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Other News: Wall Street Slumps, Satellites Collide

February 12, 2009 at 6:25 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: In other economic news, Wall Street was down much of the day, but it rallied on reports the government may subsidize mortgage payments for homeowners in trouble.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended up losing just 6 points to close at 7,932. The Nasdaq rose 11 points to close at 1,541.

Oil prices fell sharply to below $34 a barrel on doubts about the economy and energy demand.

The Federal Reserve confirmed most Americans have lost wealth since the recession officially began in December of 2007. By last October, the average net worth of U.S. households was down nearly 23 percent. The losses were across the board, including the values of homes, stocks and businesses.

And in more news of the day, high winds left more than 600,000 families without power from the Great Lakes to the East Coast. Starting last night, gusts topping 60 miles an hour knocked out electricity across more than 10 states. Ohio and Pennsylvania were especially hard hit.

There was widespread damage in Cleveland, Philadelphia, and other cities. Falling trees smashed cars and brought down power lines. The storm system was also blamed for at least five deaths.

Officials in the U.S. and Russia tracked a large debris field in space today from the first-ever crash of two satellites. A defunct Russian military satellite and a working U.S. communications satellite collided on Tuesday.

We have a report narrated by Tom Clarke of Independent Television News.

TOM CLARKE: Neither the Russian space agency, nor Iridium, the owners of the working satellite, are accepting any responsibility. Unfortunately, the collision will only make things worse.

Space is already a rubbish dump, with an estimated 18,000 bits of debris floating around. An orbital smash-up was perhaps inevitable. The satellites collided 485 miles above Siberia, scattering at least 500 new pieces of debris into space.

NASA and government agencies are assessing the location of the wreckage to try and prevent further collisions. The International Space Station orbits below the collision altitude and has not been affected, but there’s some expensive hardware out there that could be.

The strangest of objects have the potential to become litter in space, even a NASA astronaut’s fumbled toolkit…

ASTRONAUT: Oh, great.

TOM CLARKE: But all of them has the potential to come back and hit you, very hard indeed. A fragment just a few centimeters across can damage or destroy a satellite.

As these computer models show, it takes time to track the cloud of debris and calculate the change in each fragment’s orbit as it joins the great junk pile in the sky. In the meantime, the industry could be dealing with the first cosmic collision claims.

JUDY WOODRUFF: U.S. officials warned today that countries with satellites will have to play, quote, “dodge ball” to avoid the new debris.

In Iraq today, suicide bombers targeted Shiite pilgrims for a second straight day. This time, a bomb went off near a shrine in Karbala as millions converged for a religious festival. Eight people were killed, and more than 50 others were wounded.

In Afghanistan, government troops were out in full force across Kabul as U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke arrived. He flew in from Pakistan a day after Taliban fighters assaulted Afghan government ministries and killed 20 people.

Today, heavily armed soldiers manned checkpoints throughout the capital city’s streets. They checked papers and searched cars for explosives.

ZAMAN SALANGI, Afghan police (through translator): According to orders from our supreme commanders, we have increased our security checks to prevent the enemy from taking any actions and stop them from making any plans for attacks inside the city and also outside the city.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Afghan intelligence officials said the Kabul attack may have been inspired by the attacks in Mumbai, India, last November. And today, for the first time, the Pakistani government acknowledged that the Mumbai assault was launched from its territory.

A special U.S. court rejected claims that combination vaccines have caused autism in children. The court ruled the evidence offered by three families was, quote, “weak, contradictory and unpersuasive.” The outcome was a blow to parents who blamed autism on measles-mumps-rubella shots and others containing a mercury compound.

This was the 200th birthday of the man who gave the world the theory of evolution, Charles Darwin. Ceremonies around the world marked the day, including one at Cambridge University in England, where Darwin was once a student. Prince Philip unveiled a small statue of the famed naturalist. Darwin was born in 1809. Fifty years later, he published his revolutionary work, “On the Origin of Species.”