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Archive for October, 2011

Syrian protesters attack US, French embassies

July 11, 2011 — BEIRUT (AP) — Hundreds of Syrian government supporters attacked the U.S. Embassy in Damascus Monday, smashing windows and spray-painting walls with obscenities and graffiti that called the American ambassador a “dog.” Guards at the French Embassy fired in the air to ward off another group of protesters.

The sharp escalation in tensions followed a visit last week by the American and French ambassadors to the city of Hama, a stronghold of opposition to authoritarian President Bashar Assad. Syrian authorities were angered by the visit and American Ambassador Robert Ford’s harsh criticism afterward of the government crackdown on a four-month-old uprising. Ford’s residence was also attacked on Monday.

The U.S. and France both accused Syrian forces of being too slow to respond and demanded the government abide by its international obligations to protect diplomatic missions and allow envoys freedom of movement. The U.S. formally protested, calling the attacks “outrageous,” and saying protesters were incited by a television station heavily influenced by Syrian authorities.

“Ford get out now,” protesters wrote on a paper hung on the U.S. Embassy’s fence. “The people want to kick out the dog,” read graffiti scrawled in red on the wall of the embassy, along with another line cursing America. The protesters smashed the embassy sign hanging over one gate.

The U.S. said it would seek compensation for damage. Syrian-U.S. relations have been mired in mutual distrust for years. But Monday’s attacks were the worst such violence since 2000, when a stone-throwing mob attacked and vandalized the U.S. Embassy and ambassador’s residence over American and British airstrikes against Iraq.

The attacks pose a renewed challenge to the Obama administration. The White House has criticized the Syrian regime’s violent crackdown on peaceful protests but has refrained from calling for an end to the Assad family’s four decades of rule, seemingly wary of pressing too hard as it tries to wind down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and faces criticism for being part of the coalition battling Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

The U.S. said about 300 “thugs” breached the wall of the embassy compound before being dispersed by American Marine guards. No injuries were reported. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the mob got onto the roof of the chancery building, spray-painted graffiti and broke windows and security cameras. They lobbed fruits and vegetables at the compound.

A witness told The Associated Press that protesters scaled a fence, smashed windows and raised a Syrian flag at the embassy. Nuland said that Syrian security forces, who are supposed to guard the mission, were slow to respond.

After the crowd at the embassy was dispersed, the protesters moved to the ambassador’s residence and attacked it, causing unspecified damage, Nuland said. The ambassador’s residence is not inside the embassy compound but is nearby.

“We consider that the Syrian government has not lived up to its obligations … to protect diplomatic facilities and it is absolutely outrageous,” she told reporters. There were similar scenes at the French embassy, where guards fired in the air to hold back Assad loyalists who attacked the compound.

The French Foreign Ministry said three embassy workers were injured as “well organized groups” smashed windows and destroyed the ambassador’s car. “Faced with the passivity of security forces, embassy security agents were forced to make three warning shots to stop intrusions from multiplying,” a French government statement said.

The French flag was removed and replaced with a Syrian one. “God, Syria and Bashar. The nation that gave birth to Bashar Assad will not kneel,” read graffiti scrawled outside the embassy. One witness said three protesters were injured when guards beat them with clubs. The witness asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Hiam al-Hassan, a witness, said about 300 people were at the French Embassy while hundreds targeted the American diplomatic compound. “Syrians demonstrated peacefully in front of the French embassy but they were faced with bullets,” said al-Hassan.

Another protester at the French Embassy, Thuraya Arafat, 58, said: “I am here to find out why the French ambassador visited Hama. Did he go there to meet armed gangs?” French Ambassador Eric Chevalier and Ford both made separate visits to Hama on Thursday.

Ford was greeted by friendly crowds who put flowers on his windshield and olive branches on his car, chanting: “Down with the regime!” The State Department said the trip was to support the right of Syrians to demonstrate peacefully.

Syrian authorities called the ambassadors’ visits to Hama interference in the country’s internal affairs and accused the envoys of undermining Syria’s stability. On Sunday, Ford attacked the government for allowing its supporters to demonstrate while violently suppressing anti-regime demonstrators.

