Thursday, June 19, 2008

Germany Beats Portugal 3–2 in Euro 2008 Soccer

Germany triumphed over Portugal 3–2 in the first Euro 2008 Championship quarter-final match.

Portugal won it's first two matches, and fielded a team of substitutes for its final round match. Thus, its starters are well rested and ready.

Germany won most of its matches convincingly but not spectacularly. The team seemed not to be playing at full capacity in its qualifying matches.German Head Coach Joachim Löw had to watch the game from the stands, as he was suspended for a game due to "constant bickering" with the Austrian head coach during their match.

The German team averages several inches taller than the Portuguese squad. While this could grant an advantage in aerial play, it might have meant that the Germans would be slower on the ground.
Germany finally looked like a championship team, and while Portugal played well, Germany made fewer mistakes and capitlaized on its opportunities, and earned a spot in the semi-finals.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Spears paparazzo blamed for having foot run over

A paparazzo who pressed charges against Britney Spears after her car allegedly ran over his foot was himself to blame for any injury it may have caused, prosecutors said in refusing to pursue the case.After reviewing police records and a videotape of the incident last year, Deputy District Attorney Joseph D. Shidler wrote Friday that the "only way the victim's foot could have been where the video indicates it to be was by the victim placing it in that location."

The photographer, who was not identified in the report, filed a criminal complaint against Spears in early May, nearly six months after the alleged incident. A copy of the police complaint was not immediately available Monday, but it sought a felony charge of failing to stop after an accident involving an injury.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley's office reviewed a videotape and photos of the incident, which don't show the photographer being hit. The report also describes a chaotic scene surrounding Spears, with photographers on all sides of her car and "a lot of noise and confusion."

The report describes Spears' as "driving at an extremely slow rate of speed and in a straight path."

The 26-year-old pop star has had her share of trouble behind the wheel, including a highly publicized incident in 2006 where she was photographed driving with her son on her lap.

A misdemeanor hit-and-run charge stemming from a 2007 parking lot crash was dismissed after she settled with the car's owner. In October, she pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of driving without a valid license, and earlier this year was involved in a minor fender-bender on a Los Angeles freeway.

Also Monday, documents were released detailing a request from Spears' father for payments relating to his conservatorship arrangement.

The document filed on behalf of James Spears seeks an undisclosed amount of money for helping his daughter shop for groceries, handle custody issues with her husband, Kevin Federline, and visiting her in the hospital in February and March. The filing also states that he held meetings to shore up security at Spears' homes and occasionally cooked meals.

James Spears has temporary control of his daughter's finances. A hearing about that conservatorship is scheduled for Tuesday morning in Los Angeles

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Free and Flush, Russians Eager to Roam Abroad

One of the most enduring changes in the lives of Russians in recent years has occurred not in Russia itself, but in places like this coastal region of Turkey, where an influx of Russian tourists has given rise to a mini-industry catering to their needs. A people who under Communism were rarely allowed to venture abroad, and then lacked money to do so when the political barriers first fell, are now seeing the world. And relishing it.

There is perhaps no better symbol of the growth in Russian tourism than the very resort where Ms. Kasyanova was staying, the Kremlin Palace Hotel, a kind of Las-Vegas-does-Moscow-by-the-shore extravaganza whose buildings are replicas of major sights at the Kremlin complex and nearby neighborhood. Why go to any old spot when you can frolic by the pool while gazing at the reassuring onion domes of a faux St. Basil’s Cathedral? (No need to bundle up against the cold, either!)

Ms. Kasyanova, 51, a health-care aide from the Kaluga region, 125 miles southwest of Moscow, has been to Egypt, Hungary and Turkey in the last few years and has Western Europe in her sights. For her and other Russians interviewed here, foreign travel reflects not just Russia’s economic revival under Vladimir V. Putin, but also how the country has become, in some essential ways, normal.

If you have some time and a little money, you can travel. Just like everyone else in the world.

“It is now so easy — buy a package tour for $800, and here we are, in paradise,” said Ms. Kasyanova, who, like many Russians here, was amused by the resort’s trappings but also interested in exploring the mountains and other places nearby. “It speaks of the high standard of life in Russia, of the improvement in life in Russia.”

The Russians are coming from all over. At the local airport here, the arrivals screen was like a primer in Russian geography, with charter flights from Moscow, Rostov-on-Don in the south, Kazan in the center, Novosibirsk in Siberia and other cities in between.

