Archive for August, 2007

China, Japan to launch lunar missions

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

By HIROKO TABUCHI, Associated Press Writer Fri Aug 24, 4:23 PM ET

TOKYO – Japan claims its project is the biggest since Apollo. China says it is readying its probes to study the lunar surface to plan a landing.

With Asia’s biggest powers set to launch their first unmanned lunar missions — possibly as early as next month — the countdown has begun in the hottest space race since the United States beat the Soviet Union to the moon nearly four decades ago.

Japan’s space agency said last week that its SELENE lunar satellite is on track for a Sept. 13 launch, following years of delay as engineers struggled to fix mechanical problems. China, meanwhile, is rumored to be planning a September blastoff for its Chang’e 1 probe, but is coy as to the date.

The Chinese satellite and its Changzheng 3 rocket have passed all tests, and construction of the launch pad is finished, according to the National Space Administration’s Web site. Last month, China’s minister of defense technology told CCTV that all was ready for a launch “by the end of the year.”

Officials have tried to play down the importance of beating each other off the pad, but their regional rivalry is never far below the surface.

“I don’t want to make this an issue of win or lose. But I believe whoever launches first, Japan’s mission is technologically superior,” said Yasunori Motogawa, an executive at JAXA, Japan’s space agency. “We’ll see which mission leads to the scientific breakthroughs.”

China’s military-run space program has taken a great leap forward in recent years, and the country sent shock waves through the region in 2003, when it became the first Asian country to put its own astronauts into space.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070824/ap_on_sc/asia_s_moon_race

Greek fires kill 51 and threaten Olympia

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

ZACHARO, Greece (Reuters) – EU firefighters and planes joined the battle on Sunday against the fires raging in Greece for three days, killing 51 people and threatening areas near ancient Olympia, historic site of the first Olympic games.

Greece declared a state of emergency on Saturday as towering walls of flame cut a swathe of destruction through the southern Peloponnese peninsula and across other areas of the country.

The fires have bathed Athens in white ash, forced thousands to flee their villages and burned about 500 homes and thousands of acres of forest and farmland.

Fire brigades on Sunday began evacuating villages near ancient Olympia as strong winds pushed the flames towards the historic site near the Peloponnese’s western Ionian coast.

“We are concerned not only about the archaeological site but about the whole area,” town mayor George Aidonis told Reuters. “We depend on tourism for our livelihood and now everything is being destroyed.”

About 90 firefighters and soldiers were trying to stop the flames from reaching the site, which installed a well organized fire protection system for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

“We have no water, we are at God’s mercy,” a resident from a village near Olympia told Greek television by phone. “Please tell someone we are putting out the fire with our own hands, we have no help. The village will disappear from the map.”

Ancient Olympia boasts ruins of the stadium and pagan temples that hosted the ancient games for centuries from 776 BC and is the site of an Olympic flame ceremony every two years.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070826/wl_nm/greece_fires_dc;_ylt=AnhM8B8z5Bs07bSoXOAw6RNbbBAF

Rove to leave White House

Monday, August 13th, 2007

WASHINGTON – Karl Rove, President Bush‘s close friend and chief political strategist, plans to leave the White House at the end of August, joining a lengthening line of senior officials heading for the exits in the final 1 1/2 years of the administration.

On board with Bush since the beginning of his political career in Texas, Rove was nicknamed “the architect” and “boy genius” by the president for designing the strategy that twice won him the White House. Critics call Rove “Bush’s brain.”

A criminal investigation put Rove under scrutiny for months during the investigation into the leak of a CIA operative’s name but he was never charged with any crime. In a more recent controversy, Rove, citing executive privilege, has refused to testify before Congress about the firing of U.S. attorneys.

Bush was expected to make a statement Monday with Rove. Later Monday, Rove, his wife and their son were to accompany Bush on Air Force One when the president flies to Texas for his vacation.

Rove’s departure reinforces Bush’s lame-duck stature and declining influence, particularly with Democrats in control on Capitol hill.

“Obviously it’s a big loss to us,” White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said. “He’s a great colleague, a good friend, and a brilliant mind. He will be greatly missed, but we know he wouldn’t be going if he wasn’t sure this was the right time to be giving more to his family, his wife Darby and their son. He will continue to be one of the president’s greatest friends.”

