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Space Shuttle Discovery Set to Launch; Lance Armstrong Leaves Vacuum in Tour de France; Bush Takes Koizumi for Tour of Graceland

Aired June 30, 2006 - 14:30   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: On the launchpad ready for liftoff. All systems are go for tomorrow's launch of Space Shuttle Discovery, weather permitting. But weather non-withstanding, not everyone at NASA is on board.
Our space correspondent Miles O'Brien has that.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before a space shuttle can fly, agency brass, engineers, contractors, astronauts must all sign on the dotted line, written proof they believe the launch is as safe as it can be. But this time around, two of the signatures come with a catch. The agency's chief engineer, Chris Scolese, and chief safety officer, Brian O'Connor (ph), penning in they are no go for launch.

CHRIS SCOLESE, NASA CHIEF ENGINEER: And the where the community is coming from is, if we can prevent the problem or mitigate the problem, that's what we should do.

O'BRIEN: O'Connor and Scolese are concerned about three dozen pieces of foam on Discovery's external fuel tank, so-called ice frost ramps (ph) that could fall off during launch, damaging the orbiter. Precisely the scenario that inflicted a fatal breach on Columbia's heat shield three and a half years ago, dooming the crew of seven.

Shuttle engineers are busy trying to redesign the vulnerable ice frost ramps, but NASA administrator Mike Griffin is unwilling to wait.

MICHAEL GRIFFIN, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: We are electing to take the risk. We do not believe we are risking crew.

O'BRIEN: Griffin says if falling foam damages Discovery, engineers will know about it this time and the crew can take refuge on the space station pending a rescue mission. O'Connor and Scolese say they will not appeal that decision.

WILLIAM GERSTENMAIER, ASSOC. NASA ADMINISTRATOR: They do not object us flying and they understand the reasons and the rationale that we laid out in the review foreflight.

O'BRIEN: Griffin says he's anxious to fly now because the shuttle program is slated to end in 2010 and NASA is committed to flying at least 16 missions to complete the International Space Station. He worries delays now will lead to dangerous schedule pressure later.

GRIFFIN: I'm willing to take some programmatic risk now in order to prevent an excessive buildup of programmatic risk later on. This is, in fact, what you pay me to do.

O'BRIEN: So Griffin has overruled his worried deputies, knowing full well it could mean sudden death for the space shuttle program.

GRIFFIN: If we were to lose another vehicle, I will tell you right now that I would be moving to figure out a way to shut the program down. I think at that point we're done.

O'BRIEN: With that much at stake, the debate over shuttle safety is reaching a boil. Charlie Carmada, an astronaut who flew on the shuttle mission last summer and most recently the top engineer in Houston, this week was suddenly reassigned after rubbing senior managers the wrong way and expressing reservations about mission safety. The shuttle's sunset years seem destined to be anything but tranquil.

Miles O'Brien, CNN, New York.


PHILLIPS: And CNN will bring you the Discovery countdown to liftoff beginning at 7:00 Eastern tomorrow morning. Be sure to join us for special live coverage with Miles O'Brien, beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, noon Pacific.

It's the first Tour de France without Lance Armstrong, but it's still grabbing headlines. Straight ahead, a new controversy that's sidelining some top contenders. You're watching LIVE FROM right here on CNN.


PHILLIPS: The first post-Lance Tour de France starts tomorrow, and Lance Armstrong won't be the only big name to sit it out. He's not competing voluntarily, but now come some doping allegations against some former frontrunners. 1997 Tour de France winner and five-time runner-up Jan Ullrich, seen here, and last year's runner up, Ivan Basso, are both out of the race. A Spanish court implicated a total of 58 cyclists on doping suspicions. All are suspended.

As for the post-Lance vaccuum, well, it's felt the most by those who followed Armstrong the most, literally and otherwise: fellow cyclists.

CNN's Ray D'Alessio reports.


TONY CRUZ, COMPETITIVE CYCLIST: He was a special individual on the bike.

DAVID ZABRISKE, COMPETITIVE CYCLIST: It's going to be a while before we see a rider like him.

RAY D'ALESSIO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seven titles in seven years. That's what Lance Armstrong accomplished during his reign as king of cycling's most prestigious race, the Tour de France.