The number of Russian tourists visiting countries outside the former Soviet Union grew to 7.1 million in 2006, the last year statistics were available, from 2.6 million in 1995, according to the Russian government.

A record 2.5 million Russians visited Turkey in 2007, up 33 percent from 2006, Turkish officials said. Only Germany, that paragon of European wealth, sends more tourists to Turkey. (By contrast, in 1988, a few years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, all of 22,000 Soviet citizens visited Turkey.)

The Russian tourism boom is happening as new low-cost airlines in Europe have spurred a sharp increase in tourism across the Continent. But for the Russians, the chance to travel is especially prized.

For the first time in Russian history, wide swaths of the citizenry are being exposed to life in far-off lands, helping to ease a kind of insularity and parochialism that built up in the Soviet era. Back then, the public was not only prevented from going abroad; it was also inculcated with propaganda that the Soviet Union was unquestionably the world’s best country, so there was no need to leave anyway.

People who desired foreign travel in Soviet times typically had to receive official approval, and if it was granted, they were closely chaperoned once they crossed the border. Even before they left, they often were sent to classes to be indoctrinated in how to behave and avoid the perils of foreign influence. Those who were not in good standing with the party had little chance of going.

The controls on travel were particularly onerous given Russia’s long and dark winters.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pakistan Angry as Strike by U.S. Kills 11 Soldiers

American air and artillery strikes killed 11 Pakistani paramilitary soldiers during a clash with insurgents on the Afghan border on Tuesday night, a development that raised concerns about the already strained American relationship with Pakistan.The strikes underscored the often faulty communications involving American, Pakistani and Afghan forces along the border, and the ability of Taliban fighters and other insurgents to use havens in Pakistan to carry out attacks into neighboring Afghanistan.

The attack comes at a time of rising tension between the United States and the new government in Pakistan, which has granted wide latitude to militants in its border areas under a new series of peace deals, drawing criticism from the United States.

NATO and American commanders say cross-border attacks in Afghanistan by insurgents have risen sharply since talks for those peace deals began in March.

Although Pakistani government officials softened their response through the day on Wednesday, the Pakistani military released an early statement calling the airstrikes “unprovoked and cowardly.”

Shaken by the initial Pakistani reaction, administration officials braced for at least a short-term rough patch in relations with Islamabad.

“It won’t be good,” said a Pentagon official who followed developments closely throughout the day. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The precise circumstances surrounding the reported deaths remained unclear, and American officials said an American-Pakistani investigation was expected to begin immediately.

But according to accounts from American officials, the incident started when Taliban fighters from Pakistan crossed about 200 yards into Kunar Province, on the Afghan side of the border, and attacked American-led forces with small-caliber weapons and rocket-propelled grenade fire.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sun Goes Longer Than Normal Without Producing Sunspots

The sun has been laying low for the past couple of years, producing no sunspots and giving a break to satellites.That's good news for people who scramble when space weather interferes with their technology, but it became a point of discussion for the scientists who attended an international solar conference at Montana State University. Approximately 100 scientists from Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and North America gathered June 1-6 to talk about "Solar Variability, Earth's Climate and the Space Environment."

The scientists said periods of inactivity are normal for the sun, but this period has gone on longer than usual.

"It continues to be dead," said Saku Tsuneta with the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, program manager for the Hinode solar mission. "That's a small concern, a very small concern."

The Hinode satellite is a Japanese mission with the United States and United Kingdom as partners. The satellite carries three telescopes that together show how changes on the sun's surface spread through the solar atmosphere. MSU researchers are among those operating the X-ray telescope. The satellite orbits 431 miles above ground, crossing both poles and making one lap every 95 minutes, giving Hinode an uninterrupted view of the sun for several months out of the year.

Dana Longcope, a solar physicist at MSU, said the sun usually operates on an 11-year cycle with maximum activity occurring in the middle of the cycle. Minimum activity generally occurs as the cycles change. Solar activity refers to phenomena like sunspots, solar flares and solar eruptions. Together, they create the weather than can disrupt satellites in space and technology on earth.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Amazing Thailand Grand Sale 2008

Enjoy discounts of 5-70% and other privileges during the Amazing Thailand Grand Sale at Leading Department Stores, Shopping Complexes, King Power Duty Free Shops, Airlines, Hotels, Spas, Golf Courses, Online Travel Agencies, Hospitals, Jewelry Shops and participating retail merchants in selected provinces, including Bangkok, ChiangMai, ChiangRai, Hua-Hin, Pattaya, Nakhon Ratchasima, Udorn Thani, Phuket, Krabi, Hadyai and Samui Island.

