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News Briefs I

Repair Gives Mir a Power Boost

The Washington Post

Two Russian cosmonauts made a second foray into the Mir space station's airless research module Monday, redirecting power cables to improve the energy-gathering capability of several solar panels, but they were forced to end the mission short of completion.

The cosmonauts, Anatoly Solovyev and Pavel Vinogradov, made their first "internal spacewalk" inside the Spektr research node on Aug. 22 in the wake of a collision between Mir and an unmanned cargo craft that punctured Spektr and left the space station with about half its normal power supply.

Their objective then was to reconnect electrical cables from the module to power storage cells aboard Mir, but Russian space officials discovered subsequently that the apparatus aboard Spektr whose purpose is to keep the module's solar panels directed at the sun was not functioning properly. This time, the cosmonauts' mission was to redirect the Spektr cables to a computer aboard another Mir module, the Kristall, that could manipulate the Spektr's solar panels to keep them at the optimum angle to the sun.

There are four solar panel arrays attached to Spektr, one of which was severely damaged in the June 25 collision and is not functioning.

Monday's spacewalk, planned to last 5 hours, stretched to more than 6 - near the limit of the cosmonauts' oxygen supply - as the two crewmen struggled to effect the repairs. In the end, the cosmonauts' final task could not be completed before they were forced to return to Mir's core compartment.

U.S. Backs Away From Demanding New Sanctions Against Iraq

The Washington Post

In an attempt to defuse strong opposition from Russia and France, the United States is backing away from its call for immediate new sanctions against Iraq for interfering with United Nations weapons inspectors and has offered to wait six months for the Security Council to act against Iraq, U.N. diplomatic sources said Monday.

At issue is a proposal by the United States and Britain to toughen the sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Iraq to include a ban on international travel by Iraqi military and intelligence officials. The aim is to force Iraq to stop hindering U.N. inspectors charged with eliminating Saddam's remaining weapons of mass destruction.

Washington began pressing for the new sanctions in June, but ran into opposition from Russia and France. Both countries have strong economic interests with Baghdad and advocate a more flexible and conciliatory line.

After President Clinton intervened with Russian President Boris Yeltsin during the Group of Seven industrial nations summit in July, a compromise was worked out that also won French agreement. It called for the Security Council to give Iraq until Oct. 11 to cooperate with U.N. inspections or face a travel ban.

That deadline has expired, and the United States and Britain, citing continued Iraqi blocking of inspections, are circulating a resolution that would have the 15-nation council impose the restrictions. But Russia and France, each of which can veto any resolution, are arguing that the council should wait longer before resorting to further sanctions.

Supreme Court to Consider Cocaine Sentencing Issue

The Washington Post

The Supreme Court Monday agreed to hear a drug sentencing case that will thrust the justices into one of the more racially sensitive issues in criminal justice: the disparity between punishments for crack and powder cocaine crimes.

While the new case will simply clarify what penalty is warranted when a person who dealt in both power and crack is convicted of conspiracy, it is likely to bring attention to the long-smoldering debate over why people who traffic in crack go to prison for far longer than those who deal in powder.

The drug sentencing case will spotlight the way the justice system handles federal drug crimes. Under current law, a seller of five grams of crack cocaine receives the same mandatory five-year prison term as a seller of 500 grams of powder cocaine. Since 90 percent of the prisoners convicted for crack crimes are black, while most crack users are white, the commission argues that the law "results in a perception of unfairness and inconsistency."

In a day of varied court business, the justices also refused to consider reinstating a Louisiana abortion regulation that gave judges more power in teen-age girls' decisions to end a pregnancy. The justices also rejected a constitutional challenge to a Texas law that prohibits juries from being told exactly when a defendant could be paroled if he got prison time rather than the death penalty.