United States may have an unusual opportunity to see the space shuttle on Monday as it glides through the atmosphere, heading toward a landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.The shuttle Discovery is returning from a resupply and servicing mission at the International Space Station, one of NASA‘s final shuttle flights before the fleet is retired later this year.Its route back to Florida will take it over much of America’s heartland. Touchdown is targeted for 8:48 a.m. EDT (1248 GMT), weather permitting.Fallout from the volcanic eruption in Iceland, which has disrupted international air travel, is not an issue for Discovery’s landing, said NASA flight director Bryan Lunney.Space shuttles usually land in Florida after gliding on a southwest-to-northeast path over the Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico. That route saves fuel and avoids high-altitude ice clouds, called noctilucent clouds, that form during the summer between 50 degrees and 70 degrees north and south of the equator.But ice clouds weren’t a concern at this time of year and returning to Florida via the northwest-to-southeast approach allowed NASA to squeeze in more hours for the crew to work at the station. The supersonic glide through the atmosphere will overfly dozens of cities and towns, including Fort Peck Lake, Montana; Pierre, South Dakota; Sioux City, Iowa; St. Louis, Missouri; Tupelo, Mississippi; Birmingham, Alabama; and Jacksonville, Florida. The shuttle is scheduled to enter Earth’s atmosphere over the central Pacific Ocean at 8:17 a.m. EDT and should be visible over Montana about a half hour before landing.As the shuttle descends, observers in the West, where it will still be dark, should see a glowing plasma trail, like a meteorite. In the East, where it will be light, viewers may be able to see a glowing cloud.Those who can’t see the shuttle may at least be able to hear it. The ship’s double sonic booms — shock waves from the nose and the tail of the shuttle — reach the ground about 90 seconds after the shuttle passes overhead.(Editing by Jane Sutton and Cynthia Osterman)
Space Shuttle’s Rare Landing Approach to be Visible Across United States By Joe Rao SPACE.com
NASA’s space shuttle Discovery will attempt a return to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center Monday morning by taking a path across the contiguous United States, giving early-bird skywatchers a chance to see – and hear – the spacecraft as it streaks across the sky on the way to landing.The space shuttle might be visible to keen eyes along the flight path, which runs from the northwest toward the southeast. And many people are likely to hear its sonic boom.It is only the second time since NASA‘s tragic 2003 loss of the shuttle Columbia than returning shuttle will fly over the continental United States, and is also expected to be the last time, according to entry flight director Bryan Lunney.NASA’s three remaining shuttle missions after Discovery’s are in the summer, when NASA tends to avoid this specific landing profile – called a „descending node” – in order prevent a shuttle from flying through high-altitude noctilucent clouds, which are common in the summer months, he said. The shuttles usually approach Florida from the southwest, flying over Central America on the way.The shuttle Discovery – which undocked from the International Space Station on Saturday morning — is aiming for a touchdown at NASA’s prime landing site in Florida. There will be two possibilities for a Florida landing, on orbits 222 and, if necessary, orbit 223.If all goes according to plan, Discovery will fire its twin braking rockets at 7:43:20 a.m. EDT over the Indian Ocean, just to the south of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (a group of volcanic islands southeast of Africa), for 3 minutes and 11 seconds, slowing the shuttle down for its de-orbiting and a gradual slide back to Earth.At 8:16:59 a.m. EDT, the orbiter will arrive at that point where it will begin to encounter the first effects of the Earth’s atmosphere at an altitude of 399,800 feet.Where to look-On Orbit 222, Discovery will cross the western coast of North America at 8:25 a.m. EDT (5:25 a.m. PDT), south of the Queen Charlotte Islands of western Canada. [Graphic: Discovery’s landing paths across the U.S.]From Vancouver, British Columbia prospective shuttle watchers will see Discovery reach a maximum altitude of 18-degrees above the northern horizon at 5:25:31 a.m. PDT. As a reference, your clenched fist held at arm’s length measures roughly 10-degrees in width, so as seen from Vancouver, the Shuttle will appear to reach nearly „two fists” above the northern horizon.Traveling on a southeast trajectory, the orbiter will then pass over northeast Montana.From Glendrive, viewers will see the shuttle reaching a maximum altitude of 50-degrees above the northeast horizon at 6:28:51 a.m. MDT. Just over a minute later at 7:30:08 a.m. CDT, Discovery will be passing almost directly over Pierre, South Dakota.From there, the shuttle will reach a maximum altitude of 82-degrees up in the northeast. After about another three more minutes, it will be racing over the heart of Missouri, between Kansas City and St. Louis. From Kansas City Discovery will be 25-degrees high above the north-northeast horizon at 7:32:11 a.m. CDT, while from St. Louis it will passing 21-degrees above the southwest horizon at 7:33:12 a.m. CDT.About a minute later it will be over the