Endeavour space shuttle set for final touchdown

    Space shuttle Endeavour Endeavour spent just over 11 days attached to the International Space Station

    The US space shuttle Endeavour comes back to Earth on Wednesday for a landing in Florida that will close its 19-year operational career.

    The ship has spent the past two weeks at the International Space Station (ISS), where it delivered a $2bn particle physics experiment.

    Once on the ground, the orbiter will be decommissioned and prepared for public display in Los Angeles.

    This will leave just the Atlantis shuttle to make a final flight in July.

    Assuming the weather is favourable, Commander Mark Kelly should be able to glide Endeavour to a touch down at the Kennedy Space Center at 0235 local time (0635 GMT).

    The ship will then have spent a cumulative 299 days in orbit, travelling more than 197.6 million km (122.8 million miles) during its 25 missions. Endeavour was first launched on 7 May, 1992, as a replacement for the Challenger vessel which was destroyed on launch six years previously.

    Nasa is committed to ending its shuttle programme. The vehicles are too costly to maintain and operate, and the agency believes a more affordable approach to getting astronauts to the ISS can be achieved by contracting out their transport to private companies.

    The first of these commercial carriers is expected to enter service sometime in the middle of the decade.

    Nasa will concentrate its efforts and resources on a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) that can go beyond the space station to destinations such as asteroids.

    "Endeavour and the space shuttle have been a workhorse for space exploration, building the entire space station and fixing the Hubble telescope, and doing a whole bunch of interesting tasks," said Endeavour pilot Greg Johnson during an in-flight interview on Monday.

    "When the space shuttle retires, we're going to lose a lot of capability of moving large payloads out to space; but then that opens the door for new things that are going to come across the horizon. The children out there ought to be inspired that when they get to go to space they'll probably get to go beyond low-Earth orbit, maybe to the Moon, maybe to Mars or beyond."

    Endeavour undocked from the station in the early hours of Monday (GMT). The ship's crew of six had gone to the platform to install the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a seven-tonne detector designed to survey the blizzard of high-energy particles that are fired at Earth from all corners of the cosmos.

    Scientists hope that by characterising these cosmic rays, they can learn more about the origins and make-up of the Universe.

    Endeavour had also carried up a tray of critical spare parts for the ISS that included cooling, robotic and communications equipment. The four spacewalks conducted by Endeavour crewmembers Drew Feustel, Mike Fincke and Greg Chamitoff, to carry out routine maintenance on the exterior of the platform, were the last in shuttle history.

    And by flying on this mission, Fincke, a colonel in the United States Air Force, has broken the record for the most time spent in space by an American, breaking the 377-day mark set by Peggy Whitson.

    Much of the media focus on Endeavour's flight has centred on Mark Kelly. He stood down from the mission briefly in January when his wife, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in the head by a gunman at a constituency meeting outside a Tucson supermarket.

    She made sufficient progress in her rehabilitation to permit Kelly to re-join the mission, and was even present to see Endeavour's launch from Kennedy on 16 May. But Ms Giffords will not be present at the landing.

    Atlantis is scheduled to undertake its final mission on 8 July. The vehicle was due to make the five km trip to the launch pad from its assembly hangar late on Tuesday.

    Conflicting fatality reports from Joplin

    The Missouri Department of Public Safety announced Monday that 113 people have been confirmed dead in the Joplin tornado and their next-of-kin notified.

    Gov. Jay Nixon directed the Missouri State Highway Patrol Thursday to assume control of notifying next-of-kin.


    Damage to St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Mo. is shown after it was hit by a tornado on Sunday, May 22, 2011. (AP Photo/The Wichita Eagle, Jaime Green)
    Damage to St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Mo. is shown after it was hit by a tornado on Sunday, May 22, 2011. (AP Photo/The Wichita Eagle, Jaime Green)
    There have been conflicting reports about the number of dead from state and city officials with the reported number at one point going as high as 142. Officials now say they will confirm numbers only after remains have been identified, including partial remains, and next of kin have been notified.

    Kingston's Passenger -- 'We Were Going REALLY Fast'

    Sean Kingston's female jet ski passenger tells TMZ Sean was driving "REALLY fast" when they crashed into a bridge this weekend ... and insists she begged him to slow down before the accident.


    TMZ spoke with Cassandra Sanchez -- Sean's longtime friend -- who tells us she arrived to Miami Beach with another female friend to ride jet skis with Sean and his buddy on Saturday evening.

