Astronauts dodge

an ammonia leak

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Four or five flakes of toxic ammonia fell from a cooling-line cap yesterday but apparently did not touch two U.S. astronauts conducting the first of three space walks planned outside the International Space Station over the next nine days.

The leak occurred late in the almost eight-hour space walk, as astronauts Michael Lopez-Alegria and Sunita Williams disconnected and prepared to stow away two fluid lines that had been connected to an ammonia reservoir outside the space station.

Tests in the airlock later showed no contamination, and the space walk officially ended at 6:09 p.m., 7 hours and 55 minutes after it started.

- AP

S.D. House gets

eased abortion bill

PIERRE, S.D. - An abortion ban introduced yesterday in the South Dakota House would allow exceptions for rape and incest, but only if those crimes were reported to authorities with DNA evidence.

A ban passed in South Dakota last year contained an exception only to save the woman's life. Voters rejected that measure in November.

This year's bill would allow a rape victim to obtain an abortion if she reported the rape to police within 50 days. Doctors would have to confirm the report with police, and take blood from the aborted fetus so authorities could conduct DNA testing. In the case of incest, a doctor would need the woman's consent to report the crime, along with the alleged perpetrator's identity, before an abortion would be allowed.
- AP

Franken tells some

of '08 Senate run

WASHINGTON - Al Franken, the comedian and radio talk-show host, has begun calling congressional Democrats and prominent Minnesota Democrats to tell them he will challenge Republican Sen. Norm Coleman in 2008, McClatchy Newspapers said.

Franken announced Monday that he was quitting his radio show Feb. 14. In recent days, he has been telling political friends he was ready to declare his candidacy. McClatchy Newspapers confirmed yesterday that Franken called at least two Minnesotans in Congress to break the news. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity, not wanting to pre-empt Franken's announcement.

Franken declined to be interviewed, but his spokesman, Andy Barr, said Franken has "made no secret" of his interest in the Senate seat.

- McClatchy Newspapers

Elsewhere:

The Bush administration yesterday proposed ending farm subsidies for an estimated 80,000 wealthy individuals as part of a plan that would close loopholes and cut agricultural programs by $4.5 billion over the next 10 years.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki told supporters in New Hampshire that he was not ready to jump into the race for the GOP presidential nomination and wouldn't object if they got behind other candidates.

House leaders announced a bipartisan, eight-member task force yesterday to examine whether an outside panel should investigate ethics problems involving members of Congress.