Arkansas-Tennessee border to the east of Memphis, where Discovery will reach an altitude of 33-degrees above the north-northeast horizon at 7:34:13 a.m. CDT.At 8:44:55 a.m. EDT, the shuttle will decelerate to two and a half times the speed of sound (mach 2.5), dropping to an altitude of 82,200-feet just to the northwest of Cape Canaveral. Touchdown is scheduled for 8:51:22 a.m. EDT.Should Discovery be waved off on this first attempt, a second attempt will be made on orbit 223.On this track, the shuttle would reach the Washington coast south of the Seattle-Tacoma area shortly after 7:00 a.m. PDT.From Seattle, viewers should look 44-degrees above the southwest horizon at 7:00:44 a.m. PDT. Discovery will then pass over Southwest Wyoming, reaching an altitude of 48-degrees up in the north-northeast at 8:03:48 a.m. MDT as seen from Rock Springs. It will then pass to the north of Denver, Colorado at 8:04:49 a.m. MDT, at an altitude of 45-degrees and four minutes later it will be over Arkansas, making a flyover almost directly above Little Rock at 9:08:40 a.m. CDT, 87-degrees above the western horizon.For Montgomery, Alabama it would appear highest (66-degrees) above the east-northeast horizon at 9:11:13 a.m. CDT. Slowing to mach 2.5 at 10:20 a.m. EDT, Discovery would be scheduled to land at KSC at 10:26:26 a.m. EDT.If you would like to calculate specific viewing circumstances for your location, NASA recommends that you use their Skywatch 2.0 applet that you can access at the space agency’s space sightings website.When selecting a satellite, scroll to either KSC 222 (ENTRY) or KSC 223 (ENTRY) for the options for Monday, April 19. If there is one-day delay in the landing because of weather concerns, there are also options for Tuesday, April 20 for a landing at either the Kennedy Space Center: KSC 237 or 238 or for Edwards Air Force Base in California: EDW 238 or 239.Can you see it?-If you live very near or directly under the re-entry track, you might want to try and view Discovery as it comes down through the atmosphere on its northwest-to-southeast path. A reentering shuttle usually appears as a very bright „star” leaving a long contrail in its wake.In a dark or twilight sky, the view of this reentry fireball can be a spectacular sight. John A. Dormer, a Texas observer, describes the golden plasma trail trailing behind the shuttle as „…stunning against a rapidly-bluing sky; it looks like liquid gold.”If Discovery reenters on the first attempt (Orbit 222) it will come just minutes before sunrise for British Columbia and Washington, meaning re-entry comes in a bright twilight sky, but still sufficiently dark so that it still should be a spectacular sight.Discovery will then cross into daylight north of Idaho, where the remainder of the reentry over the U.S. occurs during the daytime. Is it still possible that the shuttle will be seen?”Yes,” said veteran satellite observer, Dan Laszlo, a skywatcher based in Fort Collins, Colo. „I have also seen shuttles on entry in daylight, appearing about as bright as Venus at around magnitude minus 4, so it’s possible, though not the spectacle of a night entry.”Another assiduous skywatcher, Dale Ireland of Seattle, Wash., agrees with Laszlo.”It would be hard to spot in daylight, but not impossible,” Ireland said.Certainly, the clearer your sky with few or no clouds and little or no haze will improve your chances of making a sighting.Can you hear it?If you can’t see the shuttle, perhaps you’ll hear it. As it races toward Earth, a re-entering shuttle produces a double sonic boom.Sonic booms are created by air pressure. Much like a boat pushes up a bow wave as it travels through the water a vehicle pushes air molecules aside in such a way they are compressed to the point where shock waves are formed. The reason for two booms is that the shock waves form two cones, at the nose as well as at the tail of the vehicle.The shock waves move outward and rearward in all directions and usually extend to the ground.Those who live near and around the Kennedy Space Center are accustomed to hearing the double booms of a returning shuttle, but those located under and close to the Shuttle path, perhaps all the way back to the Pacific coast, may also hear the booms as well.From a location in the nation’s midsection or over the northwest United States, where the altitude of the shuttle will be in the range of 100,000 to 200,000-feet, it will take time for the shock wave to propagate down to the ground. Sound travels at roughly 1,100-feet per second, so depending on where you live relative to the track, it could be anywhere from 90 to 180 seconds after the shuttle has passed on by before you hear anything.”You will definitely be able to hear the sonic boom a few minutes after it passes directly overhead if that is where you will be watching from,” writes Texas amateur, Jeff Umbarger. „And I once heard three booms in short succession. I can explain two of them (the over and then under pressure wave) but not three (probably a bounce off some thermal layer way up).””In 1999, one of the shuttles came in just after sunset, on a ground track between Waco and Austin IIRC,” added Dormer. ” I figured it’d be about 12 minutes before the boom hit Kyle, Texas, which is south of Austin by 20 or so miles. I heard a „Whump-wuh-whump” within about thirty seconds of when I thought it would happen. There were uncertainties in my understanding of the atmosphere, but I knew my prediction would be early.”