    Sanchez tells us, "Both jet skis pulled out of the dock at the same time and we were going so fast we just blasted past them. When we turned a corner and crashed ... they were so far behind us they didn't even see us crash."

    Sanchez says ... as Sean was racing towards the bridge, she screamed out, "We can't fit under there! Are we going to try and go under there?  Sean stop!"

    Sanchez tells us ... she believes Sean tried to turn away from the bridge at the last minute ... and
    lost control because they were going "REALLY fast."

    The next thing Sanchez remembers is waking up in the water in pain. Sanchez says her friends on the other jet ski raced over and tried to help out ... with Sean's buddy trying to position the injured singer so he wouldn't swallow any more water. They all signaled for help until a boat came to the scene to help out.

    Sanchez says, "[Sean] was coughing up blood, foam and pink stuff" ... and when he finally opened his eyes, he kept repeating the words, "I'm hurting. I'm hurting"

    Sanchez says her ribs and her jaw are still sore -- but overall, she's OK.

    As for Sean, Sanchez says "They have a tube down his throat so he can't really talk, but he is lucid and understands what's going on." Sanchez says doctors plan to keep Sean in the hospital for "a couple more weeks."

    Apple drops secrecy, confirms iOS 5, iCloud on tap at WWDC 2011


    Apple announced today that it plans to introduce the next generation of its mobile platform, iOS 5, as well as a new cloud service called iCloud at the Worldwide Developers Conference next week on Monday, June 6. This is a highly unusual move for Apple, which normally tries to keep their center-ring announcements secret until the scheduled event.

    In a press release, Apple says that iOS 5 will be unveiled alongside iCloud and OS X 10.7 Lion. However, there are no follow-up details on any of the software; the only official tidbit on iCloud is that it is an "upcoming cloud services offering."

    There have been unofficial trickles of information on all three products over the last few months. iCloud is rumored to be a "digital locker" type service, not unlike Amazon's recently released cloud services for storing music. iOS 5 is expected to be a major overhaul to the operating system and may include features like over-the-air updates and a new mapping capability, though it will likely not make its way to related devices until this coming fall.

    The week before any Apple event is often a time of rabid speculation and digging on the part of news outlets because Apple usually tries so hard to keep its new products under lock and key. Now that Apple is trying to take control of the information flow nearly a week before WWDC starts on June 6, we wonder if we'll see more official details emerge on iOS 5 and iCloud in the next few days.

    Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook page apparently hacked

    The latest high-profile hack follows one on the page for French president Nicolas Sarkozy


    IDG News Service - Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appears to be the second high-profile victim of a hacking attack on his own Facebook page, following a similar account takeover early this week targeting French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
    The page www.facebook.com/markzuckerberg sported an uncharacteristic message advocating that Facebook adopt a "social business" model, where profits are invested in areas such as health care for the poor and other charitable causes, according to a report on TechCrunch late Tuesday.
    The message read: "Let the hacking begin: If facebook needs money, instead of going to the banks, why doesn t Facebook let its users invest in Facebook in a social way? Why not transform Facebook into a social business the way Nobel Price winner Muhammad Yunus described it?  What do you think? #hackercup2011," according to a screenshot captured by TechCrunch.
    The hash tag included in the message references Facebook's Hacker Cup, an ongoing competition that award prizes to people who compete in algorithmic programming exercises centered around Facebook's services. The bit.ly link points to the Wikipedia page for "social business," but includes other elements including a message saying "thanksforthecup" and a link to the profile picture for the Facebook page facebook.com/hackercup/.
    It appears that Facebook has taken down the page where the post appeared, although Zuckerberg has at least one other page online.
    Facebook representatives contacted in London said they had no immediate comment.
    This is the second high profile apparent Facebook hack this week. Sarkozy's Facebook page displayed a message with poor grammar on Monday saying he would not run for re-election in 2012. The post was taken down.
    The attack on Zuckerberg's page shows the vulnerability of many Web sites that use only a login and password over HTTP connections to protect accounts. Capturing those details is quite easy for hackers, who can rig Web sites with malicious software that gets automatically installed if a computer doesn't have the latest software patches for applications such as Web browsers.
    It is also possible for someone with access to the network infrastructure to intercept unencrypted passwords -- as Facebook itself alleges happened in Tunisia ahead of the recent uprising there.