Since Democrats won control of Congress in November, some top administration officials have announced their resignations. Among those who have left are White House counselor Dan Bartlett, budget director Rob Portman, chief White House attorney Harriet Miers, political director Sara Taylor, deputy national security adviser J.D. Crouch and Meghan O’Sullivan, another deputy national security adviser who worked on Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was forced out immediately after the election as the unpopular war in Iraq dragged on.

Rove became one of Washington’s most influential figures during Bush’s presidency. He is known as a ruthless political warrior who has an encyclopedic command of political minutiae and a wonkish love of policy. Rove met Bush in the early 1970s, when both men were in their 20s.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/rove_resigning

Early 2007 saw record-breaking extreme weather: U.N.

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

GENEVA (Reuters) – The world experienced a series of record-breaking weather events in early 2007, from flooding in Asia to heatwaves in Europe and snowfall in South Africa, the United Nations weather agency said on Tuesday.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said global land surface temperatures in January and April were likely the warmest since records began in 1880, at more than 1 degree Celsius higher than average for those months.

There have also been severe monsoon floods across South Asia, abnormally heavy rains in northern Europe, China, Sudan, Mozambique and Uruguay, extreme heatwaves in southeastern Europe and Russia, and unusual snowfall in South Africa and South America this year, the WMO said.

“The start of the year 2007 was a very active period in terms of extreme weather events,” Omar Baddour of the agency’s World Climate Program told journalists in Geneva.

While most scientists believe extreme weather events will be more frequent as heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions cause global temperatures to rise, Baddour said it was impossible to say with certainty what the second half of 2007 will bring.

“It is very difficult to make projections for the rest of the year,” he said.

HEALTH CRISIS

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a U.N. umbrella group of hundreds of experts, has noted an increasing trend in extreme weather events over the past 50 years and said irregular patterns are likely to intensify.

South Asia’s worst monsoon flooding in recent memory has affected 30 million people in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, destroying croplands, livestock and property and raising fears of a health crisis in the densely-populated region.

Heavy rains also doused southern China in June, with nearly 14 million people affected by floods and landslides that killed 120 people, the WMO said.

England and Wales this year had their wettest May and June since records began in 1766, resulting in extensive flooding and more than $6 billion in damage, as well as at least nine deaths. Germany swung from its driest April since country-wide observations started in 1901 to its wettest May on record.

Mozambique suffered its worst floods in six years in February, followed by a tropical cyclone the same month, and flooding of the Nile River in June caused damage in Sudan.

Uruguay had its worst flooding since 1959 in May.

Huge swell waves swamped some 68 islands in the Maldives in May, resulting in severe damage, and the Arabian Sea had its first documented cyclone in June, touching Oman and Iran.

Temperature records were broken in southeastern Europe in June and July, and in western and central Russia in May. In many European countries, April was the warmest ever recorded.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070807/wl_nm/weather_un_extreme_dc;_ylt=AsYvLfNDuectwLTnPkaRPZVAr7sF

Bonds makes history with 756th home run

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO – For one spectacular moment, Barry Bonds and everybody cheering him could forget about the controversy surrounding his chase and appreciate the phenomenal feat: 756.

Nobody in the majors — not Hank Aaron, not Babe Ruth — has ever hit more home runs than the San Francisco star.

On Tuesday night, in his home ballpark, it didn’t matter how many of them might have been fueled by steroids or performance-enhancers. Bonds has the title of home run king all to himself, ending Aaron’s 33-year reign.

“This record is not tainted at all. At all. Period,” Bonds said.

And more than 43,000 adoring Giants fans, including his godfather, Hall of Famer Willie Mays, surely agreed.

Bonds raised both arms over his head like a prize fighter in victory, fists clenched — and then he took off. It was over at long last.

Bonds did it with a shot to the deepest part of the ballpark with one out in the fifth inning against Washington’s Mike Bacsik.

Bonds sent the 84-mph fastball arcing high into the night, 435 feet into the right-center field seats. And then, the celebration began in force — fireworks, streamers, banners commemorating the accomplishment, and even a party in McCovey Cove.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070808/ap_on_sp_ba_ga_su/bbn_bonds756

7 Killed in Minneapolis Bridge Collapse

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

MINNEAPOLIS – An interstate bridge jammed with rush-hour traffic suddenly broke into huge sections and collapsed into the Mississippi River Wednesday, pitching dozens of cars 60 feet into the water and killing at least seven people.