“And how ironic that the Syrian Government lets an anti-U.S. demonstration proceed freely while their security thugs beat down olive branch-carrying peaceful protesters elsewhere,” he said. On Sunday, the State Department complained that pro-government demonstrators threw tomatoes, eggs and rocks at the embassy over the weekend to protest Ford’s visit to Hama.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that the attacks demonstrated the Syrian president was not serious about reform, but stopped short of calling on him to step down. “From our perspective, he has lost legitimacy,” Clinton told reporters at the State Department in a joint news conference with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. “He has failed to deliver on promises he has made, he has sought and accepted aid from the Iranians as to how to repress his own people.”

Congressional Republicans have pressed the administration to withdraw Ford from Syria, an ally of Iran that supports the Islamic militant groups Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. did not send an ambassador to Damascus for five years in protest of Syria’s alleged role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut.

Monday’s protests coincided with government-organized talks in Damascus on possible political reforms after four months of unrest. But the talks were boycotted by the main opposition factions and are unlikely to produce any breakthroughs to immediately end bloodshed.

The two days of meetings, however, were seen as a major concession by Assad’s regime after the most serious challenge to its rule. The talks did not stop Syrian forces from pressing their crackdown. Before the embassy attacks, Syrian troops stormed the country’s third-largest city of Homs with armored personnel carriers and heavy machine guns, a rights activist. At least two people were killed and 20 wounded, activists said.

Activists including the Local Coordination Committees, a group that tracks anti-government protests in Syria, also reported gunfire and a “massive wave” of arrests and raids in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in Idlib province, near the Turkish border.

Clashes between protesters and Assad’s supporters have resulted in the deaths of 1,600, in addition to 350 members of the security forces. Syria blames what it calls “armed gangs” and Muslim extremists for the violence.

Egypt protesters vow to stay in Tahrir Square till demands met


Stocks fall nearly three percent as heightened tensions raised fears unrest will spread across Egypt.

CAIRO – Protesters prepared to spend their fourth night in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Monday, as stocks fell nearly three percent on fears of widespread unrest.

Pro-democracy activists have been camping out in Cairo, Alexandria and the canal city of Suez since mass nationwide rallies on Friday calling for political change.

“We’re not going anywhere until our demands are met,” said Ahmed al-Sayyed, a protester in Tahrir Square where traffic has been blocked since Friday.

The Mugamma, a huge government complex housing Egypt’s sprawling bureaucracy, was blocked to employees for a second day running.

In Alexandria, hundreds vowed not to budge from their sit-in in Qayed Ibrahim Square, and hundreds more packed into Al-Arbaeen Square in the canal city of Suez.

Friday’s protest and the ensuing sit-ins have been one of the biggest challenges to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took power when a popular uprising toppled president Hosni Mubarak in February.

On Monday, Egypt stocks fell as heightened tensions raised fears the unrest would spread.

The main EGX-30 index closed down 2.93 percent at 5,116.21 points. On Sunday it had closed down 1.67 percent.

“There has been a big wave of selling by foreign investors… influenced by the sit-ins and demonstrations in the main squares of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez,” said financial analyst Marwa Abu Ouf.

Among protesters’ key demands are an end to military trials of civilians, the dismissal and prosecution of police officers accused of murder and torture — before and after the revolution — and open trials of former regime officials.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf pledged to sack all police officers accused of killing protesters, as part of a series of measures aimed at placating protesters.

But his government has been criticized as weak in the face of the ruling military council, which is headed by Mubarak’s longtime defense minister Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi.

Source: Middle East Online.

Assad supporters storm US embassy in Syria


US official says embassy has sustained some physical damage, mob has then moved on to ambassador’s residence.

DAMASCUS – An angry mob stormed the US embassy in the Syrian capital on Monday, after Washington’s ambassador visited the flashpoint city of Hama, a hub for protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“Today there was an attack by a mob on the US embassy,” a US embassy official said, adding that no embassy personnel were injured although the Syrian authorities were slow in providing additional security measures.

The official said the embassy sustained some physical damage and that the crowd then moved on to the ambassador’s residence.

Opposition protests were also staged overnight in several towns against Sunday’s opening of a “national dialogue” hailed by the regime but boycotted by the opposition, rights activists said.

Monday’s embassy attack comes four days after US Ambassador Robert Ford visited the central city of Hama, 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of Damascus, sparking outrage in the capital.

The embassy official said “no staff were injured” on Monday and were never in “imminent danger,” although the “Syrian government was slow to respond with extra security measures that were needed.”

