SpaceX capsule docks at International Space Station

Posted May 25, 2012, at 10:04 p.m.

LOS ANGELES — About 250 miles above northwest Australia, a cargo-carrying space capsule linked up with the International Space Station, marking the first time a privately built and operated vehicle has ever docked at the orbiting outpost.

Astronauts on the space station plan to enter the capsule Saturday and take delivery of half a ton of food, water and clothing brought by the upstart space company that developed the spacecraft, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX.

The mission is considered the first test of NASA’s plan to outsource space missions to privately funded companies now that the U.S. fleet of space shuttles has been retired. SpaceX aims to prove to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule are ready to take on the task of hauling cargo — and eventually astronauts — for the space agency.

“Today marks another critical step in the future of American spaceflight,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. “Now that a U.S. company has proven its ability to resupply the space station, it opens a new frontier for commercial opportunities in space — and new job creation opportunities right here in the U.S.”

The docking at 12:02 p.m. on Friday was a milestone for SpaceX and may also mark a seismic shift for U.S. spaceflight, which for more than half a century has been the province of governments and large, entrenched aerospace firms.

On its own, SpaceX built its Dragon capsule and the Falcon 9 rocket that lifted it into orbit. By contrast, the overall design of NASA’s previous space-going vehicles and their missions were tightly controlled by the government and contracted to aerospace giants.

At SpaceX headquarters in the Los Angeles-area city of Hawthorne, company engineers have overseen the entire mission, which began Tuesday when the Falcon 9 lifted off in the predawn hours from Cape Canaveral, Fla. They monitor incoming data for anomalies, and if there are any, they can order the launch to be scrubbed or address the mission issues.

In a post-docking webcast on NASA TV, Space Station Program Manager Mike Suffredini commented on the change under way in aerospace.

“A contractor relatively independent of NASA designed on its own a spacecraft, completely built and tested and flew this spacecraft in a manner that has been remarkable,” he said.

Shortly after docking, a smiling Elon Musk, SpaceX’s 40-year-old billionaire founder and chief executive, appeared at the briefing from the company’s sprawling rocket-making facility in Hawthorne.

“This is the culmination of an incredible amount of work,” he said, surrounded by a throng of cheering SpaceX workers. “There’s so much that could’ve went wrong and it went right.”

The last hours of the Dragon’s journey to the space station weren’t flawless. A problem with the spacecraft’s onboard sensors pushed back the capture to about two hours later than planned.

After SpaceX engineers solved the issue, the Dragon floated in for docking. It was first grappled by the space station’s 58-foot robotic arm at 9:56 a.m. EDT, controlled by astronaut Don Pettit, who had practiced the task dozens of times in simulation.

Pa. mother charged with killing her toddler twins

PHILADELPHIA — A woman was charged Friday with killing her 18-month-old twins, named Adam and Eve, in the family home. Police said she also attempted suicide by cutting her wrists.

Stacey Smalls, 41, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, police said.

Investigators believe one twin was strangled and the other was drowned. Authorities are awaiting autopsy results for the official causes of death.

Police also allege Smalls gave her 4-year-old daughter some type of substance to drink in an attempt to poison her. The girl is listed in stable but guarded condition at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.

A police spokesman said Smalls, who worked as a nurse at a nursing home, then tried to kill herself by cutting her wrists. Her husband, Ronald Smalls, discovered the scene when he came home Thursday afternoon from his job as a corrections officer and called 911.

Police have not officially commented on a possible motive for the killings.

“She had something that she felt was justification but there is no justification… it’s a tragedy, two young babies dead and there is no excuse for that,” Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said.

Ron Smalls told WPVI-TV on Friday that he and his wife had been having marital difficulties, but he did not elaborate.

“We’ve had some problems and I’d suggested therapy for both of us,” he said. “She didn’t think it was important.”

Stacey Small changed her Facebook profile picture May 19 to a photograph of a car spray-painted along its side with the words, “Hope she was worth it.” She also listed her relationship status as divorced.

A Facebook friend asked about the car image and Smalls replied that she found the photo online and “I liked her style. Friend Ronald Smalls and check out what I wrote on his page.” The message may have been deleted, as Ronald Smalls’ most recent post appears to be on May 13 when he wrote, “Happy MothersDay!”

Stacey Smalls’ Facebook page also includes photos of her twins and 4-year-old daughter. She remained in police custody Friday and was on suicide watch, authorities said.

