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NASA delays launch for tank repairs

NASA has pushed back the launch of space shuttle Atlantis until at least early June so technicians can finish repairing its hail-damaged fuel tank, officials said Tuesday.

The new launch date was set for no earlier than June 8 – a nearly three-month delay for the first shuttle mission of the year.

NASA had been trying to decide whether to finish repairing the tank and use it for Atlantis’ mission or swap it out with another tank. But NASA managers said they were pleased with the progress of repairs that already have been made.

Golfball-sized hail left thousands of dents on the foam insulation on Atlantis’ fuel tank as it sat on the launch pad in February. The space shuttle was rolled off the launch pad and sent back for repairs, forcing NASA to miss the original March 15 launch date.


EPA finishes plans for fuel standards

The Environmental Protection Agency, following a congressional mandate, finalized plans Tuesday for new standards to boost the use of renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.

Refiners will be required to use at least 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel in gasoline by 2012, the EPA said.

The rule, authorized in an energy law signed by President Bush in 2005, also requires that 4.02 percent of gasoline sold or dispensed to U.S. motorists in 2007 be renewable fuel, or about 4.7 billion gallons. That is more than 1 percent higher than required last year.

The announcement came a week after the Supreme Court declared that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act and said the EPA has the authority to regulate those emissions from new cars and trucks.

Environmental groups noted that vehicles using ethanol blends get 20 percent to 30 percent fewer miles per gallon than with gasoline and argued that the Bush administration needs to implement significant increases in fuel economy standards for vehicles.


Duke investigation nearly finished

The three men indicted in the Duke lacrosse sexual assault case could learn this week whether state prosecutors plan to bring them to trial or drop the charges, a person close to the case said Tuesday.

The attorney general’s office, which has said for several weeks it was close to completing its investigation since taking the case from the district attorney, has wrapped up additional interviews, said the person, who spoke to the Associated Press on a condition of anonymity because a formal announcement has not been made.

A spokeswoman for the state attorney general’s office said Tuesday no announcement in the case was scheduled. No motions or court papers were filed in the case on Tuesday.

Collin Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and David Evans were indicted on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual offense last spring after a woman told police she was assaulted at a March 2006 team party where she was hired to perform as a stripper. All three have steadfastly maintained their innocence, with Evans calling the allegations “fantastic lies.”