Just look for this sign at participating outlets to get special discounts and other privileges from 1 June to 31 August 2008.

Amazing Thailand Grand Sale Promotion
Firstly, Thai and Tourist shoppers will enjoy a wide range of quality products and services on offer at special prices with discounts ranging from 5-70% at more than 1,000 participating merchants in selected provinces and:

Enjoy discount and other benefits at over 1,000 special locations. Simply spend 500 Baht with your Visa card and double your chances to win an all expense paid holiday back in Thailand. “7 packages for 7 days each”

Bonus : Enjoy a special treat from McDonald’s for every qualifying Visa transaction.

Welcome to the Amazing Thailand Grand Sale 2008
During the Amazing Thailand Grand Sale period, Thai and Tourist shoppers from all over the world will find a wide range of quality products and services on offer at special prices with discounts ranging from 5-70%

Thailand is truly fortunate to have a rich variety of attractions and destinations waiting to be discovered. This year, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has its own campaign "Amazing Thailand" with the theme of "Seven Amazing Wonders" of Thailand covering products and services in many different market segments which include:
1. Thainess : Experience the art and grace of Thai Living.
2. Treasure : The historical gems of Thailand, centuries of heritage and beauty.
3. Beaches : The world's best beaches for sun, fun, surf and serenity.
4. Nature : Encounter the sheer beauty of Thai nature.
5. Wellness : Thailand's preventive and curative cultural therapies.
6. Trends : Excite yourself with a myriad of Thai trends.
7. Festivities : Enchant yourself with international festivities.

Car bombings in Baghdad leave at least 6 dead

A suicide car bomb and another car packed with explosives targeted Iraqi police patrols Saturday on opposite sides of Baghdad, killing at least six people, police said.The suicide attacker rammed into a police patrol mid-afternoon in Nisoor Square on the capital's west side, killing a civilian and a policeman, police said. Another five people were wounded.

The other explosion took place nearly simultaneously across town at a crowded bus stop where passengers were lining up to catch rides to eastern Shiite neighborhoods, though police said the target was the passing convoy of a top Iraqi police general.

Four people were killed and 18 wounded, Brig. Gen. Nazar Majeed among them, said an officer on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media. Three of the dead were policemen, he said.

The area includes shops that sell spare auto parts and tires, and is frequently used as a shortcut for Interior Ministry convoys trying to avoid traffic jams on another main street leading to government buildings, the officer said.

Tareq Salman, who owns a tea stall nearby, said he heard a huge explosion and then saw smoke spewing from the bus station.

"I saw several passengers running and several minibuses on fire. I saw wounded men screaming for help and police cars taking some seriously wounded to the hospital," 54-year-old Salman said. "There were blood stains and one burned body."

"Most of my tea cups were broken and some car parts shops were damaged," he said.

Such blasts — once a somber but daily feature of life in Iraq's capital — have become far less frequent since a U.S. troop buildup last year. A truck loaded with rockets exploded Wednesday in northeast Baghdad, killing 18 people in the deadliest single blast in more than two months.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Blasts kill 20, 40 injured in Colombo blast

At least 20 people were killed and 40 injured when a powerful bomb ripped through a packed bus near a university on the outskirts of the Sri Lankan capital on Friday, the Defence Ministry said.

The bomb went off at about 7.30 am near the Moratuwa University, about 20 km south of Colombo on the Pilyandala-Kaddupedda road.

''LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam) terrorists exploded a bomb targeting a crowded public transport bus close to the Shailabimbaramaya Buddhist temple at Katubedda, Moratuwa on Friday morning. Twenty people, including 12 men and eight women, have been killed while over 40 are injured,'' the Defence Ministry said in a statement.

