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Shuttle launch off until next week

Space shuttle Endeavour's mission to map the Earth is off until at least Feb. 9 because of an unreliable computer.

NASA decided Tuesday to replace the on-board computer even though it means another extended delay for a flight already running four months late.

The shuttle is equipped with a 13-ton radar system that will be used to create the finest-ever map of Earth's contours.

The computer _ called a master events controller _ is needed to send commands to ignite the two solid rocket boosters at liftoff and to later separate the boosters and the external fuel tank from the shuttle.

A problem with one controller surfaced in the final minutes of Monday's countdown and, along with bad weather, forced a delay.

Virginia Senate approves

schools' minute of silence

RICHMOND, Va. _ A measure requiring public schools to observe a minute of silence for meditation, prayer or reflection at the beginning of every school day was overwhelmingly approved by Virginia's Senate on Tuesday, and even opponents expect it to become law.

In a 28 to 11 vote, senators agreed to legislation hailed by social and religious conservatives as a way to instill values in young people and reduce violence in schools. Many civil libertarians argue that it crosses the constitutional line dividing church and state.

Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III said that the measure would not infringe on any student rights and that it was a good way to help "instill character in the lives of young people."

The bill approved Tuesday by the Senate will go to the House, where supporters and opponents said it is likely to pass.

Also . . .

STRANDED BY AVALANCHES: Nine motorists were rescued by a Alaska state police helicopter Tuesday after spending the night in their cars, trapped by huge avalanches that buried a highway.

The travelers, who had kept in touch with rescuers by cellular phone as they waited along the Seward Highway, were flown out in three groups and taken to a diner for breakfast. They were in good condition.

Some of the people wrapped up for the night in sleeping bags, while others were in a van that had a propane heater. They spent the time playing cribbage, getting acquainted and talking to troopers by phone.

Blizzard conditions had prevented rescuers from dropping supplies such as food and blankets overnight, when temperatures dipped into the low teens.

SKAKEL CASE QUESTIONED: The question of whether a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy can be prosecuted for the 1975 slaying of a teenage neighbor has been raised by lawyers who say the statute of limitations on the crime has expired.

Michael Skakel, 39, was arrested Jan. 19 in the slaying of Martha Moxley, who was found beaten to death with a golf club more than 24 years earlier on her family's estate.

When the slaying was committed, there was a 5-year statute of limitations on murder prosecutions in Connecticut. Prosecutor Jonathan Benedict said the state Supreme Court has since ruled that murder is always subject to prosecution, but other legal experts say it's not that simple.

The question was reported in Monday's edition of the Connecticut Law Tribune.

BOY ATTENDS PRIVATE SCHOOL: Travis Butler, who made national headlines after friends found him living in an apartment with his dead mother, is now attending private school in Mississippi.

The 9-year-old lives in Carthage, Miss., with his grandmother, Shirley Wilder, and attends fourth grade at Sacred Heart Catholic School. Wilder has temporary custody of Travis. A hearing to award her permanent custody has been tentatively set for June.

Travis had lived with his dead mother, Crystal Wells, for a month in Memphis, Tenn. She had died of natural causes.

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