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Van Gaal feeling ‘lousy’ after United’s poor start

After losing 1-0 at fierce rivals Manchester City last weekend, United are 10th in the Premier League following their worst start to a campaign since 1986.

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Speaking at a news conference on the eve of Saturday’s home match with Crystal Palace, Dutchman Van Gaal said he was disappointed with United’s lacklustre start.

“I’m feeling lousy for everyone that we have 13 points from 10 games,” he said. “I have the experience that people have great belief in what we are doing now, in the way we are playing football.

“But we are in a process. The process shall take more than one year. It shall take three years — I hope — though that is dependent on lots of things.

“I think we will make it happen, that we will win a lot of matches.”

Van Gaal’s waspish mood was not helped by his lengthy injury list.

INJURY PROBLEMS

Argentine defender Marcos Rojo, who dislocated his shoulder during Sunday’s defeat, will be out for six weeks, while fellow defenders Jonny Evans and Phil Jones are still carrying knocks and Chris Smalling is suspended.

Colombia striker Radamel Falcao, who has scored once in five games since joining on loan from AS Monaco, will also miss the Palace game after failing to recover from a calf injury.

“Marcos dislocated his shoulder but did it in a positive way,” Van Gaal said.

“We don’t need to operate on him, which is a relief, but maybe with this injury it is very difficult (to say) it shall not happen again. Conservatively, it can be less than six weeks.”

United have conceded 14 goals in the league this season and, with Van Gaal forced to reshuffle his defensive pack on a regular basis, the former Netherlands coach said the number of injuries had not helped his side’s cause.

“I have remodelled the structure of my team,” he said. “Now I have to solve the problems of the injuries every week. When I want to select the same lineup, I cannot. It’s the same every week.

“You cannot create consistency and that’s important in football. But I don’t want to complain or cry, because I have great belief in not only the players but the staff and the players and also the supporters who are supporting me.”

(Reporting by Michael Hann; Editing by Ken Ferris)

Hiddink to quit if Dutch lose next Euro qualifier

“If we lose to Latvia then I’ll take the logical step.

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I haven’t discussed it with the players but to me a draw too would not be acceptable,” the 67-year-old told a news conference.

Hiddink’s second spell in charge of the Dutch has quickly descended into a mini crisis after defeat by the Czech Republic and Iceland in Group A qualifiers in September and October left them with three points from three games.

The Netherlands play Mexico in a friendly on Wednesday and then host Latvia at the AmsterdamArena on Sunday.

But he was also bullish about their qualifying chances.

“Yes we will qualify,” he said of the six-team group that also includes Kazakhstan and Turkey.

The nine group winners and nine runners-up plus the best third-placed team will qualify directly for the finals in France. The eight remaining third-placed teams will contest playoffs to determine the last four qualifiers.

UNDER FIRE

Hiddink has been under fire since the Dutch lost 2-0 to Iceland last month with extensive behind the scenes talks to try and get to the bottom of a dramatic dip in form just months after they came third at the World Cup in Brazil.

“But it was not as if I was brought up on the carpet,” said Hiddink of an ‘evalution’ of his work by the Dutch FA (KNVB) after the defeat in Reykjavik.

“We did an evaluation but I didn’t get the impression I needed to get down on my knees. That’s not how it went down. It was said we needed to do a sharp evalution and I had no problem with that.”

On the eve of his 68th birthday, Hiddink also addressed concerns from reporters that he might no longer be able to forge the special bonds with players which have been the hallmark of his coaching success in the past.

“I still have a lot of enthusiasm to talk to the youngsters,” he said. “I feel their energy. Ask the players if I can still get through to them?

“If I had the feeling that they didn’t want me then I would stop. But I don’t get that feeling from this team.”

Hiddink said the negative reaction to recent results was disproportionate.

“I don’t like the drama that is now swirling around the team,” he said. “There is an over reaction. But I have to accept it. The criticism is a lot harsher these days compared to when I first coached the team. But the media are competing much more with each other.”

