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Data recorder may add to shuttle inquiry

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 25, 2003


LUFKIN, Texas -- A data recorder from the space shuttle Columbia, discovered last week in a pine forest in Texas, is in surprisingly good shape and may contain crucial information previously unavailable to investigators of the shuttle disaster, NASA officials say.

NASA officials said the data recorder, discovered on Wednesday, had been opened and examined by technicians at Imation Inc. in Minneapolis, and the magnetic tape inside was "in surprisingly good shape."

Shuttle investigators hope that the tape contains further data on the condition of Columbia as it re-entered the atmosphere, before it and its crew of seven were lost.

A NASA official, who spoke to the New York Times on condition of anonymity, said the data box could have recorded information about stresses and other forces on the craft that were not being monitored by other sensors. The officials said this new information, compared with other sensor data radioed from the shuttle during re-entry, could provide "a wealth of new information" to supplement data available so far.

NASA PLANS TO KEEP SHUTTLES FLYING: Despite the Columbia disaster, NASA officials are forging ahead with plans to upgrade the shuttle fleet to keep it flying until at least 2015 and possibly several years longer, a senior space agency official said Monday.

Michael C. Kostelnik, deputy associate administrator for the international space station and space shuttle programs, said NASA is reviewing 60 possible improvements to the three remaining shuttles -- including some to address issues raised after the Columbia disintegrated as it was returning to Earth Feb. 1.

Missing Mich. teen found traveling with man in Calif.

Acting on a tip from a delivery driver who spotted a suspicious pickup truck at a convenience store, California police recovered a missing Michigan girl unharmed Monday and arrested her traveling companion, identified as convicted murderer Terry Drake.

Lindsey Diane Ryan, 14, who apparently climbed out her bedroom window early March 1 to hit the road with Drake, 56, was happy and cooperative when a California Highway Patrol officer stopped their truck in a sparsely populated, mountainous area 70 miles northwest of Reno, Nev., highway patrol spokesman Tom Marshall said.

Police arrested Drake and took Lindsey to the highway patrol post in nearby Susanville, Calif., bringing to an end the pair's 23-day, cross-country odyssey 2,000 miles from where it started and concluding a nationwide manhunt, Marshall said.

An Amber Alert, which provides information about missing or abducted children, proved instrumental in solving the case, police said.

Feds tighten rules for 'educational' Cuban travel

WASHINGTON -- Students wanting to travel to Cuba for educational purposes would have to show that the trip is for academic course work, the Treasury Department said in a revised rule.

Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces a longstanding U.S. embargo against Cuba, said it would no longer issue new licenses for "people-to-people educational exchanges."

Those licenses, which were authorized on a case-by-case basis, ended up becoming a loophole for groups to travel to Cuba when the educational aspect was barely evident, said Treasury Department spokesman Tony Fratto.

FBI no longer must ensure accuracy of database

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department lifted a requirement Monday that the FBI ensure the accuracy and timeliness of information about criminals and crime victims before adding it to the country's most comprehensive law enforcement database.

The system, run by the FBI's National Crime Information Center, includes data about terrorists, fugitives, warrants, people missing, gang members and stolen vehicles, guns or boats.

Officials said the change, which immediately drew criticism from civil-liberties advocates, is necessary to ensure investigators have access to information that can't be confirmed but could take on new significance later, FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said.

Democrat seeks inquiry into Pentagon adviser

WASHINGTON -- A senior House Democrat asked the Defense Department on Monday to investigate the business dealings of Richard N. Perle, the head of an influential Pentagon advisory board who is also an adviser to Global Crossing, the large telecommunications company that is seeking to overcome Pentagon objections to its proposed sale to Asian investors.

"I am aware of several potential conflicts that warrant your immediate review," Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said in a letter to the Pentagon's inspector general. He urged a broad examination of Perle's business dealings.

Pentagon officials declined to comment about the request.

Mentally ill death row inmate loses clemency bid

LIVINGSTON, Texas -- The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles refused to grant clemency Monday to a mentally ill condemned killer facing execution later this week.

James Colburn doesn't deny killing the 55-year-old woman as she resisted a rape attempt at his apartment, but his lawyers contend he should be spared because he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

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