''According to the police, the bomb was exploded using a remote controlled device. The bus was travelling from Kottawa to Mount Lavinia,'' it added.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said police and military teams have been rushed to the blast site to carry out a search operation while the injured have been sent to hospitals in Kalubowila and Lunawa.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Chelsea suffer fresh blow with Spalletti snub

Chelsea's search for a new manager endured another setback last night when Luciano Spalletti, the impressive Roma coach, followed Carlo Ancelotti's lead by becoming the second Italian to distance himself from the vacant position at Stamford Bridge in successive days.

Spalletti, who has implemented an attractive brand of attacking football since assuming the reins in the Italian capital three years ago, has led Roma to runners-up spot and the Champions League quarter-finals in each of the past two seasons, which had alerted Roman Abramovich's advisers to his quality. Most eye-catching was last season's elimination of Real Madrid in the knockout stage.

His agent, Vlado Lemic, is understood to have held informal talks with Chelsea officials in Paris. However, the 49-year-old manager has since made it clear privately that he does not wish to proceed with discussions. He apparently feels he is not yet experienced enough to take on a challenge of the size of Chelsea and has expressed concern at his lack of English.

The language barrier had also appeared to rule out any interest from Chelsea in the World Cup-winning Italy coach Marcello Lippi, though the club would have been confident of prising Spalletti - whose previous coaching experience came largely at Udinese, whom he took into the Champions League - from the Stadio Olimpico, with Roma a club rendered vulnerable by considerable debts.

The club's parent company, Italpetroli, is reported to be saddled with debts or about £300m. The manager was due to meet Roma officials yesterday to discuss what remains of his transfer budget for next term, though he may yet lose influential players such as Alberto Aquilani and the Brazilians Juan and Mancini to richer suitors this summer.

Chelsea remain "comfortable" with the way their selection process is progressing, though focus is increasingly falling upon the Portugal head coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, who will not consider his own future until after the European Championship. The London club are prepared to wait that long to secure the right man, though any hopes that Ancelotti could still be persuaded to leave Milan are receding.

James Bond smashes sales figures

Devil May Care, the new James Bond novel by Sebastian Faulks, has become Penguin's fastest selling hardback fiction title ever, with 44,093 copies sold in the four days since it hit the shops.

The figures follow a publicity campaign of true Harry Potter proportions, which saw pre-release announcements of Sebastian Faulks's stint as Ian Fleming reaching the news pages of all the major newspapers.

Waterstone's alone sold over 19,000 copies, with the £100 special souvenir edition selling out in one morning. Queues began outside the chain's Piccadilly store from 4.30pm the previous day. A luxury edition, designed by Bentley and costing £750, also sold out its 300-copy print run in under two hours in the UK.

While JK Rowling has regularly exceeded the Devil May Care sales figures - the final book in her Harry Potter series, Deathly Hallows, sold three million copies in its opening weekend - the Rowling is something of an anomaly. Elsewhere, only Terry Pratchett and Martina Cole, genre writers with an enormous loyal fanbase, come close, regularly shifting 30,000-40, 000 copies in the first week. Among literary authors such as Faulks, such figures are unheard of.

Following in the footsteps of Thomas' Harris's Hannibal, published in 1999 and selling 1.5m copies that year, Penguin's success with their new Bond obviously owes a debt to the new lease of life given the Bond film franchise since 2006's Casino Royale.

Biofuel bonanza not so sweet for Brazil's sugar cane cutters

Half a million jobs and 500 years of tradition are to be phased out in Brazil's booming sugar cane industry to satisfy western demands for more socially acceptable work practices in the biofuel sector.

Sugar cane cutters who have been working Brazil's land since 1525, when Portuguese colonialists first experimented with growing the crop, are to make way for mechanisation.

The Brazilian Sugar Cane Industry Association (UNICA) said 80% of the 500,000 jobs would be gone within three years and admitted that moving to a tractor-based system would cause pain and upheaval for its migrant workforce.

"This will not solve the problem of migration — there will still be a social problem," Marcos Jank, the president of the association, told a briefing on biofuels in Sao Paulo, adding the group had signed a new "social" and "green" protocol with the government to improve overall conditions in the field.

The condition of sugar workers was rarely noticed when the commodity was exported for sugar but the position has changed now that Brazil is the world's second-largest exporter of sugar-based ethanol to use as a biofuel in petrol.

Behind the move to phase out sugar cane cutters are tales of exploitation that have damaged the image of Brazilian biofuels in big importing countries such as Sweden and potentially in Britain, where the government has mandated that 2.5% of all petrol come from biofuels.