Discovery Astronauts Hope to Land Space Shuttle Monday By Tariq Malik SPACE.com
The seven astronauts on space shuttle Discovery are hoping for clear skies over Florida Monday morning so they can return to Earth, though there’s a chance rainy weather may keep them in orbit an extra day. Mission Control radioed Discovery’s crew early Sunday to say that the chance of rain too close to their runway at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida could delay their landing. The shuttle is due to land at the seaside space center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., at 8:48 a.m. EDT (1248 GMT) to wrap up a busy two-week delivery mission to the International Space Station.”It’s always a great time to spend time on orbit and we’re confident that the folks in Houston and the folks in Florida will do everything they can to get us home when the weather will allow it,” Discovery commander Alan Poindexter said Sunday morning during a series of radio interviews� broadcast by NASA.NASA flight rules forbid shuttle landing attempts if rainstorms creep within a 30-mile perimeter of the runway since the rain can damage an orbiter’s heat-resistant tiles, among other risks. Discovery has two chances to land in Florida on Monday. The Kennedy Space Center and a backup runway in California are also expected to be available on Tuesday in the event of a delay.The potential for rain and clouds are the only obstacle standing between Discovery astronauts and their return to Earth. NASA officials said the shuttle’s re-entry and landing will not be affected at all by the vast volcanic ash cloud from Iceland’s Eyjafjallaj�kull volcano that has brought air traffic across Europe to a grinding halt. Despite its significant impact to life in Europe and global air travel, the volcano’s ash cloud has been hard for astronauts to spot from space because it is too far north to be seen from the orbit of the International Space Station. „We’ve been looking for it and we haven’t seen the volcanic ash plume yet,” Poindexter said. „We hope to soon and perhaps maybe take a few photographs of it.”Discovery launched on April 5 and is flying one of NASA’s last few shuttle missions before the space agency retires the shuttle fleet in September. After this mission, just three more missions remain, each one the final flight for the orbiter flying it. Despite a main antenna failure, sticky bolts on spacewalks and other hurdles, the astronauts successfully delivered nearly 8 tons of supplies, science equipment and other gear to the space station. They performed three spacewalks and set two new space records for the most women astronauts in space at the same time (four in all, three on Discovery and one on the station) and the most Japanese astronauts together at one time (two, one from each spacecraft).The astronauts were also in space last week during the announcement of President Barack Obama’s new space exploration vision, which challenges NASA and the United States to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and on to the moon in the mid-2030s. „It’s cool to think that we’re back in the exploration business,” said Discovery astronaut Dorothy „Dottie” Metcalf-Lindenburger, a former high school teacher who is making her first spaceflight.Discovery’s flight has been especially poignant for Metcalf-Lindenburger and the two other members of the shuttle crew who are making their first-ever spaceflights on one of NASA’s last planned shuttle missions. Reaching space had been a life-long ambition for shuttle pilot Jim Dutton, an Air Force colonel, who flew Discovery on a victory lap around the space station after the two spacecraft undocked on Saturday.”It was just absolutely beautiful to see that manmade creation up there floating above the Earth,” Dutton said. „It is just a gorgeous vehicle to behold and we think that this has been a fantastic program.”