Hiddink, whose previous clubs include Real Madrid and Chelsea, was in charge of the Netherlands side that reached the 1998 World Cup semi-finals in France.

(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ken Ferris)

Paris mayor won’t be rushed into 2024 bid

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said on Friday a decision on whether to bid for the 2024 summer Olympic Games, which President Francois Hollande supports, would not be made before January.

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France has not hosted the summer Olympics since 1924 and in a television appearance on Thursday, Hollande said he was in favour of bidding for the global sporting event, describing it as important for a “capital of culture”.

But Hidalgo, whose job it is to decide whether or not to go for the Olympics, told reporters that the conclusions of working groups studying the feasibility of a bid would be made in January.

“I will stick to this schedule and I invite everyone to respect it like I do,” she said.

Hidalgo is extremely reticent to put in a bid.

Earlier this year, she said: “We are in a financial and budgetary position today that does not allow me to say that I am making this bid.”

She reminded reporters on Friday that the French capital had already submitted failed bids for the Olympic Games — the latest was for the 2012 event which eventually went to London.

“Having dreams is good, realising them is even better,” she said.

Junior Sports Minister Thierry Braillard also waded into the debate, saying hosting the 2024 Olympics would not entail massive investments.

“We are lucky to have infrastructure that means that if we decided to bid, there would be no need for much investment where infrastructure is concerned as it already exists,” he said.

“The only investment would be on the Olympic village, which could become social housing or housing for students, and on transport infrastructure.”

Prime Minister Manuel Valls, meanwhile, has spoken out in favour of Paris bidding for the 2025 World Expo — which Hollande also said he supported — leading many to think it was unlikely the city would also throw its hat in the ring for the Olympics.

The last time France held an Olympic event was in 1992 when Albertville hosted the Winter Games.

Turnbull ‘threatened PM staffer over OzCar’

Federal Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has been accused of threatening one of the prime minister’s staff over the OzCar affair.

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The approach was reportedly made during parliament’s mid-winter ball on Wednesday, federal Treasurer Wayne Swan said today.

“We all know there’s good Malcolm and bad Malcolm, but I think the bad Malcolm turned up at the … ball the other night,” Mr Swan told reporters in Canberra.

The Coalition has vowed to use a Senate inquiry today to pursue claims Mr Rudd and Mr Swan assisted a Queensland car dealer to access the $2 billion taxpayer-funded OzCar scheme.

The scheme aims to help cash-strapped dealers obtain finance to purchase cars.

Mr Swan refused to divulge the nature of Mr Turnbull’s alleged threats, or whether it was being treated as a criminal matter.

“That threat will be detailed in a full statement later on,” Mr Swan said during a rowdy news conference.

Mr Swan was again asked whether he was confident that there was no representation made by Mr Rudd’s office on behalf of Mr Grant.

“We can find no record of any relationship between the prime minister or his office and Mr Grant,” he said.

The Senate’s economics committee sits today to consider the legislation setting up OzCar, and the coalition has vowed to question Treasury officials about the issue.

Charges denied

Mr Swan denied the prime minister or his office had made representations on behalf of the Ipswich dealer John Grant, who has provided Mr Rudd with a free ute for use as a mobile electorate office.

Mr Grant had made representations to the treasurer’s office, just as many other car dealers had through coalition MPs.

Mr Grant had received no assistance from either OzCar or from Ford Credit, Mr Swan said.

‘Provide evidence’

The treasurer demanded Mr Turnbull produce evidence to support the allegations or apologise to Mr Rudd.

Earlier, Mr Turnbull said there appeared to a huge conflict of interest in Mr Rudd’s relationship with Mr Grant.

“There’s obviously a gigantic conflict of interest here, huge conflict of interest,” Mr Turnbull told Macquarie Radio.

The coalition has used parliament’s question time to quiz both Mr Rudd and Mr Swan about any representations they or their offices made on behalf of Mr Grant.

