Space shuttle Atlantis is now in a rough orbital neighborhood — a place littered with thousands of pieces of space junk zipping around the Earth at nearly 20,000 mph. There are more pieces of shattered satellites and used-up rockets in this region than astronauts have ever encountered. And the crew must be there for more than a week to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. As soon as the job is complete, the shuttle will scamper to safety. The telescope orbits about 350 miles above Earth, a far dirtier place than where shuttles normally fly. And all those tiny projectiles raise the constant threat of a potentially fatal collision. NASA puts the risk for a catastrophic collision with junk during the mission at 1 in 229 — greater than typical flights to the space station but lower than the agency's initial estimates. The crew spent Tuesday checking the outside of the shuttle for any damage from debris during launch, finding four nicks that seem minor. It's a standard procedure since Columbia got hit by a piece of foam during launch and later disintegrated during re-entry. "It doesn't look very serious," mission control said. "Those tiles are pretty thick. The nicks look to be pretty small."
Vatican on defensive during Mideast trip
The Vatican defended Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday as a man of strong anti-Nazi credentials and a peacemaker in the face of mounting Israeli criticism and Arab anger over the Israeli occupation. Critics faulted the German-born pope for failing to apologize in a speech at Israel's Holocaust memorial for what they see as Catholic indifference during the Nazi genocide — a controversy that threatened to overshadow his high-profile pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Benedict delivered messages of peace Tuesday while visiting the holiest Muslim and Jewish sites in Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall.
Accused Nazi guard in German court
Sitting in a wheelchair and breathing through a nasal tube, retired auto worker John Demjanjuk listened silently Tuesday as a German judge read a 21-page warrant accusing him of acting as an accessory to the murder of 29,000 people at a Nazi death camp. Prosecutors in Munich said charges against the 89-year-old longtime Ohio resident could be filed within weeks. Efforts to prosecute Demjanjuk began in 1977 and have involved at least five countries on three continents. His lawyer challenged the warrant, arguing that the evidence is weak and that Germany's jurisdiction is questionable.
Huge blue rock grabs biggest bid
A rare 7.03-carat blue diamond sold for more than $8.4 million Tuesday, the highest price ever for a gem of its kind, according to auctioneers Sotheby's. The gem is smaller than a dime, shaped like a cushion and one of only a few blue diamonds ever found. The gem was discovered last year in South Africa and has been graded highly for its vivid color and clarity, Sotheby's said.