After two weather-related delays, NASA began a countdown Tuesday in its third attempt to launch space shuttle Discovery. As the Monitor went to press, the first manned launch on the Fourth of July was set for midafternoon from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission got a green light after managers concluded that a five-inch crack in the foam on the external fuel tank did not pose a threat.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, vowed Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show to "get to the bottom" of an incident in which Steven Green, an honorably discharged Army private, has been accused of raping an Iraqi woman and killing three members of her family. The military originally blamed the act, in March, on insurgents, but a subsequent investigation has revealed a possible coverup. Three other soldiers in Iraq are suspected accomplices.

Sales by US automakers dropped 18.7 percent in June, The Los Angeles Times reported, with General Motors posting the biggest decline: 25.7 percent. GM enjoyed record sales a year ago when it offered employee-level discounts to customers. Analysts expect industry sales to pick up as consumers take advantage of post-Fourth of July offers. Meanwhile, Japan's Nissan and France's Renault approved talks with GM, which is undertaking turnaround efforts, about a possible alliance.

A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order to stop the Navy from using sonar during antisubmarine training exercises near Hawaii. The ruling is meant to protect whales and other marine life from harm at least until the Navy argues against the injunction July 18.

Despite a federally imposed limit on flights that slightly decreased congestion at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, it overtook Atlanta's as the busiest in terms of air traffic during the first half of 2006. O'Hare registered 477,001 flights, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, 472,431.

An asteroid estimated to be as much as a half-mile wide hurtled harmlessly past Earth Monday about 269,000 miles away, or slightly farther than the moon. It was thought to be one of the biggest space rocks to pass that close in recent years. The asteroid known as 2004 XP14 appeared as a streaking dot in the sky. Scientists calculate that asteroids of this size collide with Earth about every 84,000 years.

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