BANGALORE, India — India’s space program suffered a major setback Thursday when the maiden flight of a satellite launcher outfitted with the nation’s first home-built cryogenic upper stage veered off course, sending its payload — the experimental GSAT-4 communications satellite — into the sea. The Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) lifted off at 4:27 p.m. local time from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on India’s southeastern coast and reached an altitude of 65 kilometers before plunging downward. Telemetry was lost about 8 minutes into the flight that was expected to last 20 minutes until payload separation. Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Chairman K. Radhakrishnan said in a televised statement that the first two stages performed well and that the rocket’s cryogenic third stage also might have fired, but that the launch was done in by a failure of the upper stage’s two vernier control motors to ignite. However, at a subsequent press conference, Radhakrishnan said it was not certain that the rocket’s upper-stage engine fired during the ill-fated flight.”A detailed failure analysis will be carried out,” Radhakrishnan said. „We will put all efforts to ensure that the next flight with the indigenous cryogenic engine takes place within a year.”ISRO has spent 3.36 billion rupees ($76 million) over the last 17 years developing a domestic alternative to the Russian-built cryogenic upper stage used on the GSLV’s five flights since 2001.ISRO began its program to develop and build its own cryogenic engine in 1993 after Russia — under pressure from Washington — refused to transfer the technology.The April 15 launch failure is likely to impact the proposed 2012 launch of the Chandrayaan-2 lunar orbiter mission and planned communication satellite launches.The cryogenic stage was built at ISRO’s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Nambi Narayanan, a former head of the center who was involved in the development of the cryogenic engine told Space News that the likely cause of failure is an explosion that can occur during a so-called hard start when a rich mixture of fuel and oxidizer is suddenly ignited in the vacuum of space. While the cryogenic engine had been extensively tested and reviewed by experts within and outside ISRO it was not tested in conditions simulating high altitude, he said.The GSAT-4 satellite that fell into the Indian Ocean carried a Ka-band transponder and a payload for a GPS-aided navigation system for civil aviation.The failed GSLV launch originally was intended to carry the Tel Aviv University Ultraviolet Explorer (TAUVEX) space telescope under a 2003 agreement between ISRO and the Israel Space Agency, but was subsequently manifested for a later GSLV flight.”With hindsight I am obviously relieved that it (TAUVEX) remained safely on the ground,” Noah Brosch, principal investigator for the mission told Space News in an e-mail. „I have no idea when the alternative launch will happen; I understand that this is being discussed by the Indian Space Research Organization and by the Israel Space Agency. From my part, and on behalf of my scientist colleagues, I certainly hope that the launch will take place shortly so that the Indian and Israeli astronomical communities would benefit from the data gathered by TAUVEX.”Brosch said that he and his TAUVEX colleagues watched the launch on their computers. „We prayed for a successful launch but instead saw the launch failure as it happened. We understand that such happenings are encountered by every nation that develops launchers and satellites in the early stages of a program and are to be expected.”
Polish leader buried in ceremony of patriotism By VANESSA GERA, Associated Press
KRAKOW, Poland – Tens of thousands of Poles bade farewell to President Lech Kaczynski on Sunday at a state funeral filled with pomp, pride and an outpouring of patriotism that his divisive and unpopular leadership had never generated.Mourners applauded and chanted „We thank you!” as the caskets bearing Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, were carried slowly past pale-toned Renaissance buildings for burial among kings and poets in the ancient Wawel Cathedral.”Poles finally appreciate him,” said Ryszard Stolarski, 56, one of many weeping mourners. „I never imagined that Poland would honor Kaczynski in this way.”Many world leaders, including President Barack Obama, could not be there because their travel plans were wrecked by the enormous plume of volcanic ash that blanketed Europe.The funeral came eight days after the Polish air force Tupolev 154 crashed on approach to Smolensk, Russia. The worst tragedy to strike Poland since World War II killed the first couple and 94 other people, including top civilian and military leaders.In some ways the tragedy, and Russia’s response to it, appear to have begun the long process of finally healing wounds that have soured the two nations’ relations for decades.Kaczynski, a lifelong skeptic of Russia and fervent anti-communist dissident, had focused on building closer ties to the United States, advocating for a U.S. missile defense base in his country. But even as president he sometimes pushed diplomacy aside to sharply criticize Russia.Yet since the plane crash Kaczynski has become an unwitting catalyst for new words and gestures of trust between the long-divided Slavic nations.Kaczynski’s fatal flight, which investigators have said was likely caused by pilot error, was meant to take him to a memorial for 22,000 Polish officers murdered by Stalin’s secret police in 1940, killings known as the Katyn massacres and intended to wipe out Poland’s brightest and best.The patriotic Kaczynski wanted to honor them and push Moscow to do more to acknowledge the Soviet crimes, which Moscow had blamed on Nazi Germany during the communist era, a cover-up often known as the „Katyn lie,” and given little attention since.After the plane crash, Kaczynski’s body was recovered by Russians. The normally