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Russia resumes Soyuz ISS flight November 14, 2011

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The BBC’s Daniel Sandford: “The dangers are not over yet”

A Russian spacecraft carrying three astronauts – two Russians and one American – has launched successfully from Kazakhstan.

They are the first to travel on a Russian Soyuz craft since a similar unmanned rocket carrying cargo crashed shortly after launch in August.

All manned space travel was suspended after that crash for almost three months.

The astronauts are on their way to the International Space Station (ISS).

The rocket lifted off from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan’s snow-covered steppes at 08.14 (04:14 GMT).

Once safely in orbit, the three astronauts gave a thumbs-up signal to cameras on board the craft and said: “Everything is normal and we are feeling fine”. Applause broke out at the mission control centre in a northern Moscow suburb.

‘We have faith’

The BBC’s Daniel Sandford in Moscow says the Soyuz has historically been a relatively safe way of getting into space.

But on 24 August, a similar Russian-built Soyuz rocket taking supplies to the space station crashed soon after launch.

That led to the human space flight programme being suspended until now.

The astronauts said they were confident

But in their final comments to the media before the launch, the three men insisted they were confident in the technology and had no concerns.

“We don’t have any black thoughts. We have faith in our equipment,” Anton Shkaplerov, 39, was quoted by Russian media as saying.

Mr Shkaplerov and fellow Russian Anatoly Ivanishin, 42, are making their first maiden space voyages. For veteran Nasa astronaut Dan Burbank, 50, it is his first voyage on board a Soyuz spacecraft.

After a two-day journey aboard the Soyuz capsule, the crew will dock with the space station, overlapping briefly with the current crew – station commander Mike Fossum of Nasa, Japan’s Satoshi Furukawa and Russia’s Sergei Volkov – who will then return to earth.

The launch is the first since the American space agency Nasa ended its 30-year shuttle programme in July, heralding a gap of several years when the 16 nations investing in the $100bn International Space Station will rely solely on Russia to ferry crews.

There had been fears that any problems with this launch could leave the ISS unmanned for the first time in more than a decade when the current crew leave on 21 November. Mr Shkaplerov, Mr Ivanishin and Mr Burbank are due to remain at the space station until March.

Moscow hopes a smooth mission to the ISS will begin to restore its reputation after more trouble last week when the $165m Phobos-Grunt probe destined for Mars’ moon got stuck in orbit round the Earth.

Russia’s space agency chief said the August rocket failure was an “isolated” glitch caused by a fuel pipe blockage.

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Phone hacking: News Corp says focus on scandal is ‘disproportionate’ October 12, 2011

Rupert Murdoch‘s News Corporation is attempting to defuse the growing revolt by shareholders ahead of its 21 October annual meeting.

It has responded to claims by the Institutional Shareholders Services (ISS) that the phone hacking scandal has exposed a lack of stewardship and failure of independence by the News Corp board.

In a filing to the US securities and exchange commission (SEC), the company accuses ISS of being “misguided” in its “disproportionate focus on the News of the World matter.”

Though accepting that its legal exposure to the scandal could affect the company’s finances, it argues that its “broad, diverse group of businesses across the globe is extremely strong… and our future is promising.”

It also defends its board as being composed of “sophisticated, world-class directors.”

News Corp addresses “issues surrounding the News of the World” in a lengthy statement in the filing, saying that its board “are acting decisively to get to the bottom of what happened.”

The company says it “has already taken decisive actions to hold people accountable and will take all prudent steps designed to prevent something like this from ever occurring again.”

It points to the creation of the “independently-chaired Management Standards Committee” (MSC) which “has full authority to ensure complete cooperation with all relevant investigations and inquiries.”

The company reminds shareholders that the MSC is conducting an internal investigation of the three other titles at News InternationalThe Sun, The Times and Sunday Times – in company with the law firm, Linklaters.

It also states that the MSC has hired another law firm, Olswang, “to recommend a series of policies, practices and systems to create a more robust governance, compliance and legal structure.”

The filing follows an ISS recommendation to shareholders to vote against Murdoch as chief executive, his sons James and Lachlan, and 10 other directors.

ISS, a proxy advisory firm that advises more than 1,700 investors on corporate governance issues, believes that the hacking scandal “has laid bare a striking lack of stewardship and failure of independence by a board whose inability to set a strong tone-at-the-top about unethical business practices has now resulted in enormous costs.”

A second proxy advisory firm, Glass Lewis Co, has also said New Corp needs a more independent board.

Sources: News Corp/Bloomberg/Reuters/The Guardian

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