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Skepticism Sets In After Mars Life Announcement

Nearly two weeks after NASA scientists stunned the world with their announcement of the discovery of possible life that may have existed on ancient Mars, skeptics continued to announce their disbelief that the evidence presented could support the assertions made by NASA.
[image of microfossils]    "Geologists from all over the world today expressed doubt about the claim by U.S. scientists that they have discovered evidence of life on Mars from remains of a meteorite that plunged to earth," the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported last week from the 30th International Geology Congress in Beijing.
    In a vein of nationalism, the state-run news agency claimed "more and more scientists across the world have begun to doubt the sensational scientific discoveries made over the past few years in the U.S."
    "It sounds like a fantastic story," said Umberto Gordani, president of Brazil's Sao Paolo University, at the meeting. "But in a statement about the discovery, NASA used many indefinite words...leaving scientists and others unable to ascertain how NASA determined the meteorite was from Mars."
    Christian de Duve, a Nobel-winning Belgian biologist, remained unconvinced by the evidence presented by NASA and Stanford University scientists. "It is interesting. It is important. It is intriguing. But it is far from conclusive," he said.
    de Duve is the author of the book Vital Dust, a book which looks at the origins of life in the universe.

Chinese Satellite Fails To Reach Proper Orbit

In yet another setback to the beleaguered Chinese launch industry, officials announced August 19 that a communications satellite launched the previous day aboard a Long March booster ended up in an orbit too low to be useful.
    The Chinapac-7 satellite was launched on Sunday, August 18 from the Chinese launch facility in Xichang using a Long March 3 booster. The satellite was intended for a geosynchronous orbit but ended up a lower orbit that cannot be used for communications. The satellite cannot be salvaged.
    "There was a problem with the third-stage booster, which shut down 48 seconds too soon," a spokesman for the China Aerospace Corporation explained to Reuters. "Xichang is still monitoring the satellite. We hope we can still make adjustments, but there is not much possibility."
    The $120-million satellite, which was insured, was built by Hughes Space and Communications in the United States. It was intended for domestic use within China.
    The incident is another setback for the Chinese launch industry, which is still reeling from recent failures. In February, a Long March booster crashed and exploded seconds after liftoff, killing at least six people on the ground. Another Long March exploded after liftoff in January 1995.
    A Long March booster launched the Apstar-1A communications satellite last month in the first successful launch since February's explosion. Another launch is scheduled for this fall.

Soyuz Launches Mir Replacement Crew and French Cosmonaut

Claudie Andre-Deshays became the first French woman in space on Saturday, August 17, when she and two Russian cosmonauts blasted off in their Soyuz capsule, docking with the Mir space station two days later.
[image of Andre-Deshays]    The launch, which had been delayed several times due to financial problems with the Russian space program and technical problems with the Soyuz booster, took place without incident. The Soyuz TM-24 spacecraft docked with Mir late Monday.
    Andre-Deshays will spend 16 days aboard Mir, conducting a number of biological and medical experiments. The two Russian cosmonauts who accompanied Andre-Deshays, Valery Korzun and Alexander Kalery, will remain on Mir for 225 days.
    Korzun and Kalery will replace the current Russian occupants of Mir, Yuri Onufrienko and Yuri Usachev. Onufrienko and Usachev will return to Earth with Andre-Deshays in early September. The other occupant of Mir, American astronaut Shannon Lucid, will remain aboard Mir until next month, when she is replaced by John Blaha when the shuttle Atlantis docks with Mir for the fourth time.
    The Soyuz launch used a Soyuz-U rocket instead of a more powerful Soyuz-U-2 rocket due to money problems. "Soyuz-U is not very comfortable for the launch of a crew of three, but we have no alternative at the moment," said one official. "A U-2 rocket is more expensive and the Russian space industry does not have enough money to build such a rocket right now."
    The launch came two weeks after a Progress supply craft launched after several delays. The M-32 spacecraft brought food and other supplies to the Mir crew.
    France is giving the money-starved Russian space program $13.7 million for Andre-Deshay's mission. It has no plans for similar short missions in the future, choosing to focus on preparations for longer missions on the International Space Station. "Short flights like those the Russians have carried out so far now look obsolete," Francois Fillon, the French minister in charge of space, told the newspaper Le Figaro.

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