stoic Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin set the tone with an outpouring of emotion. And during Sunday’s Roman Catholic funeral Mass, a Russian Orthodox priest also prayed over the caskets.And though many world leaders, including Nicolas Sarkozy of France, were kept away by the travel chaos caused by Iceland‘s volcano, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived on a jet to pay his respects at the state funeral in the 13th-century St. Mary’s Basilica.Poland’s acting president, Bronislaw Komorowski, told the congregation during the lavish state funeral for the first couple that Kaczynski’s death has created hope that „we will all know the truth about the Katyn massacre.”Krakow Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz acknowledged those new ties, saying the tragedy had given rise „to many layers of good between the people and nations.””The sympathy and help we have received from Russian brothers has breathed new life into a hope for closer relations and reconciliation between our two Slavic nations,” Dziwisz said. „I direct these words to the president of Russia.”It was Medvedev’s first visit to Poland, and before returning home he declared that the two nations are taking a „step into the future.””Tragedies can bring out difficult emotions, but very often they bring people closer and I believe that that is what the residents of my country and Poles need,” Medvedev said.The rhetoric wasn’t always so conciliatory.In particular, during the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, Kaczynski had made it clear that his loyalties were with Georgia and its president, Mikhail Saakashvili.During the conflict he traveled to Georgia and at a mass rally accused Russia of wanting to return to the „old times” of dominating the region. „Our neighbor thinks it can fight us. We are telling it no,” Kaczynski told the rally alongside the leaders of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Ukraine, all former Soviet republics.He later declared Russia’s policy „imperialist and revisionist” in a joint statement with the Baltic countries.Those words appeared forgotten Sunday, as did Kaczynski’s more combative positions. He was a conservative nationalist, winning the hearts of many older Poles and war veterans. But the younger generations often found him excessively fixated on the past and accused him of harming relations with both Germany and Russia with his focus on Poland’s old wounds.But the way in which he died — his Tupelov 154 crashing in heavy fog with a swath of country’s elite aboard — provoked profound grief and a sudden surge of admiration. „Kaczynski had good and bad qualities, but now you shouldn’t say anything bad about the dead,” said Karolina Rajchel, 19, a student who traveled five hours from Wroclaw to join the 150,000 others packing Krakow’s streets.”I am here to honor the president as well as all those who died,” she said. Those who long supported Kaczynski saw the outpouring of grief and respect toward his memory as a sign that the broader society was finally coming to appreciate him.Before he died, his most recent opinion polls showed him with around 25 percent support, meaning he faced an uphill battle to get re-elected this autumn.New elections must be held in June, and politicians on Monday are expected to start looking toward that balloting, now that eight days of official mourning will have passed.One big unknown centers on who will represent Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party in the election, with some observers speculating that his twin brother Jaroslaw, a former prime minister, may run in his stead.Izabella Bruchal, a wheelchair-bound engineer who watched the Mass on one of two huge video screens in a large grassy field just beyond Krakow‘s Old Town, said she was happy to get a degree of closure with Sunday’s funeral though said the pain would not go away quickly.”It’s been horribly difficult with the coffins coming back over several days this week — it was a nightmare. It was necessary to bury the dead president and now I feel some relief,” Bruchal, 59, said as her son wheeled her off the field when the funeral ended. „But the mourning is not over. We will grieve a long time.”After the Mass, the bodies of the first couple were carried atop a pair of artillery caissons pulled by army Humvees in a funeral procession led by the archbishop, clergy in purple robes and soldiers across the picturesque old town and up the Wawel hill, where a fortress wall encircles a castle and a 1,000-year-old cathedral overlooks the Vistula River.As they made their way down the nearly mile-long (1.6-kilometer-long) route, the crowds waved Polish flags, clapped and chanted: „Lech Kaczynski! We thank you!”Twenty monks rang the massive Zygmunt Bell inside the Wawel Cathedral, its pealing echoing across Krakow.The first couple were interred together in a honey-hued sarcophagus made from Turkish alabaster in a crypt under the cathedral’s Silver Bells Tower. Afterward, a battery of cannon fired 21 volleys, smoke pouring from their barrels as mourners watched.The decision to bury Kaczynski at Wawel sparked protests in recent days, with some people saying that despite the national tragedy he still does not belong in the company of some of the nation’s most august figures. The hue and cry over the decision even spilled over to Facebook where thousands said the decision was not right.Wawel’s crypt is the final resting place for numerous Polish kings and statesmen. Among those there are Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski, the exiled World War II leader who died in a mysterious plane crash off Gibraltar in 1943; Jozef Pilsudski, who led Poland from 1926 until his death in 1935; Romantic-era poet Adam Mickiewicz; and Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a hero of the American Revolution and of Poland’s 1794 uprising against Russia’s occupation.Associated Press Writers Monika Scislowska in Warsaw and Marta Kucharska in Krakow contributed to this report.