Critics have accused Brazil's sugar cane industry of presiding over child labour, high accident rates and workers earning as little as $1.35 (67p) an hour. Employers insist that pay is three times that level.

Manual labour is also blamed for poor environmental practices such as crop wastage and the burning of stubble. Mechanised systems will be able to harvest more of the crop and allow Brazil to use by-products for powering electricity plants, argues UNICA.

Brazilian ethanol output grew by nearly a quarter during 2007 to a record 22bn litres, with around 4bn being exported.

The government believed it was going to be able to build a huge new export industry around biofuels. But that dream is under threat as the emerging crop-based fuel sector becomes mired in arguments over "food for fuel" and the idea that rising food prices can be attributed to farmers using land to grow fuel crops.

There are also claims that biofuels are causing deforestation in sensitive areas such as Brazil's Amazon Basin, seen by scientists as the lungs of the world because the trees there absorb so much carbon.

UNICA says subsidies in America and Europe for farmers and biofuels may be one element of the rising price of food which has caused riots in Haiti and other countries. But Jank insists Brazil is not contributing to that development because only 1% of arable land is used for ethanol production.

He is also adamant that increased ethanol production is not affecting the Amazon, claiming the area is too wet to grow sugar and insisting other farming is not being pushed into the rain forests to make way for ethanol elsewhere.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

NASA astronauts prepare for spacewalk

A pair of astronauts from the visiting shuttle Discovery were preparing for a spacewalk on Tuesday to begin installation of Japan's Kibo laboratory on the International Space Station (ISS).

Mission specialists Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan also will retrieve a laser-studded inspection boom which is usually used to check the ship's wings and nose cap for damage.

The shuttle had no room for the boom because of the size of the Japanese lab and so the shuttle on the previous mission in March left it behind on the station for retrieval by the Discovery crew, which will take it back to earth.

Instead, the Discovery astronauts used a camera on the end of the shuttle's 50-foot (15-metre) robot arm, but they could not reach the underside of the wings. Further inspections are planned for latter in this mission.

Damage inspections have been a routine part of shuttle missions since the 2003 Columbia disaster which was caused by damage to the shuttle's heat shield during launch.

Fossum and Garan were to spend their sleep period in the station's Quest airlock to purge their bodies of nitrogen before the spacewalk, which was scheduled to begin at 11:32 a.m. EDT and last roughly 6-1/2 hours.

The giant lab Kibo is the centerpiece of this two-week international mission and will establish Japan's permanent place in space.

The Discovery crew floated aboard the ISS on Monday where they were warmly greeted and embraced by its crew after a flawless docking and a two-day journey.

But the mission has not been incident-free.

NASA officials revealed on Monday that bricks and other debris had come off the flame trench beneath the launchpad at Cape Canaveral in Florida from which Discovery blasted off on Saturday. The concrete-fortified trench helps to deflect the intense heat of shuttle launches.

The debris was strewn around the launch area and while NASA managers described the incident as "unprecedented" they said they were confident it could be repaired in time for October's shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.

"We'll fix it without any problems before October," deputy shuttle program manager LeRoy Cain told reporters at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Gates could withdraw Navy ships after Myanmar 'neglect'

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday he will make a decision within "a matter of days" to withdraw U.S. Navy ships from the coast of Myanmar, because "it's becoming pretty clear the regime is not going to let us help." As a result, he said many more people will die, particularly those in areas that can only be reached by helicopters, such as those sitting idle on the U.S. ships.

Asked if the military junta there is guilty of genocide, Gates said, "I tend to see genocide more as a purposeful elimination of people, this is more akin, in my view, to criminal neglect."

Speaking to reporters at the close of an international security conference here, Gates said the Myanmar representative at the forum did not seem interested in speaking with him.

But he said "it was interesting to watch as minister after minister described their respective unhappiness at their inability to get assistance in to Burma."

It was particularly pointed, he said, because Chinese officials thanked other countries for the help provided after the earthquake in China. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that even when the decision is made to pull the four U.S. Navy ships off the coast, the vessels will move away slowly enough to turn back if there is an unexpected change of heart by the Myanmar government.

Gates' comments came a day after he made his strongest public condemnation of the Myanmar government at the conference, saying that Myanmar's rulers "have kept their hands in their pockets" while other countries sought to help cyclone victims.Following the conference, Gates flew to Thailand on Sunday where large anti-government demonstrations threaten to lead to the country's second military coup in two years.

