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News Briefs

Panel Will Reconsider Cancellation of Space Telescope


The Hubble Space Telescope, seemingly doomed to die in orbit, may have won a reprieve. Under congressional pressure, NASA agreed on Thursday to have the National Academy of Sciences examine plans to cancel a space shuttle mission to repair and upgrade it.

Astronomers who scan the Hubble’s spectacular images of the universe for lessons on cosmic history were jubilant about the decision, with one of them calling it a “grand slam.” But the NASA administrator, Sean O’Keefe, said although he was willing to have outside experts analyze his decision against a shuttle mission, he saw little chance of any new evidence that would change his mind.

O’Keefe told reporters at a news conference that even congressional critics of his decision to abandon Hubble agreed that there should be no shuttle mission that did not fully comply with safety recommendations from the board that investigated the loss of the Columbia and its crew last year.

He said it was “not likely” that a service mission to Hubble would ever meet those safety requirements before the telescope stopped operating around 2007. “I’m still very much of the mind that unless the facts change substantially, my decision will stand.”

U.S. Plan For Mideast Reform Is Tripped Up


The Bush administration, yielding to protests from European and Arab leaders, has set aside its plan to issue a sweeping call for economic, political and cultural reform in the Middle East at a June conference of major industrial nations, American and Arab officials said Thursday.

Because of Arab objections that such a call would give the appearance that change was being dictated from outside, the officials said, the summit conference will instead focus on reforms under way in the Middle East.

Administration officials said they would work with European leaders to encourage Arab nations to proclaim their own reform measures before the meeting, which is to take place at Sea Island, Ga., with President Bush as host.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met with Jordan’s foreign minister, Marwan Muasher, and discussed Jordan’s attempt to persuade the Arab League to call for more open societies and democratic institutions at a meeting this month in Tunisia.

“Reform is important and needed in the Arab world,” Muasher said in an interview on Thursday. “We agree with that completely. But for it to work we need ownership of the process, not a one-for-all blueprint from Washington.”