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Nation in brief

Shuttle disaster extended chief's stay

©Associated Press
April 21, 2003

HOUSTON -- The man in charge of NASA's space shuttle program, who was one of the agency's most recognized faces after the destruction of the shuttle Columbia, had planned to resign before the disaster, according to media reports.

Ron Dittemore postponed his departure because of the shuttle disaster and investigation, the Associated Press reported Sunday, quoting an unnamed source.

The Orlando Sentinel reported Saturday that Dittemore is expected to announce his resignation this week, while CBS News reported his resignation would come in the near future.

The Sentinel said a search for Dittemore's replacement is under way. In the meantime, the Houston Chronicle reported Sunday that the shuttle program will be headed by William Readdy, NASA's associate administrator for spaceflight, and his deputy, Michael Kostelnik.

Dittemore, 51, originally intended to resign after Columbia completed its research flight on Feb. 1, the Associated Press reported. Dittemore's planned departure was common knowledge at NASA, and he was going to take a job in private industry, the AP reported, citing a source speaking on condition of anonymity.

Facing personal grief and a public responsibility to find out what went wrong, Dittemore postponed his resignation after the shuttle disintegrated 38 miles over Texas, killing all seven astronauts.

Dittemore did not immediately respond to repeated calls to his Houston home seeking comment Sunday.

Glenn Mahone, spokesman for NASA at its Washington headquarters, and Laura Brown, spokeswoman for the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, the team of investigators leading the inquiry into the disaster, both declined to comment Sunday.

Dittemore, a 26-year veteran of NASA, provided detailed daily briefings after Columbia's loss, patiently and candidly answering questions as engineers investigated the accident.

Dittemore joined NASA's shuttle program as a propulsion systems engineer in 1977. He was selected in 1985 as a flight director and supervised 11 missions. He reached his current post in 1999.

Ancient village found under Ill. hillside

DAMIANSVILLE, Ill. -- Digging crews have found hundreds of 1,200-year-old stone arrowheads and pottery fragments buried under an Illinois hillside.

The discovery near this village about 35 miles east of St. Louis represents an important archaeological find, said Brad Koldehoff, a state archaeologist.

"It's a significant site. They discovered a keyhole-shaped house and what appears to be a small village," he said.

"Keyhole" houses are dwellings made of clay and logs with rooms half submerged in the ground. The large, dome-shaped living area at one end was reached by a long, straight, covered entrance, giving rise to the name "keyhole."

Microscopic examination of debris from their ancient garbage pits shows the inhabitants ate venison and turkey, plus what are today considered weeds. One common dish was a sort of pancake made from the seeds of knot weed.

The village dates from the Late Woodland period, from about 600 to 800 A.D., said Koldehoff.

The hillside where the artifacts were found last week was chosen for excavation because the landowner wants to sell its dirt to the state as fill for a nearby highway project. State law requires that an archaeological team search for artifacts and excavate any that might be found.

More than 350 firefighters battle Md. warehouse fire

CAMBRIDGE, Md. -- More than 350 firefighters battled a fire that destroyed four warehouses and caused an estimated $2-million worth of damage, officials said.

People within a half-mile radius of the blaze, whose flames were visible from up to 20 miles away, were evacuated Saturday as a precaution. But residents were allowed to return to their homes once the fire was under control, said Dorchester County emergency management director Wayne Robinson.

Officials called in 42 fire companies to assist. The fire, which started at a warehouse that stored wooden pallets, was contained, but hot spots were expected to continue into the morning, officials said.

Robinson said there were no reported injuries and no word on how the fire might have started.

Maker of drug Claritin names new chief officer

TRENTON, N.J. -- Drugmaker Schering-Plough Corp. on Sunday named veteran pharmaceutical industry executive Fred Hassan as its new chief executive officer and president.

Hassan, 57, who lost his job as head of drugmaker Pharmacia Corp. Wednesday when it was acquired by industry behemoth Pfizer Inc., was considered the front-runner to take over at Schering-Plough. In November, CEO Richard Jay Kogan announced plans to retire.

The announcement came two days before the beleaguered maker of Claritin and other medicines planned to hold its annual meeting.

Schering-Plough's stock has been in a long, steep slide, with shares trading below $20, down from $60 two years ago. The world's No. 11 drugmaker was hit with a record $500-million fine from the Food and Drug Administration for sloppy manufacturing practices, and Kogan had recently come under scrutiny for meeting privately with some investors.

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