Egypt results point to deeply divisive runoff race

CAIRO — The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate and a veteran of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime will face each other in a runoff election for Egypt’s president, according to first-round results Friday. The divisive showdown dismayed many Egyptians who fear either one means an end to any democratic gains produced by last year’s uprising.

More than a year after protesters demanding democracy toppled Mubarak, the face-off between the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi and former air force chief and prime minister Ahmed Shafiq looked like a throwback to the days of his regime — a rivalry between a military-rooted strongman promising a firm hand to ensure stability and Islamists vowing to implement religious law.

“The worst possible scenario,” said Ahmed Khairy, spokesman for the Free Egyptians Party, one of the secular, liberal parties that emerged last year. Speaking to the Al-Ahram daily, he described Morsi as an “Islamic fascist” and Shafiq as a “military fascist.”

He said he did know which candidate to endorse in the June 16-17. Many Egyptians face the same dilemma, with no figure representing a middle path of reforming a corrupt police state without lurching onto the divisive path of strict implementation of Islamic law.

The head-to-head match between Morsi and Shafiq will likely be a heated one. Each has die-hard supporters but is also loathed by significant sectors of the population.

The first round race, held Wednesday and Thursday, turned out close. By Friday evening, counts from stations around the country reported by the state news agency gave Morsi 25.3 percent and Shafiq 24.9 percent with less than 100,000 votes difference.

A large chunk of the vote — more than 40 percent — went to candidates who were seen as more in the spirit of the revolution that toppled Mubarak, that is neither from the Brotherhood nor from the so-called “feloul,” or “remnants” of the old autocratic regime. In particular, those votes went to leftist Hamdeen Sabahi, who narrowly came in third in a surprisingly strong showing of 21.5 percent, and a moderate Islamist who broke with the Brotherhood, Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh.

Everest climber skips summit, rescues friend

ISTANBUL — An Israeli who rescued a distressed climber on Mount Everest instead of pushing onward to the summit said Friday that the man he helped, an American of Turkish origin, is like a brother to him.

Nadav Ben-Yehuda, who was climbing with a Sherpa guide, came across Aydin Irmak near the summit last weekend. In that chaotic period, four climbers died on their way down from the summit amid a traffic jam of more than 200 people who were rushing to reach the world’s highest peak as the weather deteriorated.

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Ben-Yehuda, 24, appeared proud that Irmak, 46, had made it to the summit, noting that he is one of a small number of “Turkish” climbers to reach the top. Irmak left Turkey for New York more than two decades ago, but remains proud of his Turkish heritage. The friendship stands in contrast to the political tension between Turkey and Israel, which were once firm allies.

“Aydin, wake up! Wake up!” Ben-Yehuda recalled saying when he found his friend in the darkness. The American, he said, had been returning from the summit but collapsed in the extreme conditions, without an oxygen supply, a flashlight and a rucksack. Ben-Yehuda, who developed a friendship with Irmak before the climb, had delayed his own ascent by a day in hopes of avoiding the bottleneck of climbers heading for the top.

There have been periodic tales of people bypassing stricken climbers as they seek to fulfill a lifelong dream and reach the summit of Everest, but Ben-Yehuda said his decision to abandon his goal of reaching the top and help Irmak was “automatic,” even though it took him several minutes to recognize his pale, gaunt friend.

“I just told myself, ‘This is crazy.’ It just blew my mind,” Ben-Yehuda said. “I didn’t realize he was up there the whole time. Everybody thought he had already descended.”

The Israeli carried Irmak for hours to a camp at lower elevation. Both suffered frostbite and some of their fingers were at risk of amputation. Ben-Yehuda lost 20 kilograms (44 pounds) in his time on the mountain, and Irmak lost 12 kilograms (26 pounds), said Hanan Goder, Israel’s ambassador in Nepal. Goder had dinner with the pair after their ordeal.

“They really have to recover mentally and physically,” Goder said. “They call each other, ‘my brother.’ After the event that they had together, their souls are really linked together now.”

The ambassador said the rescue was a “humanitarian” tale that highlighted the friendship between Israelis and Turks at a personal level, despite the deteriorating relationship between their governments. One of the key events in that downward, diplomatic spiral was an Israeli raid in 2010 on a Turkish aid ship that was trying to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of eight Turkish activists and a Turkish-American.

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