The eight-lane Interstate 35W bridge, a major Minneapolis artery, was in the midst of being repaired and two lanes in each direction were closed when the bridge buckled. About 20 families gathered at an information center, looking for information on loved ones they couldn’t locate.

“There were two lanes of traffic, bumper to bumper, at the point of the collapse. Those cars did go into the river,” said Minneapolis Police Lt. Amelia Huffman. “At this point there is nothing to suggest that this was anything other than a structural collapse.”

By 1 a.m. Thursday, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said all search efforts had been called off for the night and that searchers did not expect to find any survivors.

“It’s dark, it’s not safe with the currents in the water and the concrete and rebar,” he said. “At this point it is a recovery effort.”

Jamie Winegar of Houston was sitting in traffic shortly after 6 p.m. when all of a sudden she started hearing “boom, boom, boom and we were just dropping, dropping, dropping, dropping.”

The car she was riding in landed on top of a smaller car but did not fall into the water. She said her nephew yelled, “‘It’s an earthquake!’ and then we realized the bridge was collapsing.”

Minneapolis Fire Chief Jim Clack said 60 people were taken to area hospitals for treatment and that the death toll could rise.

Rescuers called off the search as nightfall made it too dangerous to search the waters, which were filled with chucks of the mangled bridge and at least 50 vehicles in the water.

“We think there are several more vehicles in the river we can’t see yet,” Clack said, adding that the likelihood of finding survivors was slim.

Authorities referred family members searching for missing loved ones to a nearby hotel, where the Red Cross had set up operations.

Dr. Joseph Clinton, emergency medical chief at Hennepin County Medical Center, said his hospital treated 28 injured people — including six who were in critical condition.

Clinton said at least one of the victims had drowned.

The Homeland Security Department also said the collapse did not appear to be terrorism-related. The National Transportation Safety Board planned to send a team of investigators to Minneapolis, NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the bridge was inspected by the Minnesota Department of Transportation in 2005 and 2006 and that no structural problems were noted. “There were some minor things that needed attention,” he said.

Police Chief Tim Dolan said officers were checking other bridges as a precaution.

The steel-arched bridge, which was built in 1967, rose about 64 feet above the river and stretched about 1,900 feet across the river. The bridge was built with a single 458-foot-long steel arch to avoid putting any piers in the water that might interfere with river navigation.

A burning truck and a school bus clung to one slanted slab. The bus had just crossed the bridge before it crumpled into pieces.

Christine Swift’s 10-year-old daughter, Kaleigh, was on the bus returning from a field trip and called her mother. “She was screaming, ‘The bridge collapsed!’” Swift said.

She said a police officer told her all the kids got off the bus safely.

It appeared that the center section of the bridge dropped straight down and pancaked in the middle of the river, leaving several vehicles stranded on a broken island of wreckage. As divers plumbed the waters, other rescuers searched frantically for victims amid broken, zigzagged sections of blacktop. Some of the injured were carried up the riverbanks.

Dozens of vehicles were scattered and stacked on top of each other amid the rubble. Some people were stranded on parts of the bridge that weren’t completely in the water.

Many motorists may have been headed to the Minnesota Twins game not far from the bridge. Team officials decided to play the game after conferring with department of public safety officials. It was decided that sending 20,000 to 25,000 people back into traffic could hinder rescue efforts, said team president Dave St. Peter.

Catherine Yankelevich survived a 1994 earthquake in Northridge, Calif., and was on the I-35W bridge when it began to shake. “Cars started flying and I was falling and saw the water,” she said. After her car plunged into the river, she climbed out the driver’s side window and swam to shore uninjured.

Road crews had been working on the 40-year-old bridge’s deck, joints, guardrails and lights this week. “None of it would be related to the structure,” said Bob McFarlin, assistant to Minnesota Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau.

The bridge was scheduled for inspection this fall, he said.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070802/ap_on_re_us/minnesota_bridge_collapse;_ylt=Atfjz1FSWbVVmgl7p0qlaspH2ocA