Rajasthan Royals deservingly the IPL winners, beats Chennai SuperKings

In a memorable moment, Rajasthan Royals, the most consistent side in the tournament and the league topper, defeated Chennai Super Kings to win the final in an exciting encounter. The final commenced at the DY Patil Stadium with a scintillating show and performance by Salman Khan and other stars.

Rajasthan Royals won the toss and choose to field. The Chennai Super Kings put up a fine performance to set a target of 164. Parthiv Patel exhibited some good shots in his knock of 38 in 33 balls. Suresh Raina continued with his good form and hammered 43 in 30 balls. With 29 from MS Dhoni the Chennai Super Kings got a total of 163 in 20 overs.

The Rajasthan Royals lost three quick wickets when the score was 43. The match appeared to be slipping out of their hands. Shane Watson steadied the innings with 28 in 19 balls. But the real match winner was Yusuf Pathan, who can definitely be called the find of the tournament. He hammered 56 in 33 balls with 4 sixes and 3 boundaries. Captain Shane Warne took the crease and saw some tense moments before clinching the victory by a run of the last ball of the tournament.

The Rajasthan Royals received the top prize of $1.2 million and the glittering trophy. The Chennai Super Kings won $600,000. The other awards announced were, Player of the match YK Pathan (Rajasthan Royals),Player of the series SR Watson (Rajasthan Royals), Batsman of the series SE Marsh and Bowler of the series Sohail Tanvir (Rajasthan Royals).Congratulations to a deserving win !

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Shuttle Discovery blasts off for space station

               Space shuttle Discovery and a crew of seven blasted into orbit Saturday, carrying a giant Japanese lab addition to the international space station along with something more mundane — a toilet pump.Discovery roared into a brilliantly blue sky dotted with a few clouds at 5:02 p.m., right on time.The shuttle's trip to the space station should take two days. Once there, Discovery's crew will unload and install the $1 billion lab and hand-deliver a specially made pump for the outpost's finicky toilet. The school-bus-size lab, named Kibo, Japanese for hope, will be the biggest room by far at the space station and bring the orbiting outpost to three-quarters of completion."It's a gorgeous day to launch," NASA's launch director, Mike Leinbach, told the astronauts just before liftoff, wishing them good luck and Godspeed. Commander Mark Kelly noted that Kibo was the "hope for the space station," then radioed: "Now stand by for the greatest show on Earth!". Nearly 400 Japanese journalists, space program officials and other guests jammed NASA's launch site, their excitement growing as the hours, then minutes counted down.Their enthusiasm was catching. NASA officials hailed the mission as a milestone.

"Obviously a huge day," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said, for all of the space station partners "and really for all the people who hope to see space station come to fruition and do what it was designed to do."

The Japanese lab is 37 feet long and more than 32,000 pounds, and fills Discovery's entire payload bay. The first part of the lab flew up in March, and the third and final section will be launched next year.

The entire lab, with all its pieces, cost more than $2 billion.

A large political contingent was also on hand led by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who's newly married to Kelly, Discovery's commander. They invited numerous bigwigs from Arizona and Washington.

Giffords acknowledged being nervous, far more so than the day she was elected to Congress in 2006. She gripped her mother-in-law with her right arm and held her own mother's hand in her left as she watched Discovery soar.

"It was pretty exciting, pretty exciting," Giffords told The Associated Press. Although it was a smooth launch — the only problem was the apparent failure of a backup set of electronics for swiveling engines — she said she wouldn't relax until the shuttle is back from its two-week mission.

About five pieces of debris — what appeared to be thin pieces of insulating foam — broke off the fuel tank during liftoff, but the losses did not occur during the crucial first two minutes and should be of no concern, said NASA's space operations chief, Bill Gerstenmaier. This was the first tank to have all safety changes prompted by the 2003 Columbia disaster built in from the start.

Discovery's rendezvous with the space station on Monday will provide a good look at the shuttle's thermal skin, Gerstenmaier said. The astronauts cannot conduct a full inspection until near the end of the flight, much later than usual, because their inspection boom is at the space station. There wasn't room for it aboard Discovery, given Kibo's size, and so the last shuttle visitors left behind their boom.