“The Syrian government has assured us that it will provide the protection required under the Vienna Convention and we expect it to do so.”

He added that a Syrian television channel had “encouraged this violent demonstration,” which followed protests at the embassy on Friday and Saturday calling for the ambassador’s resignation.

A senior US official on Sunday accused Damascus of orchestrating the protests over Ford’s trip to Hama, which the authorities slammed as a “flagrant interference” in Syria’s “domestic affairs.”

Ford and his French counterpart Eric Chevallier both visited Hama on Thursday amid fears of a bloody crackdown after Friday prayers the next day by Assad’s forces, with tanks encircling the city.

France on Sunday summoned Syria’s envoy to Paris Lamia Shakkour over damage done to the French embassy in Damascus and a consulate in Aleppo on Saturday after Chevallier’s trip to Hama.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe’s cabinet chief called her to the foreign ministry to receive a “vigorous protest”, ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in a statement.

Tensions have been escalating for months between Damascus and Washington over the Syrian government’s fierce response to opposition protests that erupted in mid-March, seeking to oust Assad.

Human rights groups say that since the protests broke out, the security forces have killed more than 1,300 civilians and made at least 12,000 arrests.

In overnight protests, some 5,000 people demonstrated in Deir Ezzor in the east, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Monday, adding there were also protests in three districts of Damascus.

The army was also reported to be continuing a search and sweep operation in the Jebel al-Zawiya area of Idlib province in the northwest.

“Soldiers supported by tanks carried out searches in the villages of Kafarhaya, Sarjan and Al-Rami, and arrests were made in Kfar Nubol,” the Observatory said.

People were also detained in Hama and in the coastal city of Banias, where the rights group reported five arrests of people “for filming demonstrations.”

Shooting was also heard at around dawn in the central city of Homs.

A meeting of the “national dialogue” in the capital was due to take place later on Monday.

Sunday’s inaugural session saw some 200 delegates take part, including independent MPs and members of the Baath party, in power since 1963.

Opposition figures boycotted the gathering in protest at the government’s continued deadly crackdown on the anti-regime protests.

Meanwhile, the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey fell to around 8,500 as hundreds decided to return home over the weekend, Turkish officials in Ankara said on Monday.

The number of refugees fleeing the government crackdown and entering Turkey peaked at 11,739 at the end of June, when Syrian troops stormed border villages where many displaced people had massed.

Source: Middle East Online.

Iraqis who sought refuge in Syria, now returning


Deadly unrest in Syria force Iraqi refugees who fled 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq to return home.

By Sammy Ketz – BAGHDAD

When his six-year-old son was killed in a 2006 Baghdad gun battle, Seif Rashid decided to flee with his family to Syria, but the deadly unrest there forced him to return to Iraq last month.

“When I saw the lifeless body of my little Abdel Rahman I decided to leave with my wife and two girls. I could not stand my country, which was overwhelmed by hatred,” Rashid said.

The boy had been killed by a stray bullet in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah neighborhood.

Rashid moved to Kafar Batna, on the outskirts of Damascus, because he had no work and the rent and life was cheaper.

But the wave of protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that began in March once again upset their lives.

“There were protests, they burned public buildings, posters of Bashar al-Assad — and there have been arrests — the situation was untenable,” Rashid said. “So, we took our bags and left again.”

Rashid, a 30-year-old shoe designer, mingled in Baghdad with a crowd of other returnees like him, all waiting to sign up at the National Registry office for refugees.

Registration entitles displaced Iraqis like him to a government installation allowance of four million dinars ($3,400/2,380 euros) per family, to help with the costs of resettling.

Many lost everything they had when they fled the violence that followed the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled leader Saddam Hussein and triggered an insurgency and Shiite-Sunni bloodletting.

Rashid, unemployed since he fled Iraq, has been living on his savings.

In Iraq, after the turmoil of the invasion and the extreme violence that began in 2004 and peaked in 2006 and 2007, neighboring Syria quickly became the preferred escape for many Iraqis.

It was next door, not very expensive, and it had open borders. Between 300,000 and one million Iraqis are estimated to have fled to Syria during the violence.

Security is better than in Syria

In 2004, 45-year-old Yaqub Khalaf Nussayef was shot in the abdomen and leg during a settling of scores between Sunni and Shiite groups.

Nussayef is a Sunni and former soldier who was living in the Shiite neighborhood of Abu Ghraib, which gained worldwide notoriety after publication of photographs showing American soldiers humiliating and torturing prisoners.

A father of five, he first fled to Jordan and then to Damascus, where he collected and sold empty soft drink cans for recycling in order to feed his family.

“The Syrian capital was quiet, but elsewhere there was chaos. I have tasted the bitter taste of sectarian war and bloodshed, and I did not wish to be part of a new wave of violence,” he said.

“I am convinced that what is going on over there is a sectarian war,” said Nussayef, who arrived only days ago in Baghdad, searching for a home before he brings his family.

Syria is majority Sunni, but the Alawites, who comprise only 12 percent of the population, have been in power since 1963.

Hayat Saad, legal officer at the Baghdad refugees center, said “every day we deal with between 60 to 70 cases of families who have returned to the country.”

“Daily, about 20 come from Syria — the largest contingent — followed by Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Libya,” she added.

Since the beginning of May, 1,171 families — about 7,000 people — have returned from Syria, and three-quarters have taken up residence in Baghdad province, the International Organization for Migration said.

“We still do not have any evidence of a large ‘wave’ of return in the past few months due to unrest,” said the IOM’s Nuray Inal.

In addition to assisting in housing, the ministry of refugees also helps in settling utility bills such as for water, electricity and telephones that may have accumulated over the years that owners were absent from their homes. It also helps in recovering homes that may have been taken over by squatters.

Qahtan Sabri, a 61-year-old carpenter, went to Damascus in 2005. “The situation was getting worse day-by-day. The confessional killings were increasing, and I had to stop working.

“I decided to return to Iraq when I realized that security is better in my own country than in Syria. I have resumed my business and will never leave my country,” he said.

Source: Middle East Online.

Is France turning its back on Libya rebels?


Gahtafi’s son Seif Al-Islam says Tripoli is negotiating with Paris, not rebels, France denies direct talks.

ALGIERS – Tripoli is negotiating a way out of the Libyan crisis with France not with its rebel foes, the son of embattled Libyan leader Moamer Gathafi said in an interview published Monday.

“We are in fact holding real negotiations with France and not with the rebels,” Seif Al-Islam said during the interview with the Algerian daily El Khabar conducted in the Libyan capital.

He said Tripoli had received a “clear message” from Paris through a special envoy who met with the French president.

Seif Al-Islam said French President Nicolas Sarkozy bluntly told the Libyan emissary: “We created the (rebel) National Transitional Council and without France’s backing, money and weapons, it would not exist.”

And he added that Sarkozy made it clear that “he, not the rebels, was Tripoli’s interlocutor.”

“The French officially informed us that they wanted to set up a transitional government in Libya. Sarkozy told a Libyan envoy: I have a list and those on it are the men of France,” Gathafi’s son said.

However, Paris denied on Monday reports it has begun direct negotiations with Tripoli.

France said it has made indirect contact with Libyan strongman Moamer Gathafi’s regime, the foreign ministry said.

Paris is a leading member of the NATO-led international coalition bombing Gathafi’s forces and a cheerleader for the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) battling to overthrow his rule.

Sunday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in Addis Ababa that Paris would work with the African Union to find “political solutions” to the Libya crisis, but insisted that the ouster of Libyan leader Moamer Gathafi was a “key point”.

And earlier this month, France said it supplied light arms including rifles and rocket launchers to the rebels for “self-defense” in line with a UN resolution.

However it later said the rebels, increasingly confident on the ground, no longer need the weapons drops.

Source: Middle East Online.

Shared Maghreb identity builds momentum for UMA

Maghreb residents are beginning to embrace a regional identity.

By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat – 10/07/11

After more than two decades, the Maghreb Union (UMA) may finally be ready to complete its institutions and compete on a global scale.

The popular momentum is there to make it happen, observers note. Especially in Morocco.

The [Arab] Maghreb Union offers advantages to every member country involved, economist Najib Boulif told Magharebia, adding that each country would stand to gain by an amount equal to 5-6% of its GDP.

“When the flow of trade is increased, monetary union is implemented and the movement of money and people is made easier, this will give a boost to the regional economy,” he said.

Morocco’s economy needs to open up more towards other Arab markets, according to MP Lahcen Daoudi.