Mr Rudd should step down if he was found to have misled parliament with his answers, Mr Turnbull said.

“If he has misled parliament deliberately twice, that is a very, very serious offence,” he said.

Note provided

The government later released a file note of a conversation between Mr Turnbull and Andrew Charlton, a senior adviser in the prime minister’s office.

In the note, Mr Charlton says Mr Turnbull spoke to him during the ball. It goes on to say:

Turnbull: This whole OzCar issue will be very damaging for you. Let me give you some friendly advice. You should not lie to protect your boss.

Charlton: I have not.

Turnbull: You know and I know there is documentary evidence that you have lied.

Charlton: There is not.

Turnbull: Andrew, you know that there is documentary evidence. This could be very damaging for you.

Charlton: I have not had any contact with Mr Grant.

Turnbull: Ah well, I advise you to consider your actions very carefully.

Following the conversation, Mr Charlton walked outside the building and relayed its details to a colleague, the file note said.

‘Freezer baby’ mother gets 8 years jail

Jurors have sentenced a French woman to eight years in jail for killing three of her newborn babies, burning one corpse and hiding the others in a freezer.

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Prosecutors had called for a 10-year sentence for Veronique Courjault, after she admitted to smothering two baby boys to death at her expat home in South Korea in 2002 and 2003, and a third child born in France in 1999.

The 41-year-old, who has served three years in pre-trial detention, betrayed no emotion as the verdict was read out in the central city of Tours on Thursday, at the close of an eight-day trial that has gripped France.

The high-profile case focused on whether Courjault — described as a caring mother to her two living sons, now 12 and 14 — suffered from a mental illness when she gave birth alone to the three babies and then killed them.

Courjault, who kept the three pregancies hidden from her husband and entire family, had faced a maximum life sentence for the triple infanticide, but prosecutors finally sought 10 years.

“Do not demonise Veronique Courjault,” prosecutor Philippe Varin told the jury. “But do not turn her into an icon either.”

Mental health experts were called at the trial to testify on a little-known condition identified as “pregnancy denial”, a deep disorder in which a woman suffers from a complete lack of awareness of being pregnant.

Varin argued that she was not suffering from denial, saying she managed to “fool her entire entourage”, but acknowledged that many questions remained unanswered in the case.

Courjault’s husband Jean-Louis, who discovered the two corpses in the family freezer in 2006, has supported his wife since her confession and insisted throughout the trial she needs psychiatric help, not punishment.

Defence lawyers had appealed to jurors to show understanding in their verdict and allow the troubled family to rebuild their lives.

“This woman committed a mistake, a crime, but she is not a monster,” said lawyer Henri Leclerc in his closing arguments.

Senator denies baby removal a stunt

The senator who’s at the centre of a parliamentary debate after her toddler was forcibly removed from parliament denies the incident was a stunt.

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The two-year-old daughter of Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young was taken from her hands on the orders of Labour’s Senate president John Hogg yesterday.

As the child named Kora was taken from her mother’s arms by a staffer, she became distressed and cried loudly.

Her wails were still audible after the chamber doors were locked.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt so humiliated in my life,” says Senator Hanson-Young.

“What upset me the most was seeing her (Kora) being upset and not knowing who I was going to hand her to on the other side of the door.”

Calls for rules to be changed

The incident has caused debate in parliament today about whether infants should be allowed in parliament.

Greens leader Bob Brown strongly objected to the removal of the child and Family First Senator Steve Fielding says the matter could have been handled better.

Senator Brown said he had a “good, long talk” with Senator Hogg, adding some good will come out of the incident.

The Senate president Hogg says he was following the relevant order governing who should be in the chamber.

But he later admitted that the situation could have been dealt with better saying a procedure committee “will help ensure these matters are able to be better handled in the future.”

‘Unsurprising’ that the baby cried

The NSW Opposition spokeswoman for women Pru Goward says she believes Senator Hanson-Young might have expected what the result would be by taking her child into the chamber.

