Northwest Digest

Posted: Monday, June 13, 2005

NASA launches scientific balloon

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - U.S. space agency NASA launched a massive scientific helium balloon from northern Sweden on Sunday with a telescope for studies of star formation, a spokesman for the Esrange launch pad said.

The launch is the first in a series of giant balloons which NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, uses to transport bulky payloads - such as astronomical telescopes - used in astrophysical experiments and research on cosmic radiation.

The westward flight from Esrange to Alaska will test NASA's new long-lasting balloon vehicle and carries a 5,940-pound telescope, called BLAST at an altitude of 25 miles for six to nine days.

"Never before has such a huge balloon been launched from Europe with such a heavy instrument," Esrange spokeswoman Johanna Bergstrom-Roos said.

The principal investigator of BLAST, professor Mark Devlin of the University of Pennsylvania, said in a news release that BLAST "will address some of the most important cosmological and galactic questions regarding the formation and evolution of stars, galaxies and clusters."

The balloon is 396 feet high and 462 feet in diameter. It is made of advanced materials and uses a pumpkin-shaped design to achieve flights of up to 100 days. It holds up to 1.3 million cubic yards of helium.

Buser accused of failing to report fire

ANCHORAGE - Martin Buser, a four-time winner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, is accused of failing to properly put out an old debris burn on his Big Lake property, then failing to report it.

Buser is scheduled for an appearance in court in Palmer on Tuesday over the complaint filed by the state Division of Forestry.

Passing aircraft alerted forestry managers to an out-of-control grass and brush fire the evening of May 20. State and local firefighters, air tankers and a helicopter dumping buckets of water responded. Before crews got a handle on it, gusty winds spread the fire across about an acre, according to reports at the time.

Buser said he had a valid reason for not calling 911 - he and two others were busy battling the blaze.

"We just about had it out. That's when they showed up," he said. "I'm totally convinced and sure that we would have put it out within 30 minutes or probably 15."

Buser was cited for failing to extinguish a legal debris pile, according to an affidavit filed in Palmer District Court by state forest marshal Tom Greiling. Buser started the fire before the state's burn ban went into effect May 1.

Driver in crash flees scene for golf course

ANCHORAGE - A man is accused of triggering a four-vehicle crash in Anchorage then fleeing the scene to a golf course, where officers caught up with him as he was getting ready to tee off, police said.

Juan Puliddo-Castaneda, 24, was arrested Saturday at Anchorage Golf Course, about six miles from the site of the crash.

"He was at the golf course getting his tee time," said Sgt. Dave Koch, one of the officers who handled the call.

The crash occurred just before noon in East Anchorage. Police said Puliddo-Castaneda was speeding in a Mitsubishi when he lost control, slammed into the back of another vehicle, hit a curb and launched into the air.

Two male college students, visiting from Mexico, were in the car with Puliddo-Castaneda and had been "begging him to slow down," said Lt. Nancy Reeder. The men told police they had met Puliddo-Castaneda the evening before at a bar. "They had been up drinking all night long," Reeder said. The pair said Puliddo-Castaneda was rushing to drop them off at a hostel so he could get to a golf game, Reeder said.

Officers called the golf course, gave an employee a description of the driver, and asked if they'd seen him.

"And guess who they find," Reeder said.

Slice of capital budget goes to rural areas

ANCHORAGE - Rural communities are among the biggest winners when it comes to funding from Alaska's largest capital budget in more than a decade.

The single biggest slice is going to the district of Rep. Mary Kapsner, a Bethel Democrat.

At $104.3 million in state and federal funding, District 38 will receive three times the statewide average and nearly five times more than districts in Anchorage, Juneau, the Kenai and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Freshman Rep. Woodie Salmon, D-Beaver, got only a fraction less, $104 million, for Interior villages in the enormous District 6. Veteran Reps. Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue, and Carl Moses, D-Unalaska, weren't far behind, with capital budgets of $87 million and $72 million, respectively.

Kapsner said the fat budgets reflect the decrepit state of rural classrooms, roads and runways, particularly in her district, which covers Bethel and dozens of villages along the lower Kuskokwim River.

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