Moreover, he said, the countries of the Maghreb share the same set of values, the same way of thinking and the same language.

“It’s a sentimental link. Moroccan identity is made up of several components, including Muslim values, Arab values and Maghreb characteristics. The latter are much stronger and closer to us,” Daoudi said.

“You can’t deny geography or change history,” agreed sociologist Ali Chaabani said. “There are several things in common: the language, the religion, feelings and cultural and artistic expression. For instance, when you listen to an Algerian singer, it’s as though you could just as easily be listening to a Moroccan singer.”

Despite their similarities, citizens of the Maghreb do not feel as though they belong to the same society when they are in their home countries, Chaabani said. When they go abroad, however, the feeling of kinship emerges.

Ahmed Cherrat, a senior manager, echoed that sentiment, saying when he was on business trips abroad, Maghreb citizens got along best with each other.

“We feel as though we come from the same region. People aren’t interested in petty politicking,” Cherrat said.

Siham Atlass, a student in Montpellier, France said that when she was in Morocco, she was unaware of the degree of cultural and social affinity within the Maghreb.

“I knew we shared the same values, but I never imagined we had the same identity,” she said.

“The Tunisian and Algerian students I’ve met in France are no different from Moroccans. We’re open-minded.”

Source: Magharebia.

Cosmonaut Kotov: Enjoying International Cooperation in Space

by Eugene Nikitenko for Voice of Russia
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Jul 11, 2011

Number 100 spaceman Oleg Kotov, a Hero of the Russian Federation, was in London last week to see the photo exhibition put together by Russia’s news agency RIA and Britain’s Science Photo Library. The display that was opened in early June at the Royal Albert Hall, was dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the first-ever space flight of Yuri Gagarin.

A physician by education and a great follower of Gagarin, Oleg Kotov, made 2 flights to the International Space Station in 2007 and 2009. Of late he has been often traveling around the world to speak to foreign audiences about Yuri Gagarin, whom, he says, many in the West view as a man belonging to the whole world rather than solely his native Russia.

Now, 50 years since the first-ever space flight, space crews and their tasks are much more different than before.

If in the past, space exploration programs were based on national ambitions of the states which conducted those programs, at present the situation is totally different.

According to the official space exploration program of the Russian Federation, the nation’s space agency, Roskosmos, does not see activities outside Earth’s orbit without cooperation with other countries.

The International Space Station – ISS – the largest space station ever constructed, is an internationally-developed research facility assembled in low Earth orbit. On-orbit construction of the station began in 1998 and is scheduled to be completed next year. The station is expected to remain in operation until at least 2020, and potentially to 2028. Like many artificial satellites, the ISS can be seen from Earth with the naked eye.

The ISS serves as a research laboratory of microgravity environment where crews conduct experiments in biology, astronomy and meteorology. They also test spacecraft systems to prepare future missions to the Moon and Mars. It is operated by expedition crews, and has been continuously staffed since 2 November 2000-an uninterrupted human presence in space for more than a decade. As of June 2011, the crew of Expedition 28 is aboard.

The recent session of the UN General Assembly declared April 12, the date of Yuri Gagarin’s flight, to be marked internationally as the First Space Flight Day. Oleg Kotov who attended the session, speaking on UN Radio, said that 50 years after that first-ever flight the mankind stands on the threshold of a new breakthrough in space.

The results of space flights, he also said, form the base for armies of specialists who work out uniform technology standards that help to overcome differences in technological, cultural and scientific approaches, so that they can be used in future both in space and on Earth. “It’s not just working in space, we live there, with the scheduled working hours, days off and all the subtleties of the environment,” he said.

Speaking to journalists after the Gagarin exhibition closed last Monday, spaceman Kotov stressed that if previously ISS exploitation rules, principles of engine designs, their controls as well as after-flight rehabilitation and health saving procedures were mainly based on the Soviet and Russian expertise, at present foreign partners add up to these.

“During my first flight in 2007 we were happy to work in the interests of the U.S. science, while U.S. researchers did their bit to assist in our work. National interests and the necessity of working together are no longer antagonistic,” concluded Oleg Kotov, Russia’s spaceman 100 last week in London.

Source: Space Daily.

NASA tracking space debris in space station’s path

Washington (AFP) July 10, 2011

The US space agency is tracking a piece of space junk that could be on a path toward the International Space Station, where the shuttle Atlantis has just docked on its final mission, NASA said Sunday.

