NASA will try to launch Discovery next week, less than a month after the last shuttle mission. Senior officials set Tuesday as the launch date after a two-day flight review. Much of the discussion during the review focused on the unusually large amount of foam insulation that came off the fuel tank during last month's launch of Endeavour. NASA conducted a series of tests on Discovery's fuel tank to make sure the foam was attached securely to its midsection, where it peeled off in strips last month. Another area of concern, where foam wedges cover brackets for pressurization lines, was more complicated to check. Foam came off that area during the past two shuttle launches. On Wednesday, eight or so engineers proposed further testing and even repairs, which would have bumped Discovery's flight into October. But in the end, managers found Discovery's tank acceptable and decided unanimously to proceed with a Tuesday launch, and no one appealed, said Bill Gerstenmaier, head of space operations. Liftoff is planned for 1:36 a.m. Tuesday.
Colbert goes up, Buzz comes down
Discovery will deliver a new treadmill to the space station, named after Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert. The comedian tried to get a chamber named after him, but Colbert settled for the treadmill. And coming back on the shuttle will be a Buzz Lightyear toy that has been at the station since spring 2008. Walt Disney World helped arrange the trip "to infinity and beyond" for the 12-inch action figure, as part of NASA's toys-in-space educational program.
How worried about the swine flu pandemic are we?
According to a Washington Post-ABC poll, about one in eight Americans are very worried. But by comparison, six in 10 are not worried, with about half of those classifying themselves as "not at all" concerned. As far as a vaccine, 55 percent said they would get it, a number that jumped to 65 percent if a doctor suggested it. About eight in 10 say that local health agencies will do a fine job in handling the outbreak.
Seattle votes against bag fee/tax
Seattle voters firmly rejected a referendum that would have led to stores charging shoppers 20 cents for every plastic or paper bag they got at checkout counters. The defeat — 58 percent to 42 percent, with more than half of the expected votes counted — means an ordinance passed by the Seattle City Council last year will not take effect. Supporters said they were outspent 15-to-1 in the campaign. Opponents said that the charge was a tax and not a fee.
Report: Plastic decomposes in ocean
Environmentalists have long denounced plastic as a long-lasting pollutant that doesn't break down. A new study indicates that, in the ocean, it does decompose, but that that's not a good thing either. Thousands of tons of plastic debris wind up in the oceans every year, some of it washing up on coasts, some being swirled by currents into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch between California and Hawaii, said to be larger than Texas. "We found that plastic in the ocean actually decomposes as it is exposed to environmental conditions, giving rise to yet another source of global contamination that will continue into the future," said Katsuhiko Saido, a chemist at Japan's Nihon University. Saido reported that the decomposing plastics release potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A and PS oligomer, which can disrupt the functioning of hormones in animals.
As Alps melt, Switzerland invades Italy
Global warming appears to be making Switzerland bigger, at the expense of Italy. A melting glacier has caused the Swiss government to shift its borders up to 164 yards in some areas. Italy has approved the changes. The change was made because the melting glaciers high in the Alps have changed the watershed area that was defined as the border between the countries in 1942. "We won't be correcting the atlas," said topographer Daniel Gutknecht.
Update: No way she is having 12 babies
A Tunisian woman's claim of being pregnant with 12 babies is a farce, a health official said. Dr. Mongi Hamrouni of the public health department said he was "more than 99 percent" sure the woman claiming to be expecting six boys and six girls has a mental problem. The woman refused to be examined by medical officials.