On the horizon

World safer for 'Jaws'

A UN conference meeting in Bangkok endorsed a proposal Tuesday to slap controls on trade in the great white shark (at right).

Conservationists hail the move as an important step towards protecting the ocean's most feared predator, which has killed surfers and swimmers but has also lost numbers at the hands of humans.

The decision made at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulates strictly but does not ban trade outright - at the behest of Australia and Madagascar.

It does not, for example, ban sport fishing, but countries that wish to export great white body parts must convince CITES that such trade is not detrimental to the species - which will require further study of its little-known numbers.

White sharks are targeted commercially and by recreational fishermen for their valuable jaws and teeth. Their fins, like those of other sharks, are in high demand for soup.

Firm numbers are not known, but scientists say available data suggest the population is in decline. The shark is found in greatest abundance off the coasts of California, Australia, and South Africa.

The great white is only the third shark to be afforded such protection by CITES, joining the far larger but gentle whale and basking sharks.

The conference also adopted proposals to protect the humphead wrasse, a giant Indo-Pacific fish, as well as Madagascar's spider tortoise and leaf-tailed gecko.

As expected, the conference accepted a US proposal to loosen trade restrictions on the bald eagle, a gesture that recognized the fact that its numbers have soared back from the brink of extinction in America's lower 48 states.

Shuttle flights still months away

America's grounded space shuttle fleet may resume flights to the International Space Station next May or June, a senior ISS official said.

Russia has borne the brunt of ferrying crews and cargo to the multibillion- dollar, 16-nation station since the Columbia shuttle disintegrated on reentry over Texas in February 2003, killing seven astronauts.

"Our Russian colleagues have done an outstanding job," Michael Suffredini, deputy director of the ISS program, told Reuters. "As far as when the space shuttle returns to flight, the date we are looking at is ... a mid-May to early June launch window."

Officials at US space agency NASA said earlier the shuttle Discovery should be launched in April or early May.

"Based on what I know from my shuttle colleagues, [May-June] is a very durable window," Mr. Suffredini said.

As Suffredini spoke, a Soyuz TMA-5 spacecraft was being hoisted onto Russia's Baikonur launch pad. The cigar-shaped rocket, rolled out of its giant hangar on a chilly and windy dawn on the bleak steppes of Kazakhstan, will take a US-Russian crew on the 10th long-term mission to the station today.

The ISS was put into orbit in 1998 and hosted its first astronauts in 2000. The loss of the Columbia shuttle stopped assembly work at the station, which will house at least four astronauts starting in 2009, but will not support long-term visits as originally planned.

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