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News Briefs I

The Discovery astronauts gathered parachute cord, alligator clips and spare thermal blankets Monday for a tricky fifth and final spacewalk to rig the Hubble Space Telescope with impromptu sunshades.

Astronauts Mark Lee and Steven Smith were scheduled to leave the safety of Discovery's cargo bay airlock late Monday night for a four-hour spacewalk to repair tattered insulation peeling away from critical equipment bays on the space telescope.

The unscheduled spacewalk, along with additional repair work carried out during a cargo bay excursion Monday, should shore up the insulation and keep Hubble cool enough to continue normal operations until the next shuttle servicing mission in three years.

"We expect (the repairs) to fully ensure the telescope will not have major thermal problems between now and December '99," said Kenneth Ledbetter, a senior Hubble manager.

Discovery's seven-man crew accomplished the primary goal of the 82nd shuttle mission Monday when astronauts Gregory Harbaugh and Joseph Tanner completed a $350 million overhaul of the $3.1 billion observatory.

Working in alternating two-man teams, Harbaugh, Tanner, Lee and Smith carried out four back-to-back spacewalks to install two new science instruments, new data recorders and to replace a variety of other components showing signs of wear and tear.

During a six-hour, 34-minute spacewalk Monday, Harbaugh and Tanner replaced a solar array drive controller and installed protective covers over magnetic sensors at the top of the telescope some four stories above Discovery's cargo bay.

If all goes well, Hubble will be released back into open space at 1:41 a.m. Wednesday, clearing the way for Discovery's return to Earth early Friday.

Clinton's Medicare Plan Could Affect Quality of Health Care

The Washington Post


For all the talk about squeezing billions of dollars out of Medicare over the next five years, the impact on beneficiaries of the massive health care program for the elderly is this: At least in the short run, seniors could actually see a few extra services.

That is the consensus of lawmakers, social policy specialists and some health industry executives who are beginning to evaluate President Clinton's Medicare rescue proposal and analyze its impact.

As White House and congressional leaders take on the task of reining in Medicare, much attention has been focused on whether the administration's proposed cuts will produce the needed savings and whether the program can be salvaged from the financial ruin it faces a few years down the road.

The good news for Medicare's 37 million beneficiaries is that Clinton's proposal contains virtually no provisions directly eliminating the services they receive. Indeed, about the only unpleasant change would come from a modest increase in the monthly Medicare premium. Now $43.80 a month, it would increase gradually to $63.80 a month in 2002, or $11 a month more than it would reach under current law.

The only unpleasant change would come from a modest increase in the monthly Medicare premium. The bad news could turn out to be that Clinton's plan to chop $100 billion over the next five years from Medicare's projected growth could eventually force a reduction in the quality of care, some medical service providers warn.

Battling Waterborne Ills In a Sea of 950 Million

The Washington Post


About half the world's reported cases of polio, a crippling disease virtually wiped out in Western countries, occur in India. Each year, diarrhea kills 500,000 Indian children. A jaundice epidemic strikes a small district of India's Rajasthan state as regularly as the annual monsoon.

Those deadly diseases and others that afflict India can be traced to the same source: drinking water contaminated by human waste. Infected water causes an estimated 80 percent of disease in India, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), making poor sanitation and inadequate sewage disposal the nation's biggest public health problems.

Fewer than 30 percent of India's 950 million people have bathrooms in their homes. The bulk of municipal sewage - even from such major cities as Bombay and Calcutta - flows untreated into rivers, lakes or the sea.

Under a $300 million project funded by the World Bank, Bombay plans to treat the 60 percent of the city's sewage now discharged raw into the Arabian Sea.