Ms Goward, a former sex discrimination commissioner, says the senator had a staff member nearby who could take the child.

“I think if you promise a little girl that she can come in with you and you run down there with her in your arms and then at the last minute because you actually didn’t check, the child is taken away from you and she cries, nobody can really be surprised,” she told ABC radio.

“This really says to me that there should be some laws about this so there are no unexpected situations that arise, so that the senators and the staff all know what’s expected,” Ms Goward says.

“I think children in workplaces can be very distracting and I would have thought on this occasion it would have been just as easy to have left the child with the staffer.”

“When you put people into dramatic situations don’t be surprised when they cry.”

But Senator Hanson-Young has defended her actions saying that she had taken Kora into the chamber on previous occasions.

She says she took her daughter Kora into the chamber for a vote yesterday evening because they were about to be separated for 24 hours, with the baby flying to Adelaide to be with her dad.

Downloader fined almost $2 million

A 32-year-old woman has been ordered to pay a staggering $US1.

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92 million ($A2.4 million) fine for illegally downloading 24 songs by a US court.

A jury found that Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a mother of four from the state of Minnesota, is liable for using an internet program called Kazaa to download the songs from a peer-to-peer file sharing network.

Jurors took just under five hours to reach yesterday’s verdict.

The court has ordered Ms Thomas-Rasset to pay about $US80,000 ($A100,000) per song to six record companies: Capitol Records, Sony BMG Music, Arista Records, Interscope Records, Warner Bros. Records and UMG Recordings.

Previous conviction

Thomas-Rasset had been convicted previously, in October 2007, and ordered to pay $US220,000 ($A275,000) in damages but the judge who presided over that trial threw out the verdict calling it “wholly disproportionate” and “oppressive.”

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and major music labels have brought suit against thousands of people for illegally downloading and sharing music, with most agreeing to settlements of between 3,000 and 5,000 dollars.

Thomas-Rasset was the first among those being sued to refuse a settlement and instead took the case to court.

In December, the RIAA said it will stop suing people who download music illegally and focus instead on getting internet Service Providers to take action.

The move away from litigation represented a major shift in strategy for the music industry group, which had filed lawsuits against some 35,000 people for online music piracy since 2003.

Timeline: Iran’s election

Key events involving Iran since the June 12 presidential election:

Friday, June 12

– More than 46 million eligible voters invited to choose between four candidates, with incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s last prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi the favourites.

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Soon after the voting ended Mousavi announces he has won the election.

Saturday, June 13

– The interior ministry announces Ahmadinejad has won with almost 63 percent of the vote against 34 percent for Mousavi. Turnout reported at 85 percent.

– Ahmadinejad calls the result “a great victory” and says the vote was “completely free.” Mousavi complains of “numerous and blatant irregularities.”

– Mousavi supporters take to the streets of Tehran, clashing with baton-wielding police in the worst violence since widespread student protests in 1999.

– Some Internet and mobile phone services disrupted, leading to accusations of media censorship.

Sunday, June 14

– Police say they rounded up about 170 people during post-election violence on Saturday. Human rights group Amnesty International calls for an investigation into alleged police brutality.

– Ahmadinejad addresses a huge victory rally in Tehran.

– Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says he has asked the Guardians Council, which supervises elections, to probe allegations of rigging and calls on Mousavi to pursue any complaints via legal and peaceful means.

– Leading Western nations express concern about the election outcome.

Monday, June 15

– Mousavi appears in public for the first time since the election at a mass rally in Tehran that gathers hundreds of thousands of people.

– The Guardians Council says it will investigate complaints of irregularities lodged by Mousavi as well as Mohsen Rezai and Mehdi Karroubi, the other two presidential candidates.

– Relatives of people arrested in the protests demonstrate outside a Tehran court.

– UN chief Ban Ki-moon calls for the will of the Iranian people to be “fully respected.”

Tuesday, June 16

– State radio says at least seven people were killed in Monday’s violence.

– Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says there should be a partial recount if required.

– State television says the rival camps staged more mass rallies in the capital.

– Iran announces restrictions on foreign media, including banning them from covering “unauthorised” rallies.

– Organisers of the pro-regime rally blamed “enemies, particularly the US, Britain, and Israel” for “interfering in Iran’s internal affairs, plotting against the government and giving media support to enemy groups, rioters and social and political hooligans.”

– Ahmadinejad attends an international security conference in Russia, where he says “the age of empires has ended.”

– US President Barack Obama says he has “deep concerns” over the election but will not meddle in Iranian affairs, and the White House says Obama remains “committed to direct engagement” with Iran, despite the violence.

– The foreign ministry summons EU envoys to protest at reaction to the vote.

– Unrest reported in other cities including Mashhad, Isfahan and Shiraz.

Wednesday, June 17

– Mousavi repeats call for new election, while urging supporters to hold a march and a day of mourning on Thursday for protesters slain in clashes.

– Two more prominent supporters of Mousavi are arrested.

– Foreign ministry accuses some foreign media of becoming the “mouthpiece of rioters.”

– Revolutionary Guards threaten Iran’s online media with legal action if their sites publish material that creates “tension.”

– Tens of thousands of Mousavi supporters defy a ban on opposition gatherings and take part in a “silent” protest rally, marching through central Tehran. State television broadcast brief footage of the rally.

– A dozen Iranian journalists and bloggers have been arrested and others are in hiding after authorities took steps to restrict the media, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said.

Thursday, June 18

– Iran’s Mehr news agency said supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will lead Friday prayers in Tehran in the presence of the Basij volunteer Islamic militia.

– The three defeated candidates in the election have cited 646 violations in the June 12 poll, electoral watchdog the Guardians Council said.

– Iran’s top clerical body, the Assembly of Experts, hailed the mass turnout in the June 12 presidential election but stayed silent on the disputed results.

‘Child in chamber’ causes stink

The ejection of a two-year old girl from the Senate has sparked calls for century-old parliamentary procedures to be modernised so they are more parent friendly.

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Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young was forced to hand her daughter, Kora, to a staffer on Thursday night on the orders of Senate president John Hogg.

The child was heard crying as her mother and other senators gathered behind locked doors for a vote, a situation the senator described as the “most humiliating” of her life.

Breast-feeding stauch

World champion aerial skier turned Victorian state Labor MP Kirstie Marshall said Senator Hanson-Young had every right to feel outraged.

Ms Marshall was asked to leave the Victorian parliament in 2003 because she was breastfeeding her 11-day-old daughter Charlotte.

“She was required in her capacity in her job as a senator to vote, therefore she was being denied that opportunity based on the fact she had some responsibilities as a parent,” Ms Marshall told AAP on Friday.

“I think it’s just ludicrous.”

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown has called for parents to be allowed to bring their children into the Senate during a voting division.

“We need to change … the standing orders just to make life a little more parent friendly when there’s not going to be disruptions,” Senator Brown told reporters in Canberra, adding he had a “good, long talk” with Senator Hogg.

Goward backs Hogg

But former sex discrimination commissioner turned NSW Liberal Party frontbencher Pru Goward said Senator Hanson-Young would have been better off leaving the child with a staffer.

“If you promise a little girl that she can come in with you and you run down there with her in your arms and then at the last minute because you actually didn’t check, the child is taken away from you and she cries, nobody can really be surprised,” she told ABC Radio.

Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said the incident was a stunt that could have been avoided.

“If it was from a party that never effected stunts, you’d say ‘well, maybe it was a one-off’, but this is a party that is known for its stunts,” Senator Joyce told reporters in Canberra.

Breast-feeding amendments

Senator Hanson-Young said the incident was not a stunt, saying she had previously brought Kora into the chamber.

“I’d just like anyone suggesting that … to reflect on what actually happened,” she told ABC Television.

