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News briefs: December 19
Posted: Thu, Dec 20, 2001, 8:06 AM ET (1306 GMT)
  • Chinese tracking ships carried out an exercise in mid-December that may be a rehearsal for the third launch of the Shenzhou spacecraft, SpaceDaily reported Wednesday. Observers believe the tracking ship maneuvers confirms earlier reports that the third unmanned flight of Shenzhou, the prototype of a manned spacecraft, will take place by late January.
  • The engines to be used in the next generation of American expendable launch vehicles were certified for use Thursday. The RD-180 engine has been cleared for use in Lockheed Martin's Atlas 5, while the RS-68 engine has been certified for Boeing's Delta 4. The two boosters were developed as part of the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The first launch of the Delta 4 is planned for 2002, and the Atlas 5 first launch is scheduled for May 2002.
  • The Senate Commerce Committee decided Wednesday to recommend that Sean O'Keefe be confirmed by the full Senate to be the next NASA administrator. The decision, delayed by procedural issues not related to the nomination itself, was expected. There is no word when the full Senate will act on the nomination, although the Senate is scheduled to adjourn for the holidays on Saturday.
  • Meteorites may have seeded the early Earth with sugars, key components of life, scientists said Wednesday. In a paper published in the current issue of Nature scientists reported discovering simple sugars and sugar-related compounds in two carbonaceous meteorites. Other key building blocks of life, including amino acids, have been previously found in meteorites.
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