However, NASA is not ready to say for sure whether the object is projected to collide with the shuttle and station, though the paths were likely to cross on Tuesday, said deputy manager of the space shuttle program LeRoy Cain.

“What we were told today is very preliminary,” Cain said. “It is a potential right now.”

Cain said he was unaware what size the object may be, but expected more information later Sunday or Monday.

Tuesday is the scheduled day for a spacewalk by two US astronauts aboard the ISS as part of Expedition 28.

On June 28, a piece of space debris narrowly missed the ISS in a rare incident that forced the six-member crew to scramble to their rescue craft, space agency officials said.

The high-speed object hurtled toward the orbiting lab and likely missed it by just 1,100 feet (335 meters). The crew moved to shelter inside two Soyuz spacecraft 18 minutes before the debris was expected to pass, NASA said.

“It was probably the closest object that has actually come by the space station,” NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, said afterward.

“We didn’t have any information that it was coming until it was very, very close.”

The size of the space junk remains unknown and no harm was done by its fly-by.

Source: Space Mart.

Atlantis docks at space station for last time

Washington (AFP) July 10, 2011

The shuttle Atlantis docked at the orbiting International Space Station for one last hitch-up Sunday, on its final space voyage before the entire 30-year US shuttle program shuts down for good.

The shuttle docked at 11:07 am (1507 GMT), just over an hour after the spacecraft performed its habitual slow backflip so that the ISS crew could take pictures of Atlantis’s heat shield before clasping onto the lab, NASA said.

Hatches opened between the two spacecraft at 12:47 pm (1647 GMT), and the four Atlantis astronauts floated across to greet their ISS crewmates with hugs and smiles.

Shortly afterward, NASA said it was tracking a piece of space debris that could be on a path to collide with the ISS by Tuesday, the day that two US astronauts are scheduled to step out on a spacewalk.

“What we were told today is very preliminary,” said deputy manager of the space shuttle program LeRoy Cain. “It is a potential right now.”

Atlantis began its 12-day journey on Friday with a picture-perfect liftoff from Kennedy Space Center that was watched locally by hundreds of thousands of tourists, and marked the last-ever blastoff of the three decade long program.

The flight marks the end of an era for NASA, leaving Americans with no actively operating government-run human spaceflight program and no method for sending astronauts to space until private industry comes up with a new capsule, likely by 2015 at the earliest.

With the shuttle gone, only Russia’s three-seat Soyuz capsules will be capable of carrying astronauts to the ISS at a cost of more than $50 million per seat.

Asked on CNN Sunday about headlines that proclaim the start of a period of Russian dominance in spaceflight, the US space agency’s administrator Charles Bolden said: “I don’t think I could disagree more with the headlines.”

“We have been the leader for many years, many decades now, and that will — we will maintain that leadership,” said the former astronaut.

Atlantis is carrying 8,000 pounds (3,000 kilograms) of supplies, which the combined crew of 10 — four aboard the shuttle’s STS-135 mission and six aboard the ISS as part of Expedition 28 — will transfer during the mission.

A failed ammonia pump will then be transferred to the shuttle payload bay for return to Earth.

Monday will be occupied with setting up the transfer of the Raffaello multipurpose module, which holds the extra supplies, from the shuttle to the Earth-facing side of the station’s Harmony module.

A spacewalk by American ISS crew members Garan and Mike Fossum is set for Tuesday.

The duo has already stepped out together on three spacewalks in June 2008 as part of the STS-124 mission that delivered the Japanese Kibo lab to the ISS.

“Poetry in motion,” said a commentator at mission control in Houston after the shuttle began its nine-minute somersault ahead of approach, also known as the rendezvous pitch maneuver.

The one-degree-per-second backflip was a key maneuver in Atlantis’s approach to the lab, allowing ISS crew members already at the station to take photos of the shuttle’s exterior and check if any damage was incurred during the takeoff.

The approach and latch-on were “flawless,” said mission control.

Three ISS crew, including Japanese flight engineer Satoshi Furukawa, snapped high-resolution photos of the shuttle as it circled in toward the orbiting lab.

On Saturday, the Atlantis crew performed the first inspection of the craft’s thermal protection system, the outer barrier that protects it from the searing heat upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Careful inspections of the shuttle body have become a primary activity since the space shuttle Columbia was destroyed upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere in 2003.