But she said did not blame Senator Hogg.

“He followed the rule book,” she said, adding she would raise the issue with him on Monday when the Senate resumed.

Parliamentary procedures were changed in February last year to allow female MPs in the House of Representatives to cast parliamentary votes via the whip if they needed to leave the chamber to breastfeed.

Global warming ‘faster than expected’

Research by international scientists shows the world faces a growing risk of “abrupt and irreversible climatic shifts” as fallout from global warming hits faster than expected.

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Global surface and ocean temperatures, sea levels, extreme climate events, and the retreat of Arctic sea ice have all significantly picked up more pace than experts predicted only a couple of years ago, they say.

The stark warning comes less than six months before an international conference aiming to seal a treaty to save the planet from the worst ravages of global warming.

Planet contributing to global warming

A 36-page document summarises more than 1,400 studies presented at a climate conference in March in Copenhagen, where a United Nations meeting will be held in December to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto expires in 2012.

The report says greenhouse gas emissions and other climate indicators are at or near the upper boundaries forecast by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose 2007 report has been the scientific benchmark for the troubled UN talks.

There is also new evidence that the planet itself is beginning to contribute to global warming through fall out from human activity.

Huge stores of gases such as methane which is an even more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide that have trapped for millennia in the Arctic permafrost, may be starting to leak into the atmosphere, speeding up the warming process.

The natural capacity of the oceans and forests to absorb CO2 created by the burning of fossil fuels has also been compromised, research has shown.

Temperatures ‘must not rise’

The new report, written and reviewed by many of the scientists who compiled the IPCC document, calls on policy makers to take urgent steps to keep average global temperatures from increasing more than two degrees Centigrade (3.6 degree Fahrenheit), compared to pre-industrial levels.

“Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation…is required to avoid ‘dangerous climate change’ regardless of how it is defined,” it says.

“Temperature rises above 2 C will be difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and are likely to cause major societal and environmental disruptions through the rest of the century and beyond.”

The IPCC has said that achieving this goal would require industrialised nations to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 25-40 percent compared to 1990 levels.

The new report suggested that deep and early emissions cuts, which are some of the most contentious issues on the table in the UN talks, are essential.

“Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of serious impacts, including the crossing of tipping points” beyond which natural forces begin to push up temperatures even faster.

Many scientists agree that if those boundaries are crossed, it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to reverse the process.

Intervention anniversary protests planned

Aboriginal leaders from across the Northern Territory are pleading with the Rudd government ahead of the second anniversary of the intervention into remote Aboriginal communities to “end it, and do it now”.

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Indigenous people from more than 20 remote communities and major towns, including Alice Springs and Katherine, have converged on Darwin for protests to be held tomorrow.

“I’m travelling long way up to Darwin to join forces with other Aboriginal people, leaders, elders, men and women,” says town camp resident Barbara Shaw.

“Intervention measures have caused dispossession, confusion, fear and disempowerment… (they) have not improved child safety nor reduced rates of sexual abuse.”

Meetings of the Prescribed Area Peoples Alliance (PAPA) were held this week in Darwin and the leaders have scripted a statement they hope to hand to NT politicians at protests on the eve of the anniversary.

Their key concerns include the compulsory acquisition of Alice Springs town camps and the “paternalistic and racist” income management system, whereby 50 per cent of welfare payments are set aside so it can’t be spent on grog, drugs or gambling.

Education changes opposed

They also oppose NT government plans to scrap bilingual education in remote NT schools and a controversial homelands policy which seeks to turn 20 communities into “economic hubs”, while denying additional funds to a further 500 smaller outstations.

Ronnie Barramala from Ramingining said governments were treating his people “like we need a guide dog”.

“We are being treated as though we are blind, and have no idea where we are going,” he said.

“We know how to run a community, we know how to look after our kids, we know what we want for our future, but under these policies, our future is out of our hands.”

NT Chief Minister Henderson Paul Henderson has been invited to Saturday’s protest, along with other NT politicians.

