Nation: Cracks found in shuttle fuel tank

Cracks found in shuttle fuel tank

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA discovered cracks in Discovery’s fuel tank Wednesday, an added problem that will complicate trying to launch the space shuttle on its final voyage this year.

The two cracks — each 9 inches long — were found on the exterior of the aluminum tank, beneath a larger crack in the insulating foam that covers the 15-story tank. The cracks are in an area that holds instruments, not fuel.

NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said engineers believe the tank can be repaired at the launch pad, although it’s never been tried before. It’s unclear, though, whether the work can be done in time to meet a Nov. 30 launch attempt.

Discovery was grounded Friday by a hydrogen gas leak that cropped up during fueling.

Washington bans alcoholic energy drinks

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Retailers have a week to clear millions of dollars worth of alcoholic energy drinks from their shelves after state regulators banned them Wednesday, citing the hospitalization of nine dangerously drunk college students last month.

The emergency ban, similar to those in Michigan, Utah and Oklahoma, takes effect Nov. 18. Washington’s rule targets beer-based drinks that also feature caffeine, such as the malt-liquor energy drink Four Loko.

Some universities also have banned boozy energy drinks from campus while the federal Food and Drug Administration reviews their safety, and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called Wednesday for a ban in his state.

Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, who requested Washington’s ban, said a strong caffeine-and-alcohol combination could encourage drinking too much by masking alcohol’s regular depressant effects.

Fictional ads aim at debt awareness

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Fictional presidential candidate Hugh Jidette is a cheerleader for the more than $13 trillion national debt — and he’d like to see it get even bigger.

Jidette is popping up in TV and billboard ads across the country, pledging in one ad that the national debt will ‘‘double, maybe even triple’’ on his watch and saying, ‘‘Borrow like there’s no tomorrow!’’

The nonprofit group that created him says the real point is to get people talking about ways to reverse the nation’s growing debt. His name sounds like ‘‘huge debt’’ for a reason.

The $6 million campaign by the Washington, D.C.-based Peter G. Peterson Foundation aims to promote bipartisan solutions to the federal fiscal crisis.

Carnival ship slowly making journey home

SAN DIEGO — The food on the disabled cruise ship Carnival Splendor is cold and the lines to get it stretch for hours.

And with the pool, bars and casinos closed and rooms pitch black and stuffy, the nearly 4,500 people and crew on board are passing the time with live music, scavenger hunts and trivia contests as they are slowly towed to San Diego.

Two tugboats were pulling the 952-foot ship back to the U.S. The journey could take at least until late today.

The ship entered cell phone range on Wednesday, allowing passengers mostly cut off from communication since an engine fire disabled the vessel on Monday to finally reach loved ones — and provide the first details of the conditions on board.

Major human smuggling cell busted in Ariz.

PHOENIX — Authorities have dismantled a major cell of a human smuggling ring that may be responsible for the transportation of thousands of illegal immigrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to Phoenix and other parts of the country, investigators said Wednesday.

Nine people were arrested Wednesday. They have not yet been charged but are accused of picking up illegal immigrants after they crossed the border by foot, and taking them to what are known as drop houses in Phoenix before they were distributed to other parts of the country.

Slain teen’s family pleads for help

PHOENIX — The family of a 13-year-old Phoenix boy who was gunned down while on a morning jog in what police are calling a random act is pleading for the public’s help finding the killer.

Speaking in front of a memorial of teddy bears, personal notes and a football, Jonathan Garcia’s family said Wednesday they need closure and justice.

Garcia’s stepfather, Isaac Espinoza, said Jonathan was a dedicated student and had recently started running to get in shape.