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Sunday, June 29, 2003  

The news desk

*News from NASA

NASA's qualms about its machinery after this year's shuttle disaster seem to be continuing. It has delayed the launch of a rover to Mars.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - NASA postponed the launch of the latest Mars rover early Sunday because of concern about strong wind shear.

A new launch time for the rover, Opportunity, was set for 11:46 p.m. Sunday on a Delta II Heavy rocket that was being used for the first time. The weather was expected to improve late Sunday.

NASA twice missed opportunities to launch the rover. The first opportunity at 11:56 p.m. Saturday was bypassed because of concern that winds could blow toxic clouds into populated areas if there was a mishap, and because a boat was in a restricted area. The second lost chance was at 12:37 a.m. Sunday.

Opportunity, and its sister rover, Spirit, launched earlier this month, will act as robotic geologists during their three months of exploration on the Martian surface.

What is one to make of the new caution? Space exploration has always been as much about public relations as it is about science. Any additional bad news coming on the heels of the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia Feb. 1 could be a setback on the image front. Though unmanned machinery has not been plagued by the design problems of the space shuttles, only three of nine previous launches to Mars have been successful. The care being displayed may be an effort to increase the possibility of success and improve the space agency's image.

Meanwhile, undamaged documentation of the Columbia's mission has been recovered recently.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board recently determined the material was not relevant to their investigation. The imagery documents the STS-107 mission from the crew's perspective and includes almost 10 hours of recovered video and 92 photographs.

It includes in-cabin, Earth observation and experiment-related imagery. The shuttle carried 337 videotapes, but only 28 were found with some recoverable footage.

Investigation of the tragedy continues.

*Clinton hits a homer

Former two-term President Bill Clinton was very much himself at three-term Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson's funeral Saturday. His comments are an interesting antidote to the outpouring of complaints from some in regard to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the University of Michigan's affirmative action cases last week.

Clinton, in his characteristic folksy style, said Jackson had a "voice that could melt the meanness out of the hardest heart" and a "gift of gab that could talk an owl out of a tree."

"And he had certain convictions because he knew that politicians made choices that affect people's lives," he said. "He saw how much good affirmative action did for well-connected white folks and he thought it ought to be tried for other people as well."

"Sure enough," Clinton said, "it worked."

As mayor, Jackson pushed through a citywide affirmative-action program that required municipal contractors to take on minority-owned businesses as partners and pressured the city's major law firms to hire black lawyers.

"Maynard believed politics should be practical not radical, that we should all strive to be righteous not self righteous and that life was a search for the truth and that it was wrong to claim to have the truth and then use it like a stick to beat other people with," Clinton said.

It is almost unbelievable an American politician had the cojones to say that. The only thing that would please me more would have been Clinton saying it while he was in office.

*Porch collapse was preventable

So many of the bad things that happen to people are beyond their control that I become really miffed when plain old prima facie negligence stares me in the face. The nightclub disasters in which nearly 150 people died earlier this year are examples. This needless devastation of many lives in Chicago is another reminder.

CHICAGO (AP) -- A wooden third-floor porch packed with dozens of friends in their early 20s collapsed Sunday, killing 12 people as it pancaked onto porches below. As many as 45 others were injured in the fall, some critically, authorities said.

Police said as many as 50 people may have been standing or dancing on the porch when it gave way, and there may have been beer kegs there, as well.

Most of the dead appeared to have been crushed on the porches below, said Larry Langford, spokesman for the city's Office of Emergency Management.

``There was chaos,'' said Chicago Fire Commissioner James Joyce. ``There were people screaming and crying in the alley.''

After the fact, people are saying it was obvious the porch could not support the 40 to 50 people standing or sitting on it. However, there is no evidence anyone warned the party goers of the risk inherent in their conduct. That is in keeping with my own observations. Apparently, out of fear of being criticized, many, maybe most, people will not offer even common sense advice to others. I believe that to be grounds for shame. Accidents like this could be prevented if a few people would just speak up.

9:04 AM