Poland in mourning, Russia offers reconciliation by Mary Sibierski AFP
KRAKOW, Poland (AFP) – Some 150,000 grieving Poles thronged Krakoz for the burial of President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for reconciliation between the two countries.Although US President Barack Obama and dozens of other dignitaries were unable to attend the elaborate state funeral because of the cloud of volcanic ash covering much of Europe, Medvedev flew in to attend the ceremony.He called for the two nations, at loggerheads for decades, to unite in sorrow after the April 10 plane crash in Russia that killed the couple and 94 others, most of them members of Poland‘s military and political elite.Tearful mourners applauded Kaczynski and his wife Maria, tossed flowers and waved red and white flags as the cortege weaved through the narrow streets of Poland’s former royal capital, after their bodies were flown from Warsaw.Sirens wailed to mark the start of the funeral mass at the Basilica of Our Lady in Krakow’s central square. Huge crowds gathered outside the Gothic church to see the service relayed live on giant screens.The couple’s coffins were afterwards borne on military gun carriages to Krakow’s Wawel castle, where they were lowered into an amber-coloured sarcophagus in the cathedral crypt alongside Polish monarchs, saints and poets.The Archbishop of Krakow, Stanislaw Dziwisz, thanked the foreign leaders who came to the service and said he hoped the crash would help end tensions between Russia and Poland, its former client state during the communist era.”The empathy and help that we experienced during these days from our Russian brothers raises hope for rapprochement and reconciliation,” he said. „These words I direct to Mister President of Russia.”Kaczynski’s Tupolev Tu-154 jet slammed into a forest near Smolensk in western Russia while heading for a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the massacre of thousands of Polish officers by Soviet forces in the Katyn forest.”Tragedies can spark difficult emotions, but often they draw people closer and I think this is necessary between the people of our country and the Poles,” Medvedev said in a televised address after the funeral.Later Sunday, it emerged that Polish interim president Bronislaw Komorowski had accepted Medvedev’s invitation to attend a May 9 ceremony in Moscow’s Red Square marking the 65th anniversary of Russia’s World War II victory.Kaczynski had been invited to Moscow for the ceremony, but had not said if he would take part.Kaczynski’s nationalist, conservative policies were divisive at home and abroad but his death and those of the others in the crash sparked an outpouring of grief not seen since Polish-born pope John Paul died in 2005.”It’s an exceptional moment. Poles have to be here,” said Maria Kurowska, mayor of the town of Jaslo, who was in the crowd.Mourners cried out „Thank you” as the coffins were borne past them on their way to Wawel. The couple were buried next to Poland’s revered independence leader, Jozef Pilsudski.But the eruption of an Icelandic volcano this week that brought European air travel to a virtual halt meant many leaders were unable to attend the event.German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Britain’s Prince Charles and South Korean Prime Minister Chung Un-Chan were among dozens of dignitaries who cancelled.The leaders of many countries close to Poland, including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, arrived in Krakow by road and rail instead.Eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus slammed EU officials for failing to come, saying that „grand phrases about European unity are really nothing but cliches.”Poles lining the streets of Krakow said the foreign no-shows did not detract from the solemnity of the day.”It looks like a higher power is at work but nothing is keeping us away,” said Anna Zajac, 28, who came with her husband and two children from a suburb of Krakow.