    Toyota recalls 12,000 vehicles in Canada, 1.7 million worldwide

    In the latest setback for troubled Japanese auto giant Toyota, the manufacturer announced Wednesday that it is recalling 1.7 million vehicles worldwide, of which nearly 12,000 are in Canada, for issues that could result in a fuel leak.
    The vehicles affected by the problem with the fuel-pressure sensor are the 2006-through-2007 Lexus GS300/350, 2006-through-early-2009 Lexus IS250, and 2006-through-early-2008 Lexus IS350.
    The company said if there is insufficient tightening of the fuel-pressure sensor connected to certain fuel delivery pipes, there is a possibility that the sensor could loosen over time. This could in turn cause fuel to leak.
    No accidents have been related to the problem, the automaker said.
    Owners of the involved vehicles will receive notification of the recall by mail next month, Toyota said.
    The majority of the recalled vehicles, nearly 1.3 million, were sold in Japan.
    In 2008, Toyota ended General Motors' 77-year reign as the world's largest automaker, but the company has faced several hurdles since then, including millions of vehicles recalled in 2009 and 2010 when brake and accelerator defects were linked to some driver fatalities.
    By November last year, the automaker had pulled nearly 13 million vehicles over a range of issues.
    Last month, Toyota agreed to pay a record fine of $32.4 million U.S. in the U.S., following a $16.4 million penalty in April over its handling of the recalls.

    Egypt's allies warn government must respect democratic rights or face revolt

    Egypt's western allies, and its main middle-eastern backer Saudi Arabia, have said its government must respect democratic rights and if it is to stave off a Tunisia-like revolution. 


    The criticism came as Egypt banned demonstrations and deployed riot police in an effort to stop the largest and most significant political mobilisation since protests over bread subsidies shook the Arab world's most populous nation in 1977.
    In an unusually critical statement, the White House said the Egyptian government had "an important opportunity to be responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people, and pursue political, economic and social reforms." The strongly worded statement also expressed support for the "universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly."
    The statement was issued hours after Barack Obama, the US President, said in his annual State of the Union address that in Tunisia "the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator."
    European leaders have echoed Mr Obama's concerns. Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign affairs chief, called on "Egyptian authorities to respect and to protect the right of Egyptian citizens to manifest their political aspirations." Guido Westerwelle, Germany's foreign minister, also said "basic human rights, civil rights, freedom of opinion and assembly and press freedoms must be respected in Egypt."
    Prince Turki al-Faisal, a powerful Saudi Arabian royal who served as its intelligence chief, also had rare words of warning for Egypt's government, saying its survival depended on its ability to understand what the population wanted. "Whether they can catch up as leaders to what the population is aiming (for) is still to be seen," he said.


    Obama calls for new era of competitiveness

    President Barack Obama receives an autographed Green Bay Packers Charles Woodson from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, center, and Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt, upon his arrival in Green Bay, Wis., Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011, en route to nearby Manitowoc, Wis., where he will a tour renewable-energy factories and talk about jobs and the economy. Obama, a Chicago native, predicted the Chicago Bears would beat Green Bay in the NFC Championship game. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

    MANITOWOC, Wis.—President Barack Obama set out Wednesday to build momentum for his revamped economic message, calling for a new era of American competitiveness during a stop in Wisconsin, a state that will be critical to his reelection prospects.
    A day after his State of the Union address, Obama reinforced his primetime argument that the U.S. has to step up its investments in innovation and infrastructure in order to compete in the global economy and create jobs at home.
    "We're going to need to go all in. We're going to need to get serious about winning the future," Obama said during a stop at Orion Energy Systems, a power technology company in the small town of Manitowoc.
    The president is calling it a new Sputnik moment, like the one in the 1950s when the Soviet Union beat the U.S. by sending a satellite into space. The challenge resonated in Manitowoc, a small city on the shores of Lake Michigan known best as the place where a 20-pound chunk of the Sputnik satellite crashed in 1962.
    The stop was the first of three factory visits Obama was to make here in northern Wisconsin. He pitched forward, looking to highlight ways businesses like Orion would benefit from the proposals he outlined in Tuesday's address, including fresh investments in clean energy, research and technology.
    Still seeking to convince Americans that some of the unpopular economic decisions he made during the first two years of his administration were necessary, Obama also argued that those policies were responsible for the recovery that's begun to take hold.
    "New manufacturing plants, and new hopes, are taking root, part of the reason the unemployment rate here is four points lower than it was at the beginning of last year," Obama said.
    Obama's stop in Wisconsin, likely a key battleground state in 2012, underscored just how quickly the White House is refocusing on the president's fast-approaching reelection campaign. Though Obama won Wisconsin in 2008, the state turned sharply to the right during last year's November elections.
    © Copyright 2011 Associated Press.

