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News Briefs

NASA to Look at Amateur Shuttle Videos, Photos


As NASA investigators continue their hunt for clues from the fallen Columbia, new attention is being given to images taken by backyard astronomers as the shuttle streaked across the Western skies.

In the videos and still photographs, the amateur astronomers see what appears to them to be bright flashes followed by possible wreckage as far west as California. These images are flying around the Internet and among space buffs and now being sent to NASA.

However, it is far too early to know precisely what the images show, cautioned NASA shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore at a news conference Thursday. The pictures are only beginning to be analyzed by the Columbia Early Sighting Assessment Team at Johnson Space Flight Center, which is reviewing more than 1,300 photographs the space agency has received from the public.

Dittemore asked the public to continue to provide images, even as he appealed for patience. “I’m not aware of any video that shows breakup of the spacecraft. As far as we know, the shuttle was flying well” until it reached Texas, Dittemore said. NASA has said it has not found any confirmed shuttle wreckage west of Fort Worth.

U.S. Allowed to Renovate Turkish Bases for Use in Possible Iraq War


Parliament authorized the United States to renovate several Turkish military bases and ports Thursday for use in a war against Iraq, the first step in an emerging decision to allow U.S. troops to use Turkish soil to open a northern front against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

In a closed session and secret vote that underscored deep anxiety here about the possible war, the parliament stopped short of giving the United States overall permission to station troops here. But Turkish officials and Western diplomats said that, with the government now pushing for it, permission is likely to be formalized when parliament reconvenes after the Muslim holiday of Bayram, in about 12 days.

In a meeting with Turkish reporters Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said he expects parliament to vote on Feb. 18 in favor of allowing U.S. troops to be based in Turkey, dropping the government’s previous insistence on another Security Council vote. A diplomat in Ankara said the government, which enjoys a clear majority in parliament, also has told the United States “that is their commitment.”

HHS Inspector General Criticizes Medicare


Medicare is unnecessarily spending more than $1 billion a year in reimbursements to health care providers because of a fee schedule that pays some types of providers more than others for performing the same procedure, according to a report issued Thursday by the inspector general of the Health and Human Services Department.

The report by HHS Inspector General Janet Rehnquist was the result of an examination of how much Medicare pays for identical outpatient services provided at a hospital outpatient department and at an ambulatory surgical center (ASC), which are clinic-type facilities not connected to a hospital.

It said that for almost two-thirds of the outpatient services that were examined, hospitals received a higher reimbursement than ASCs. Cutting the fees that hospitals are paid for these services to the lower amounts received by ASCs would save $1 billion a year, the report said.