Turkish Cypriot hard-liner wins election By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS, Associated Press
NICOSIA, Cyprus – Hard-line challenger Dervis Eroglu won a key Turkish Cypriot leadership election Sunday, vowing to continue peace talks amid fears his victory could grind reunification negotiations with the Greek Cypriots to a halt and scuttle Turkey’s bid for European Union membership.Eroglu won just enough votes for an outright victory, with 50.38 percent, compared to leftist incumbent Mehmet Ali Talat’s 42.85 percent, according to results posted on the Turkish Cypriot High Electoral Board’s Web site. Candidates needed 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a runoff.It was a much closer race than expected, as opinion polls had consistently predicted Eroglu to win by a wide margin.Eroglu assured supporters who rushed to his party headquarters in the northern, Turkish Cypriot half of the island’s divided capital, that he would not abandon negotiations aimed at reunifying the divided island.”It’s time to find peace,” he said.”No one should expect me to leave the negotiating table,” he told the crowd that cheered, honked horns and set off fireworks at an impromptu victory rally. „We will be at the negotiating table for an agreement that will continue the existence of our people in this land with honor.”Talat said he remains determined to „help and support” a peace deal.”My dream for a solution to the Cyprus problem continues,” he told reporters at the Presidential Palace.The island’s division is already hampering Turkey’s EU drive and could halt it if peace talks collapse. Since Turkey is a NATO member such a move also could cripple closer cooperation between the military alliance and the EU, and increase regional instability.Greek Cypriot government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou told state-run CyBC TV that the election outcome was a „negative development,” but that Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias would press on with negotiations.Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared the independent republic in 1983, but only Turkey recognizes it, and maintains 35,000 troops there.Divided Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, with only the internationally recognized south’s 800,000 Greek Cypriots enjoying membership benefits. The island’s division is already blocking parts of Turkey’s EU membership negotiation process because of Ankara‘s refusal to recognize the Greek Cypriot government.Eroglu’s resurgence was mainly due to public disillusionment with Talat, whom many Turkish Cypriots fault for not delivering on a promise of a swift deal after opening negotiations with Christofias 19 months ago.Although Eroglu insists he would continue peace talks, he’s at odds with an agreement between Talat and Christofias envisioning a future partnership under a federal roof. Eroglu insists on separate sovereignty for the breakaway north, something that Christofias has warned he wouldn’t accept.Eroglu’s assurances that peace talks would continue did not assure Talat supporters.”This is the end of the peace process, if … he will not accept single sovereignty and he will not accept anything apart from a two-state solution,” said Izzet Izcan, head of the small, left-wing United Cyprus Party.The Turkish government has been careful not to take sides in the election, and has said that peace talks must continue regardless of the winner.”Whoever is president there, he has to continue with the determination (for talks),” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an interview with the private NTV news channel. „Eroglu himself has said he would press ahead with this determination. I don’t think there will be a different situation.” Seven candidates ran in the election, but the others were not considered serious contenders and trailed far behind. Eroglu party defector Tahsin Ertugruroglu was in third place with 3.81 percent of the vote.
Journalist in war faces troubling questions By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA, Associated Press
All around, men roared and rifles thudded. Sprawled in the earth in an open field, an American soldier to the left handed me a wounded man‘s ammunition belt. Even as Taliban bullets whipped overhead, I thought about professional codes of conduct. Carry the belt? Or not?I was a journalist, not a soldier. My job was to observe without bias, not take part. Yet surely it was a time for instincts rather than circumspection; a time for decisions geared to survival.In four weeks of reporting on the war in Afghanistan as a journalist embedded with the U.S. military, I found many such troubling questions about my role — and about why I was there in the first place.So raw and instantaneous, combat inspires introspection. The premise that war exposes the essential nature of people is hard to dispute, once you have witnessed it. Centuries of literature attest to its magnetism. Combat is the most elemental act, and the most intricate. For all its spectacular horrors, it will never lack an audience.Most spectators feed their fascination from a safe perch — in front of a television screen, or in a movie theater, or with books and games. For journalists, the questions begin with the decision to leave home and head into a combat zone. They have the choice, unlike many soldiers who accept grave risk as the institutional trade-off in a military career that can provide education, stability and adventure.”Are you thrill-seekers?” a military medic