    Burned by deep, dark family secrets: Oscar-nominated Incendies a Greek tragedy transplanted to the Middle East

    (In French with English subtitles)
    Starring: Lubna Azabal, Melissa Desourmeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette
    Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
    Parental guide: adult themes, violence, sexual content, not suitable for children
    Running time: 130 minutes
    Rating: Four stars out of five
    ``Sometimes it's better not to know the truth,'' someone says in Incendies, Denis Villeneuve's devastating family drama, and by the end of this brilliant and disturbing movie, you come to feel that he might be right. Incendies - the English title is Scorched - is about a twin brother and sister hunting for the secrets of their family, and what they find is at once horrifying, contrived, moving and impossible: a Greek tragedy transplanted to the Middle East, where tragedies of every provenance have been known to bloom.
    Incendies - which has been nominated for a best foreign-language-film Oscar - is the story of two searches. In the first, which takes place 35 years ago, a woman named Nawal (Belgian actress Lubna Azabal, giving a performance of deep and sad watchfulness) is wandering through an unnamed country, looking for her son. It's a place of bombed-out stone villages and perilous desert tracks: The signature scene, used in the film's poster, shows Nawal on her knees in the sand while a bus explodes into flames behind her.
    The second story takes place today. Nawal's daughter Jeanne (Melissa Desourmeaux-Poulin), who was raised in Canada, is back in the Middle East, looking for the history of her family. The actresses look so much alike, we're sometimes lost in time as Jeanne retraces Nawal's tracks, and you wonder if Villeneuve ever considered using the same performer for both. The stories of Jeanne and Nawal curl around one another like the strands of a DNA molecule, although the exact nature of the beast it comes from - political terror, family anguish, the very nature of violence - is never made explicit.
    Incendies begins as a similar puzzle. First we're in some kind of school where - to the sound of Radiohead's You and Whose Army - young children are having their heads shaved by men in army uniforms. One of them looks up with a terrifying expression, the hooded eyes of lost hope. We move to the Montreal office of a lawyer (Remy Girard), where Jeanne and her twin brother Simon (Maxim Gaudette) are listening to the provisions of Nawal's will.
    Her final testament is chilling. She wants to be buried naked, with no casket, face down, so that her eyes will be turned away from the world. The reasons for her bitterness are sealed in two envelopes, one for each child. They are to be delivered to their father, who they have been told is dead, and their brother, of whom they have never heard. The delivery will fulfil a promise.
    The will angers Simon, who says it's just another of her mother's mad ideas: Simon serves the story mostly as a mirror, a man whose reactions we can use to discern what kind of mother Nawal was. However, Jeanne heads to off to the unnamed country with a photograph of her mother and the names of a few people who might help her in finding her wayward family.
    The journey into the past becomes a trek through a nation where Christians and Muslims were involved in a ruthless civil war (the country in question is probably Lebanon, birthplace of Wajdi Mouawad, who wrote the play on which Incendies is based). Photographed with frightening realism by Andre Turpin, it is a place of shadows and starkness, uncompromising in its beauty and its menace. Jeanne goes from a small village of wounded honour to the abandoned shell of a frightening prison: Nawal's story unfolds all around her until she learns - as all children will - of the unknown lives her parents lived in the world that existed before she was born.
    Incendies is not perfect. Its dark secrets eventually feel imposed on the story, put together for theatrical purposes rather than from life. But its scheme is haunting. ``Death is never the end of the story,'' the attorney says. ``It leaves traces.'' Incendies is that record, and Villeneuve crafts it with a spooky immediacy, fulfilling the promise he showed in Polytechnique as a filmmaker unafraid to look into the corners of violence to find the humanity that created it.

    White House says monitoring Egypt situation closely

    Jan 26 (Reuters) - The White House said on Wednesday it was keeping a close watch on protests in Egypt and reiterated that the United States supports Egyptians' universal right of assembly and speech.

    Asked whether the United States still supports Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Egypt remains a "close and important ally."

    "We are monitoring closely the situation in Egypt," he told reporters traveling with U.S. President Barack Obama aboard Air Force One.

    (Reporting by Ross Colvin, editing by Alister Bull)