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World Briefs I

NASA Loses Contact with Lewis Satellite After Four Days

The Washington Post

NASA has lost contact with a $50 million Earth-observation satellite launched only four days ago. About 6 a.m. Tuesday, ground controllers discovered that the Lewis satellite - placed in orbit 200 miles high early Saturday morning Eastern time - was spinning out of control at about two revolutions per minute, NASA officials said.

So, far the most likely cause is the accidental firing of one of the satellite's thrusters. "But that's pure speculation," said Samuel L. Venneri, chief technologist at NASA headquarters.

Because of the rotation, the satellite's solar power generators apparently were unable to provide sufficient electricity to keep the onboard batteries charged, making communication impossible. Four attempts to contact the spacecraft from the mission's Chantilly, Va., control center were unsuccessful. But officials at NASA and TRW Space & Electronics Group in California, which built the satellite, remained optimistic.

"We have approximately three weeks to look at what happened," said Venneri. "That's plenty of time" to try to get the high-tech orbiter to respond and to order it to fire the appropriate thrusters to counter the spin.

California Attorney General Now Supports Pot Research

Los Angeles Times

Attorney General Dan Lungren, the most vocal critic of California's new medical marijuana law, announced his support Tuesday for a $3 million research program intended to settle the decades-long dispute over the drug's benefits and failings for the ill.

The decision by the state's conservative top lawman to back a bill by liberal Democratic state Sen. John Vasconcellos unifies two political opposites who have clashed repeatedly over medical marijuana.

Lungren, a gubernatorial hopeful who boasts a long history as a anti-drug warrior, decided to back Vasconcellos' bill only after it had been sufficiently modified to ensure that the state-funded research, slated to be conducted over three years by the University of California, would be unassailably objective.

"California needs a definitive study," Lungren said at a news conference. "I do not fear the findings of an unbiased research project."

Gov. Pete Wilson, who must approve the funding, has expressed qualms. But the bipartisan push for research in the nation's most populous state could mark a sea change in the battle over marijuana as medicine.

If studies go forward in California and produce solid results one way or another, it could have significant ramifications for the state's new medical pot law, Proposition 215, as well as the nationwide debate on the drug.

"In many ways Lungren's endorsement today was like Nixon going to China," said Dave Fratello, spokesman for the group that sponsored Proposition 215. "Evidence that could lead to federal (Food and Drug Administration) approval would change the debate on this fundamentally. But the opponents are gambling that the studies will come out ambivalent, if not negative."

U.S. Grants Political Asylum To Two North Korean Diplomats

Los Angeles Times

The Clinton administration gave political asylum Tuesday to North Korea's ambassador to Egypt and his brother, also a diplomat, setting up a potential intelligence bonanza for Washington and its allies.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin announced the defection of Chang Sung Gil, North Korea's ambassador to Egypt, and his brother, Chang Sung Ho, who had been part of a trade mission in Paris. The ambassador is the highest-ranking diplomat to defect from the secretive Communist-ruled nation and the most important North Korean defector ever to seek asylum in the United States instead of South Korea.

Rubin said asylum was also granted to the ambassador's wife. He said the defectors are in the United States, but he declined to say where or when they might appear in public.

Although Rubin also declined to specify the sort of intelligence Chang has brought with him, there were news reports that the ambassador has important information about North Korea's missile sales to Iran and Syria. As the North's top diplomat in the Middle East and before that a vice foreign minister, Chang almost certainly had access to the details of North Korea's clandestine missile export program.