Atlantis cleared for final liftoff
CAPE CANAVERAL — Space shuttle Atlantis has been cleared for liftoff.
Mission managers on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for the countdown to proceed toward Friday afternoon’s planned launch. It will be the 32nd and final flight for Atlantis.
Everything is looking good for an on-time launch at 2:20 p.m. Managers are tracking no technical troubles, and forecasters say there’s a 70 percent chance the weather will cooperate.
Atlantis will carry up spare parts for the International Space Station.
Plans for gay couples at camp sites mulled
DES MOINES — Plans to allow married same-sex couples to qualify as families for camping permits reflects an “insidious pattern” of state agencies seeking to change rules to benefit such couples, a state lawmaker said.
Sen. Merlin Bartz, a Republican, opposes same-sex marriage and was troubled that the Department of Natural Resources would propose the new rules. He said the changes, considered Monday by a legislative committee, follow similar moves by state agencies that oversee public pensions and income taxes.
The proposed change would allow married same-sex couples with children to stay in family designated camping areas and have more than one tent or trailer on a single site.
Department of Natural Resources officials said they are only trying to comply with state law.
Schools can’t send test scores to military
ANNAPOLIS — A first-of-its-kind law will prohibit Maryland’s public high schools from automatically sending student scores on a widely used aptitude test to military recruiters.
Critics argue the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam gives the military backdoor access to young people without their parents’ consent. Roughly 650,000 U.S. high school students took the exam in the 2008-2009 school year, and the Department of Defense said scores for 92 percent of them were sent to military recruiters.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Defense said the test is used to both screen a student’s enlistment eligibility and determine skills and interests in nonmilitary careers.
Opponents of Maryland’s new law called it anti-military. Hawaii has a similar policy for schools, but not a law.
Catholic school won’t admit lesbians’ son
BOSTON — A Roman Catholic school in Massachusetts has withdrawn its acceptance of an 8-year-old boy with lesbian parents, saying their relationship was “in discord” with church teachings, said one of the boys’ parents.
It’s at least the second time in recent months that students have not been allowed to attend a U.S. Catholic school because of their parents’ sexual orientation, with the other instance occurring in Colorado.
The Massachusetts woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concerns about the effect of publicity on her son, said she planned to send the boy to third grade at St. Paul Elementary School in Hingham in the fall. But she learned her son’s acceptance was rescinded during a conference call Monday with Principal Cynthia Duggan and the parish priest, the Rev. James Rafferty.
Father Rafferty said her relationship “was in discord with the teachings of the Catholic Church,” which holds marriage is only between a man and woman, the woman said.
Father Rafferty and Mrs. Duggan did not respond to requests for comment.
Moms of 3 Americans jailed in Iran get visas
MINNEAPOLIS — The mothers of three American hikers held in Iran said they picked up their visas Wednesday and hope to travel to Tehran by early next week to visit them in prison.
Nora Shourd told the Associated Press that the family of Josh Fattal got the travel documents from the Iranian interest section in Washington, D.C., so the visas are “finally in our hands.”
“We’re really over-the-top excited about this,” Mrs. Shourd said. “I can barely breathe this morning. We’ve waited for this so long. And it’s going to be wonderful to see these kids, absolutely wonderful.”
Mrs. Shourd’s daughter, Sarah, 31, has been held with Mr. Fattal, 27, and Shane Bauer, 27, since the three were arrested along the Iraqi border in July.
Mr. Bauer’s mother, Cindy Hickey of rural Pine City, Minn., said the families need to coordinate a number of things before they can leave, hopefully early by next week. She said visas were granted to her; to Mrs. Shourd, of Oakland, Calif.; and to Laura Fattal, of suburban Philadelphia.
Blast levels homes, hurts at least 11
CLEVELAND — An explosion rattled Cleveland and its suburbs Wednesday, destroying three houses, damaging at least 12 others and injuring at least 11 people, but none seriously, authorities said.
The blast around 8 a.m. demolished an apparently unoccupied home, leaving a hole. Only the chimney was left of one adjacent home, and another had just one wall standing.
Authorities evacuated the street where the explosion occurred, on the city’s east side, and were checking for leaking natural gas. City and federal authorities were trying to determine the cause of the blast.
Fire Department spokesman Larry Gray said the injuries were minor, mostly burns. MetroHealth Medical Center said it received six adults and five children from the scene.
ACLU: Police cite hundreds for cursing
PHILADELPHIA — Free-speech lawsuits filed Wednesday accuse Pennsylvania police of wrongly charging hundreds of people with disorderly conduct for swearing.
American Civil Liberties Union lawyers say they reviewed 770 such citations issued by Pennsylvania State Police in a recent one-year span and found most involved profanities and other legal, non-obscene speech.
The plaintiffs are a pizza delivery driver briefly jailed for cursing at a local officer over a parking ticket and a Luzerne County woman cited by state police for hurling a derogatory name at a swerving motorcyclist.
The statute carries a possible 90-day jail term and $300 fine. The woman says she paid $1,500 to fight the ticket.
A state police spokeswoman said the agency had no comment.
Man, 84, accused of running over relative
PANGUITCH — An 84-year-old man has been arrested in Utah on a charge that he ran over his brother-in-law with a car and beat him with a cane.
A Garfield County sheriff’s spokeswoman said Carl Lewis, of Redmond, is being held on suspicion of attempted murder.
Authorities say he drove to his brother-in-law’s home in Old Hatch Town on Monday to confront him about a dispute involving family finances. According to the allegations, after Mr. Lewis’ brother-in-law came out of the house, Mr. Lewis drove over him, then got out of his car and beat the man with a cane.
Mr. Lewis’ brother-in-law, who is in his 70s, has a broken hip and abrasions on his arms and head. He was hospitalized in Cedar City in serious but stable condition.
TV journalist donates papers to university
LEXINGTON — Retired television journalist Roger Mudd has donated his papers to Washington and Lee University.
The Lexington school said Wednesday that the papers document Mr. Mudd’s career, including his work at CBS and NBC. There also are records from journalism courses that Mr. Mudd taught at Washington and Lee, his alma mater.
Mr. Mudd donated his collection of 20th-century Southern fiction to Washington and Lee in 2006.
Mr. Mudd said his papers will have “a happy home” at Washington and Lee. He graduated from the university in 1950.
• From wire dispatches and staff reports