Cape Canaveral, Fla. – Discovery, the world’s most traveled spaceship, thundered into orbit for the final time Thursday, heading toward the International Space Station on a journey that marks the beginning of the end of the shuttle era.
The six astronauts on board, all experienced space fliers, were thrilled to be on their way after a delay of nearly four months for fuel tank repairs.
Discovery is the oldest of NASA’s three surviving space shuttles and will be the first to be decommissioned this year. Two missions remain, first by Atlantis and then Endeavour, to end the 30-year program.
Discovery will reach the space station Saturday, delivering a small chamber full of supplies and an experimental humanoid robot.
State Senate OKs same-sex rights
Annapolis, Md. – Same-sex couples in Maryland would have the same full marriage rights as heterosexuals under a bill that cleared the Senate on Thursday. If the House of Delegates approves it and the governor signs it, Maryland would be the sixth U.S. state to approve gay marriage.
Opponents, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, promised that if it does become law that a referendum question would be on the 2012 ballot so voters have the final decision.
One Republican, Sen. Allan Kittleman, of Howard, joined 24 Democrats to pass the bill with 21 opposing. A majority of 24 of 47 senators was needed.
Senators amended the bill to include protections for religious groups and institutions to keep them from being forced to participate in gay weddings.
Law likely to close abortion clinics
Richmond, Va. – Virginia took a big step Thursday toward eliminating most of the state’s 21 abortion clinics, approving a bill that would likely make rules so strict the medical centers would be forced to close, Democrats and abortion rights supporters said.
Gov. Bob McDonnell supports the measure and when he signs it into law, Virginia will become the first state to require clinics that provide first-trimester abortions to meet the same standards as hospitals.
While abortion providers must be licensed in Virginia, the clinics are considered physicians offices, similar to those that provide plastic and corrective eye surgeries, colonoscopies and a host of other medical procedures.
Democrats and abortion rights supporters said the change would put an estimated 17 of the state’s 21 clinics out of business. Most of the clinics also provide birth control, cancer screenings and other women’s health services.