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Nation in brief: Shuttle will carry European lab

THURSDAY, DEC. 6, 2007

To the pleasure of NASA’s International Space Station partners, prospects were good for an on-time liftoff of shuttle Atlantis and Europe’s long-awaited Columbus lab today.

Columbus will be the second scientific laboratory added to the space station. NASA’s Destiny lab made its debut in 2001, and Japan’s huge lab Kibo, which means hope, will go up in three sections beginning on the very next shuttle mission in February.

The shuttle’s commander, Stephen Frick, and his crew are keenly aware of how passionate the Europeans are about Columbus and how long they have waited. About 750 Europeans connected to the lab have begun gathering at the launch site, prompting one British official, Alan Thirkettle, to quip, “We’ve invaded.”

The 17-nation European Space Agency has spent more than $7 billion so far on the space station program, including $2 billion for Columbus, Thirkettle said. That investment will reach $13 billion by the end of 2015.


Coast Guard had record cocaine haul

The Coast Guard has reeled in a record 355,000 pounds of cocaine over the past year, results that officials say have forced smugglers to transport their drugs through costlier methods like semi-submersible vessels and liquefied drugs.

Coast Guard officials are set to announce today that they seized cocaine with a street value of roughly $4.7 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The previous Coast Guard record for cocaine seizures, set two years ago, was 303,000 pounds. In fiscal 2006, the Coast Guard seized 287,000 pounds of cocaine.

By comparison, the street value of the drugs seized or removed last year by the Coast Guard equals roughly half the agency’s total annual budget, said Commandant Adm. Thad Allen.

Officials say smugglers are increasingly turning to more difficult means of moving the contraband from South America. Often that involves so-called “go-fast” boats, which travel far out into the Pacific Ocean hoping to avoid detection, before dropping the cargo in Mexico, and from there it is brought into the United States. Colombia supplies 90 percent of America’s cocaine, officials estimate.


Man killed cleaning snow from roof

A man clearing snow off the glass roof of a skyscraper’s atrium slipped, crashed through the roof and fell about three stories to his death on Wednesday, police said.

No one else in the atrium was hurt when the man fell shortly before 2 p.m.

“This is clearly an accident,” said Minneapolis police Sgt. Jesse Garcia.

He was identified as Fidel Danilo Sanchez-Flores, 52, of West St. Paul, according the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office.

Sanchez-Flores was clearing snow off the roof of the IDS Center’s Crystal Court, which includes a canopy of glass skylights, a 105-foot ceiling-to-floor water fountain, a food court and retail shops. The building’s Web site says the skylights are 121 feet above ground.


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