Following is a summary of current science news briefs.
Blimps to bolster Washington's air shield in test
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A pair of big, blimp-like craft, moored to the ground and flying as high as 10,000 feet, are to be added to a high-tech shield designed to protect the Washington D.C. area from air attack, at least for a while. The bulbous, helium-filled "aerostats" - each more than three quarters the length of a football field at 243 feet - are to be stitched into existing defenses as part of an exercise of new technology ordered by the Defense Department.
Space shuttle Columbia's second life - as a cautionary tale
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - Space shuttle Columbia's flying days came to an abrupt and tragic end on February 1, 2003, when a broken wing gave way, dooming the seven astronauts aboard. Although Columbia now lies in pieces, its mission is not over.
Russian rocket falls into sea in failed launch: reports
MOSCOW (Reuters) - A rocket carrying a communications satellite suffered engine trouble and plunged into the Pacific Ocean shortly after launch on Friday, Russian news agencies reported. The unsuccessful launch of the Intelsat-27 satellite was one of several setbacks for Russia's space program in recent years, including failed satellite launches and an unsuccessful mission to study the Mars moon Phobos.
South Korea launches first civilian rocket amid tensions with North
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea launched its first space rocket carrying a science satellite on Wednesday amid heightened regional tensions, caused in part, by North Korea's successful launch of its own rocket last month. It was South Korea's third attempt to launch a civilian rocket to send a satellite in orbit in the past four years and came after two previous launches were aborted at the eleventh hour last year due to technical glitches.
Rocket blasts off with new NASA communications satellite
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - An unmanned Atlas 5 rocket blasted off on Wednesday to put the first of a new generation of NASA communications satellites into orbit, where it will support the International Space Station, the Hubble Space Telescope and other spacecraft. The 191-foot (58-metre) rocket lifted off at 8:48 p.m. (0148 GMT Thursday), the first of 13 planned launches in 2013 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station just south of NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
Science cafes offer a sip of learning
ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Americans may be turning away from the hard sciences at universities, but they are increasingly showing up at "science cafes" in local bars and restaurants to listen to scientific talks over a drink or a meal. Want a beer with that biology? Or perhaps a burger with the works to complement the theory of everything?
Dung beetles look to the stars
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A species of South African dung beetle has been shown to use the Milky Way to navigate, making it the only known animal that turns to the galactic spray of stars across the night sky for direction. Researchers have known for several years that the inch-long insects use the sun or moon as fixed points to ensure they keep rolling dung balls in a straight line - the quickest way of getting away from other beetles at the dung heap.
Scientists find genetic clue to severe flu among Chinese
LONDON (Reuters) - British and Chinese scientists have found a genetic variant which explains why Chinese populations may be more vulnerable to the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu. The discovery of the variant could help doctors find those people at high risk of severe flu and prioritize them for treatment, researchers said.
Iran launches monkey into space, showing missile progress
DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran said on Monday it had launched a live monkey into space, seeking to show off missile systems that have alarmed the West because the technology could potentially be used to deliver a nuclear warhead. The Defense Ministry announced the launch as world powers sought to agree a date and venue with Iran for resuming talks to resolve a standoff with the West over Tehran's contested nuclear program before it degenerates into a new Middle East war.
Neanderthal cloning chatter highlights scientific illiteracy
BOSTON (Reuters) - After spending the weekend reading blog posts claiming that he was seeking an "extremely adventurous female human" to bear a cloned Neanderthal baby - which was news to him - Harvard geneticist George Church said it may be time for society to give some thought to scientific literacy. Church became the subject of dozens of posts and tabloid newspaper articles calling him a "mad scientist" after giving an interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel.