Endeavour crew to examine damaged tile in heat shield

NASA ordered Endeavour’s crew to take an unusual close-up look at a damaged tile in the space shuttle’s delicate heat shield early today.

Using the shuttle’s robotic arm, astronauts will scrutinize the gouge on the shuttle’s underbelly with a high resolution camera and a laser attached to a boom.

“There’s nothing alarming here, and we’re not really concerned,” said LeRoy Cain, chairman of the shuttle mission management team, which decided Friday to order what’s called a “focused inspection.”

Cain said the two-hour maneuver is being done out of an abundance of caution and won’t cause any disruption to the crew or its 16-day mission to the International Space Station.

This is Endeavour’s last flight and the second to last of the 30-year space shuttle program. NASA is shutting down the program to focus on eventual missions to a nearby asteroid or other places farther out than Earth’s orbit.

Shuttle Atlantis is tentatively set to make the last flight July 8 with a load of supplies and equipment for the station.


Pawlenty plans to announce run for president on Monday

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty plans to formally announce his Republican candidacy for president in Iowa on Monday, a campaign aide confirmed Friday.

The announcement will come during a town hall meeting in the lead-off caucus state.

In the eyes of the Federal Election Commission, Pawlenty is already a full-fledged candidate. But he has maintained he is still in an exploratory phase, waiting until the pace of the campaign picked up before making a showier splash.

Pawlenty was among the first GOP politicians to announce the formation of an exploratory committee, doing so with a YouTube video on his Facebook page in March. He has traveled regularly to early nominating states for more than a year, making early contact with key activists.

When Fox News and South Carolina Republicans hosted the first debate of the 2012 cycle, Pawlenty was one of only five candidates who participated.

Pawlenty’s activity has not yet translated into support in public opinion polls, however, as he still ranks in the lower tier in most state and national surveys. By announcing in Iowa, which shares a border with the state he governed for two terms, Pawlenty signals he is eager to fill a vacuum left by Mike Huckabee, winner of the 2008 caucuses.


Middle school pupil charged in attempt to poison teacher

A 13-year-old central Florida middle school student has been charged after allegedly sneaking a sleeping pill into his teacher’s drink.

Osceola County Sheriff’s deputies said the Discovery Intermediate School student admitted putting Clonidine, a prescription blood pressure medication, into his teacher’s drink because she yelled at him in class. The Associated Press is not naming the boy because he is a minor.

Authorities said the teacher told other teachers she felt nauseated, dizzy and drowsy and went home sick Monday.

The student was charged with poisoning of food with the intent to injure. He was booked into Osceola County Juvenile Detention Center without bond.


Thousands of protesters defy government ban

Tens of thousands of people defied a pre-election ban on demonstrations and protesting unemployment in squares around Spain in defiance of an order to quit at midnight.

The government avoided saying if it would order police to break up the crowds today, but at the stroke of midnight officers kept a discreet presence on the edges of the demonstrations.

Demonstrators kept quiet as city clocks chimed the start of a new day. Many protesters had tape over their mouths in a gesture organizers said suggested they have things to say but were being gagged by the ban.

People are angry over Spain’s high unemployment rate and what they see as the national political parties’ ineptitude in dealing with a deep economic crisis.

Many protesters have said they were influenced by recent pro-democracy uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, and one popular chant is “Join us.”