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World Briefs I

Accident Delays Launch Of Saturn-Bound Probe

Los Angeles Times

As NASA prepares to launch its largest space probe ever to the mystical ringed planet Saturn, exasperated scientists are scrambling to deal with a launch-pad accident at Florida's Cape Canaveral that will delay the scheduled Oct. 6 launch.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced Wednesday that an overpowered air conditioner servicing the Cassini spacecraft tore a 2-inch rip in the insulation that protects the craft's hitchhiking Huygens probe that is due to land on Saturn's planet-sized moon, Titan. It is possible that the mishap sprayed foam particles that would contaminate Huygens' delicate instruments, but scientists won't know until they hoist the craft off the launch tower, remove the probe and clean it thoroughly.

Girdled by intricately braided rings and surrounded by at least 18 icy satellites, Saturn today may look much like our solar system in its infancy. Its giant moon Titan may hide a solid surface underneath its thick orange smog, and perhaps seas of hydrocarbon soup of the type that gave rise to life on Earth.

If Cassini does get off during the launch window ending Nov. 15, it will cruise toward the sixth planet from the sun for seven years, swinging twice by Venus, once by Earth and once by giant Jupiter to gather enough gravitational steam to reach its target.

Once there, it will take hundreds of thousands of images of airy Saturn, and the glittering lanes of icy particles that run rings around it like so many Southland freeways. The Cassini spacecraft is named after the 17th century astronomer who discovered the largest "divider," or gap, in the rings.

Reno Evaluates Need for Probe Of Fund-Raising Calls by Gore

los angeles times

Following news that more than $100,000 in donations raised from the White House by Vice President Al Gore was improperly diverted, Atty. Gen. Janet Reno on Wednesday acknowledged that she is formally evaluating whether to seek appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the matter.

Earlier in the day, Democratic Party officials said that campaign donations not restricted by election law were shifted-without Gore's knowledge-to a separate party account subject to federal limits. They pledged to reimburse that sum to the appropriate account.

For months, Reno has declined to seek appointment of an independent counsel to probe aspects of the overall fund-raising controversy. On Wednesday she announced that she had approved what could be a first step toward naming an outside prosecutor.

"The [Justice] Department is reviewing whether allegations that the vice president illegally solicited campaign contributions on federal property should warrant a preliminary investigation under the Independent Counsel Act," said a statement issued by Reno's office.

Under law, Reno has 30 days to determine whether those allegations are specific and come from credible sources. If Reno concludes that the matter is that serious, she would have an additional 90 days to decide whether to ask a special panel of appellate justices in Washington to appoint an independent counsel.

Arizona Governor Guilty of Fraud, Subsequently Forced to Resign

los angeles times
phoenix, ariz.

A federal jury in Phoenix on Wednesday convicted Arizona Gov. Fife Symington of lying to lenders to get millions of dollars for his failing real estate ventures, making him the state's second governor to be ousted in less than a decade.

The great-grandson of steel baron Henry Clay Frick stared downward as the five-woman, seven-man jury-which had deliberated 54 hours-returned the verdict that stripped him of the office he had held since 1991 and may send him to prison for years. The 52-year-old Republican, now bankrupt, is scheduled for sentencing on Nov. 10.

At a news conference, Symington tearfully said he plans to relinquish his office on Friday to Arizona's Republican secretary of state, Jane Hull-an experienced, assertive and highly regarded former state legislator who many believe will be anything but a caretaker governor.

"Every once in awhile there is salvation in surrender," he said. "I am returning to private life with my head up, spirits high and my heart full of gratitude."

Symington was indicted last summer after a five-year probe by the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles. He was charged with 19 counts of inflating his assets on financial documents when he wanted money, and understating his wealth when he wanted to get out of loan guarantees; and one count each of attempted extortion and perjury.