Hubble repair mission delayed until May

The long-delayed launch of an 11-day shuttle mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope has been delayed again - this time from late winter until no earlier than May 12. NASA officials in Houston said yesterday that they need more time to prepare an 18-year-old space science data computer for flight. Astronauts are scheduled to install the device during one of five spacewalks. Scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and around the world are counting on astronauts to restore two failed instruments on the telescope, install two new instruments and replace key hardware needed to extend the observatory's lifetime by at least five years.


Frank D. Roylance

Parliament close delays prime minister vote


OTTAWA : With the approval of Canada's formal head of state, Prime Minister Stephen Harper shut down Canada's parliament until Jan. 26, seeking to forestall a no-confidence vote he was sure to lose and, possibly, provoking a constitutional crisis. Harper's move comes less than two months after he won re-election. Had his request been rejected by Governor-General Michaelle Jean, Queen Elizabeth II's representative, the prime minister would have had two choices: step down or face a no-confidence vote Monday. The past several days have been filled with political turmoil, as two rival parties, the Liberals and New Democrats, worked together on a plan to form a coalition, with the support of the separatist Bloc Quebecois, to replace Harper's Conservative-led government. Such a turn would also be an unprecedented move in Canadian politics.

Happiness contagious, scientific study finds

In a study published online today in the BMJ, scientists from Harvard University and the University of California, San Diego, showed that happiness spreads readily through social networks of family members, friends and neighbors. Knowing someone who is happy makes you 15.3 percent more likely to be happy yourself, the study found. A happy friend of a friend increases your odds of happiness by 9.8 percent, and even your neighbor's sister's friend can give you a 5.6 percent boost. "Your emotional state depends not just on actions and choices that you make, but also on actions and choices of other people, many of which you don't even know," said Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a physician and medical sociologist at Harvard who co-wrote the study. The research is part of a trend to measure well-being as a component of public health. Scientists have documented that people who describe themselves as happy are likely to live longer, even if they have a chronic illness.

Blasts kill 18, including two U.S. soldiers

BAGHDAD : Explosions tore through two police stations in the western Iraqi city of Fallujah yesterday, leaving at least 16 people dead, and a blast in a northern city killed two U.S. soldiers, in the latest reminders of the country's fragile security situation. The attacks followed other large blasts earlier in the week that targeted Iraqi and U.S. security forces and left dozens of people dead. With U.S. combat troops scheduled to begin pulling out of Iraqi cities and towns early next year, the bombings were an ominous sign of what Iraqi security forces might face after the drawdown. Iraq's three-member Presidency Council formally ratified yesterday a Status of Forces Agreement that requires U.S. combat troops to leave population centers by June 30 and the country by the end of 2011.

Cruise ship adrift, taking on water

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina : A cruise ship carrying 122 people is adrift and taking on water after running aground yesterday in the Antarctic but is in no danger of sinking, the Argentine Navy said. The Argentina-based Ushuaia - with 89 passengers and 33 Argentine crew members - sent out an alarm around midday after it suffered cracks and started leaking fuel and taking on water, the Navy said in a statement. Adm. Daniel Alberto Martin told television station Todo Noticias that the Ushuaia had two cracks and was being helped by another passenger ship in the area. Two Chilean Navy ships were on their way to help the Ushuaia. The passengers are "of various nationalities" and are all OK, Martin said. The Navy statement said the cruise ship "had run aground" but was in no danger of sinking.

From Sun news services