NASA probes ‘on collision course’ with moon

NASA has successfully blasted two probes into space on a landmark lunar exploration mission to scout water sources and landing sites in anticipation of sending mankind back to the moon in 2020.

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The launch marked “America’s first step in a lasting return to the moon,” a NASA official said moments after a rocket carrying the probes launched at 5:32pm local time, one day after the US space agency scrubbed the shuttle Endeavour launch for the second time in a week because of a nagging hydrogen fuel leak.

The liftoff of the dual LRO and LCROSS missions atop an Atlas V rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, adjacent to Kennedy Space Centre, took place one month shy of the 40th anniversary of NASA’s historic first landings on Earth’s natural satellite in 1969.

Audacious new missions

Americans have been the only astronauts to walk on the moon — with the last such outing in 1972 — and the new mission is the first step on the long journey to launch manned missions further into our solar system, to the planet Mars and beyond, from lunar colonies.

US President Barack Obama has said the program, dubbed the Constellation project, needs to be reviewed, but so far has not cast doubt on its goals.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) separated from the Centaur upper stage rocket and the other probe, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), at 2216 GMT.

LCROSS in particular looks set to be one of NASA’s most spectacular bids at discovery for years.

It will remain attached to the Centaur until October, when NASA sends the Centaur smashing into a crater on the side of the moon that never gets sunshine. LCROSS will analyse the lunar material blasted out by the impact for any sign of water ice — a critical component for any planning for manned lunar colonies.

Rockets ‘hurl themselves at moon’

After examining the lunar matter, LCROSS will follow the rocket’s lead by also hurling itself into the moon at a speed of 9,000 km/h.

In total, NASA said, the two impacts will kick up some 500 metric tons of lunar material and begin the search for a

long-frozen water source. The project will also examine the moon’s mineral makeup.

The LRO hopes to learn more about the moon through a one-year stay at an orbit of about 50km — the closest continual lunar orbit of any spacecraft.

The orbiter is expected to reach the moon on Tuesday.

Four decades after moon landing

The probes’ four-day, 384,000km return to the moon 40 years after humans first set foot on its surface is expected to illuminate our closest extra-terrestrial neighbour like never before.

“Earth is subject to erosion processes from air and water,” noted May.

“The moon itself doesn’t have this process … LRO will send back pictures daily on things we have barely seen before.”

Brace for ‘worst’ flu season

Health authorities are warning that this winter could be one of the worst flu seasons in recent years with more than 2000 cases of seasonal influenza and swine flu already diagnosed in Victoria.

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The Department of Human services (DHS) released figures on Friday showing 2,344 Victorians had been diagnosed with influenza to June 15 this year, including 1,230 confirmed cases of swine flu.

This is a huge increase compared to 81 confirmed cases at the same time last year, and just 52 at the same time in 2007.

Acting chief health officer Rosemary Lester says the flu season began earlier this year and the number of laboratory confirmed cases has risen quickly.

“The information we have currently points to the potential for this winter to be one of the biggest we’ve had in recent years for flu activity, so it is important that all Victorians remain vigilant and protect themselves,” she says in a statement.

“The notifications and surveillance data mean that Victoria’s influenza-like illness activity is now in the higher than expected range and will continue at this level for some time to come, perhaps the rest of the winter flu season.”

Small portion is swine flu

Dr Lester says although a significant amount of influenza is currently circulating in the community, only a small portion is swine flu.

She says the high number of positive tests for seasonal and swine flu reflects the increased amount of testing being carried out.

Dr Lester says the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory had allowed the state to complete a high number of tests for suspected swine flu cases for a longer period than many other countries, including the United States.

“In some ways Victoria has been a victim of its own testing success,” she says.

“We have a very thorough testing system for all infectious diseases and are at the forefront of detecting swine flu in the community.”

A DHS spokesman says there were a total of 1,298 confirmed influenza cases in 2008 and 1,591 in 2007.

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