Morning Report: July 28, 2005

NASA grounds shuttle fleet - foam causes concerns. The space shuttle Discovery successfully docked with the International Space Station, but NASA officials aren't pushing their luck. CNN reports: 'Discovery docked with the international space station Thursday as NASA tried to determine why insulating foam fell off the shuttle's external fuel tank during its launch. ... Discovery flew in an unusual upside-down maneuver before it docked so space station cameras with special lenses could take pictures of it, looking for possible damage. The images were sent from the station to NASA engineers on Earth, who will scrutinize Discovery's surface tiles and its thermal-protection system, explained Wayne Hale, deputy shuttle program manager. "Any damage will not escape our detection," Hale said at a Wednesday news conference. NASA said that during launch, a piece of tile also fell from Discovery's underside near the forward landing gear -- an area that has a redundant thermal barrier.' Foam fragments are blamed for the loss of Discovery's sister ship Columbia in 2003, in an accident where falling foam during liftoff apparently damaged the spacecraft's critical heat shield, causing the spacecraft's destruction - and the deaths of its seven crew members - upon re-entry. More to follow under "Science and Space". (CNN)

IRA: A farewell to arms. "All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms. All Volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever. The IRA leadership has also authorised our representative to engage with the IICD to complete the process to verifiably put its arms beyond use in a way which will further enhance public confidence and to conclude this as quickly as possible." These are the words of an official statement from the Irish Republican Army as quoted on the BBC. British Prime Minister called the move "a step of unparalleled magnitude." (BBC)

More on Iraqi constitution. Iraq's Constitution Drafting Committee called for an emergency meeting among political and religious leaders to overcome difficulties with the present draft of the Iraqi Constitution. Omar at Iraq the Model writes: 'The main points that are going to be discussed in this conference will-in my opinion-include the shape of the federalist system of the state, the issue of considering Islam the main source of legislation, the name of the state as well as case of considering Persian ethnicity among the components of the Iraqi society. I have expressed my disagreement with the draft in the last post and actually I noticed that most of the people I met in the last couple of days share the same concerns I have and many people are disappointed by the weak performance of the CDC.
Let's not forget that many of the public opinion polls that were conducted in Iraq in the past two years showed that a maximum of 15% of the voters would favor an Islamic state, so if the Saturday conference failed in dealing with the above points I mentioned, then I expect this constitution will be rejected by the voters.' Go to Iraq the Model at the link for the full post, and don't miss the reader discussion in Comments. (ITM)