In brief: Rocket lifts off with secret load

A 19-story-tall rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California late Thursday night, carrying a secret payload for the U.S. government.

An Atlas V rocket blasted off from Space Launch Complex 3 at 11:15 p.m. PST.

The mission was carried out by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of aerospace giants Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., for the National Reconnaissance Office.

The government agency operates the nation’s system of spy satellites. It has not disclosed any information about the mission, called NROL-39.

At least 20 whales still in difficulty

MIAMI – At least 20 once-stranded pilot whales were still fighting for their survival Friday, but the odds were looking more difficult.

A Coast Guard plane spotted the whales, in three groups, on Friday afternoon in about 10 to 12 feet of water. They were moving very slowly and toward shore in a remote and shallow section of Everglades National Park.

It was not known what had become of another 20 or so whales that appeared to survive the initial stranding on Tuesday and Wednesday along a stretch of Highland Beach. Eleven of the whales died.

Holmes attorneys want press barred

DENVER – Attorneys for Colorado theater shooting defendant James Holmes are asking the judge to bar the public and media from hearing pretrial testimony from the psychiatrist who evaluated Holmes’ sanity.

A motion filed Friday says Holmes’ right to an impartial jury would be harmed if the public hears the testimony.

The judge hasn’t ruled on the request.

Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges of killing 12 people and injuring 70 in a suburban Denver movie theater in 2012. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Smoke prompts school evacuation

TUNNELTON, W.Va. – A northern West Virginia business was burning material illegally in its outdoor furnace and the smoke drifted into a nearby elementary school Friday, sending 37 people to hospitals, authorities said.

Preston County Assistant Superintendent Craig Schmidl said classes were dismissed at Tunnelton-Denver Elementary School.

Smoke from the furnace got pulled into the school’s ventilation system.

NSA defends overseas tracking

WASHINGTON – The National Security Agency is defending its tracking of foreign cellphones overseas. It says the practice is legal under a U.S. presidential order governing all U.S. government spying.

The agency said Friday it isn’t tracking every foreign phone and call and that it takes measures to limit how much U.S. data is collected.

The Washington Post reported this week that the agency is gathering location data for up to 5 billion cellphones globally every day.

Spokeswoman Vanee Vines said the practice is legal under a White House order that governs U.S. espionage, known as Executive Order 12333.


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