A panel of experts concluded that a heat shield tile on the craft’s wing was damaged at blast-off, fatally compromising the craft’s re-entry protection and killing all seven crew on board.

The shuttle’s return to Earth is currently scheduled for July 20, though NASA may add an extra day to the mission.

After that, NASA will continue working with private industry on plans to build a next generation spacecraft to tote astronauts and cargo to the ISS, while NASA focuses on a multipurpose crew vehicle that could take astronauts to deep space, Bolden said.

“The president has set the goals: an asteroid in 2025, Mars in 2030. I can’t get any more definitive than that,” he said.

Source: Space-Travel.

High costs, risks, policy shift make U.S. quit space shuttle program

Washington (XNA) Jul 11, 2011

Space shuttle Atlantis will soar into the sky Friday on NASA’s 135th and final flight. Its scheduled return to Earth later this month will mark the end of NASA’s 30-year space program.

Since its onset with the launch of space shuttle Columbia, the program has been seen as a cheap, safe and reliable way for space exploration.

Despite its great contributions to U.S. manned space flight, it has also left some grave and tragic lessons, making its termination inevitable.

Soaring Costs
Launched in 1972 by then President Richard Nixon, the shuttle program aimed to provide a new system of affordable space travel and proved to be NASA’s most enduring project in its 50 years of existence.

In 1981, shuttle Columbia made its first shuttle flight for two days. It was the ultimate hybrid and the first reusable spacecraft.

Launched like a rocket and gliding back to Earth like an airplane, space shuttles not only can act as a space taxi to carry astronauts, but have the muscle of a long-distance trucker to haul heavy machinery.

The spaceship boasts more than 3,500 subsystems and 2.5 million parts and is nine times faster than a speeding bullet as it climbs heavenward. That versatility, however, has translated into higher costs.

NASA originally estimated the program would cost about 90 billion U.S. dollars. However, its actual cost stands at about 200 billion dollars, compared with the 151 billion dollars spent on Apollo which took Americans to the moon in 1969.

In an article in Technology Review, John Logsdon, former head of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, drew a direct connection between the ravenous shuttle budget and the lack of other large advances in manned space flight.

“By operating the system for 30 years, with its high costs and high risk, rather than replacing it with a less expensive, less risky second-generation system, NASA compounded the original mistake of developing the most ambitious version of the vehicle,” he wrote.

“The shuttle’s cost has been an obstacle to NASA starting other major projects,” he added.

High Risk
In terms of safety, the shuttles have never been as reliable as their designers had envisioned.

On average, one out of every 67 flights ended up with fatal accidents. Based on the rate of deaths per million miles traveled, the space shuttle is 138 times riskier than a passenger jet.

Seven astronauts onboard died when Challenger exploded about a minute after launch in 1986. Nearly two decades after the tragic blast, a new catastrophe descended when the shuttle Columbia disintegrated moments before landing in 2003, killing another seven spacemen.

Again, the shuttle program was shelved for more than two years as NASA stepped up efforts to make it safer. But experts say the fundamental problem related to shuttles’ safety cannot be solved due to their “birth defects.”

“It is in the nation’s interest to replace the Shuttle as soon as possible,” concluded the panel that investigated the 2003 Columbia accident.

Policy Shift
In 2004, former U.S. President George W. Bush made the decision to retire the space shuttles in 2004. Bush wanted astronauts to go back to the moon, and eventually go to the Mars. In order to save money for building a new spaceship to attain that goal, NASA had to stop spending about 4 billion dollars a year on the shuttle program.

President Barack Obama, however, unrolled a fresh project to build a giant rocket to send astronauts to an asteroid, and eventually to the Mars, while transferring to private companies the job of carrying cargo and astronauts to space stations.

During his first-ever Twitter town hall meeting on Wednesday, Obama said NASA needs new technological breakthroughs to revitalize its mission to explore the universe.

Admitting the shuttles’ “extraordinary work in low-orbit experiments, the International Space Station,” Obama said: “But now what we need is that next technological breakthrough.”

He said that the United States should move beyond the space travel models it used in the 1960s for the Apollo program.

“Rather than keep on doing the same thing, let’s invest in basic research around new technologies that can get us to places faster, allow human space flight to last longer,” Obama said.

Source: Space-Travel.

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