asked Associated Press photographer Pier Paolo Cito and me after we climbed into a Stryker infantry vehicle for the first time.”Not really,” I replied, mealy-mouthed. Maybe he was right. What exactly were we doing there? Nobody forced us.Time and again, insurgents have hit Strykers with bombs hidden in roads. The underside is flat and low, so a well-timed, powerful blast can rip right through the armor plating. A casket on wheels, the soldiers joke. A mobile coffin.Many soldiers have died in these attacks, and some journalists died with them. They shared the ultimate intimacy: a last instant alive. Death does not distinguish between journalist and soldier.An embed assignment with the U.S. or any military can erode a journalist’s sense of the professional distance needed to report hard truths. Embedded journalists are the most dependent of guests. Their hosts, military units on deployment, provide not just information, but food, shelter, transport and, with luck, some measure of safety.Embedded journalists sign a statement acknowledging the risks and waiving any legal claims. The journalists don’t take orders and don’t assist in military operations. But they are expected to adapt, and like it or not, they are part of a group.On balance, the access is a privilege, the antithesis of quick-hit journalism. Firsthand observations of combat are critical to telling the story. But the downside is that embedded reporters have a blinkered view of the war.As an embed in the Marjah area, for example, I had to rely on military interpreters to talk to Afghan civilians in the Pashto language, often in circumstances where they were unlikely to speak freely. A lot of the time, they might as well have been cardboard cutouts, mute figures „outside the wire.”Even in keeping their distance, journalists can learn from soldiers who are, after all, trained to accept the prospect of death at almost any time.American soldiers in Afghanistan traffick in harsh humor and fatalism. Everyone knows someone who died. They banter about losing limbs. At first, the comments are alien and disturbing. After a while, tasteless makes sense. You laugh, and participate to bury the tension.One morning, 1st Lt. Gavin McMahon of New York City rousted the men in his platoon out of their sleeping bags after a cold night on the ground. Someone said something about going home with both legs intact. „Legs are overrated,” McMahon quipped.”At this point, I’m like, if I die, whatever,” said Spc. Jake Wells of Petersburg, Virginia, a soldier in another unit. „You can’t really control it. If it’s your time, it’s your time.”My friend and colleague, Pier Paolo, got into the spirit. A man jumps out of a skyscraper, he said, and announces half-way down: „So far, so good.” Later, he compared his life to a light switch. Turn it off, and it’s over.That thinking works in the zone, but not with home. Three weeks into the embed, I received a personal e-mail: „You give the impression to be able to indulge in the risk of dying. A luxury you seem to be able to afford at no cost, or at whatever cost.”My terse response, short on sympathy: „I am not here for fun and thrills or inspiration. Don’t judge or conclude, please. There’s a risk here, but I’m working within certain limits . … Let’s save this conversation for another time.”The unspoken questions shadowing the exchange were: Do I care less about my own life than those closest to me, and isn’t choosing to cover combat then an act of extreme selfishness, or even dysfunction?Public service, professional acclaim, adrenaline rush, financial gain: none of these are primary to the motive, at least for me. It’s curiosity, the desire to experience, push boundaries, and witness the intensity of the connection between life and death.Or, perhaps, between life and a third, darker, shunned area: the cold, grinding universe of severe injury.It’s a special kind of knowledge, to read what others have written about the battlefield — an Ernest Hemingway character, for example, who ran „until his lungs ached and his mouth was full of the taste of pennies” — and understand more than just the words.None of this would be enough of an incentive to wade into danger without the chance to relate the story. There is a call to duty. But for some, the close calls only increase risk tolerance. Complacency is a constant temptation. It can’t happen to you.And who can resist the sullied thought: If a hit must occur, let it be someone else in the vehicle, on the patrol. Attempting to plant feet in the prints of the man in front might reduce the chance of stepping on a boobytrap, but the extra sliver of safety comes at another’s expense.On the day of the Feb. 14 ambush, the ammunition belt beside me, I pondered two or three splashes of bright blood on my fingers in the grime. Was it my blood or the blood of the wounded man? Mine, I think, from digging my knuckles deep into cracked earth while under fire. There was no pain.I turned to U.S. Army Spc. Nathan Perry of Cedartown, Georgia, lying a couple of feet to the right.”Shall I take this?” I said, motioning to the belt. „It’s you or me,” was the gist of his reply. He had his own gear and weapon, while I had a notebook in my back pocket and a few pens jammed in chest straps on my flak jacket. I thought: I am living, eating and breathing with these guys. They need a little help here.I took the belt. And for the rest of the firefight, I ran, dove and crawled with it until, chest heaving, I dumped it in the back of the Stryker that carried me to relative safety.