CRUZ: What Lance has done, I mean, it's -- it's just -- it's going to be in the history books for a long period of time, and every team is scrambling to find the next Lance.

FLOYD LANDIS, COMPETITIVE CYCLIST: He has a story that is unmatched, in my opinion. And so he's an inspiration for a lot of people. Not just cycling, but we all admire what he did.

D'ALESSIO: What he did was take the sport of cycling and introduce it to mainstream America. Every July, millions tuned in to the Tour de France to watch Armstrong's exploits. But the 34-year-old retired from competitive racing after last year's victory.

So the question now is does cycling go back to being a fringe sport?

FRANK ANDRUE, COMPETITIVE CYCLIST: My feeling is that once they got turned on to the sport, they actually liked it. They fell in love with the sport of cycling, they enjoyed watching the Tour de France. And just because Lance Armstrong is not going to be racing anymore doesn't mean that they're just going to turn off cycling.

JASON MCCARTHEY, COMPETITIVE CYCLIST: There's a lot of Americans still doing well, so I think it's exciting and the sport will continue to grow.

D'ALESSIO: Two Americans finished in the top ten of last year's tour, Levi Leiphemer, who finished sixth, and Floyd Landis, who finished ninth. Others who have experienced success are George Hincapie and David Zabriske. All will be trying to fill the void left by Lance.

TOM DANIELSON, COMPETITIVE CYCLIST: I don't think anyone can exactly fill Lance Armstrong's spot. I mean, what he's done for cancer, what he's done for cycling, what he's done for the Tour de France, what he's done for American cycling, is incredible.

FRANK ANDREUA, COMPETITIVE CYCLIST: I don't think anybody will be as popular as Lance Armstrong was. I mean, he's a true champion and what he accomplished, I think, would be very difficult for anyone to be able to do. You can't compare Lance Armstrong to anyone.

D'ALESSIO: And that may be a problem for cycling.

Ray D'Alessio, CNN, Atlanta.


PHILLIPS: A classic case of she said, she said. LIVE FROM slings some rehash about the biggest drama to hit daytime since Luke and Laura got hitched. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STAR JONES REYNOLDS, FORMER "VIEW" CO-HOST: I don't want anybody to think that I all of a sudden came in there on Tuesday and just dropped a bombshell to my colleague, Barbara Walters, and said I'm leaving. She's known since April that she didn't renew my contract.



PHILLIPS: Let me get this straight. We don't know if or when North Korea might testfire a long-range missile, all hell is breaking loose in Gaza, and there's a new message from Osama bin Laden.

But what is everybody talking about? A cat fight. Daytime diva Star Jones Reynolds shared her viewpoints with CNN's Larry King.


REYNOLDS: We had always planned, quite frankly, for me to announce that week that I would be leaving "The View." And when I say we, I mean ABC, Barbara, Bill, our executive producers, and me.

When they first told me that my contract was not going to be renewed, they asked me to stay to a certain date, specifically until July 13th, and they specifically said what week they wanted me to talk about it and that I could go out on my own terms. And I had been planning to do it on Thursday ...


REYNOLDS: But, Larry, if you think about it, I was told April 21st that my contract wasn't going to be renewed, so for two months I've been going to "The View" every single day doing my job 100 percent professionally, and through it all, every single weekend there'd be news reports, speculation, rumor, gossip, innuendo and it was relentless.

On Monday, I woke up and there was another story and the countdown to Star leaving "The View" with a date definite. Now, no one knew that information but executives and me and then Tuesday ...

KING: So you're saying somebody leaked it?

REYNOLDS: Absolutely. There's no question that that was done and then Tuesday morning I woke up and it was more of it. And I realized it was turning into a circus atmosphere and the viewers deserved, after nine years, me to not go out in a circus atmosphere.

Our show gave me the opportunity to experience a lot of emotions, and I remember several months ago, there was a hot topic. And the hot topic was on the question of loyalty. The discussion was, what do you do when a friend is disloyal? How do you react? And I was very vehement when a -- someone you counted as a friend is disloyal, you cannot meet that with disloyalty. That's not right, because it speaks to your character.

KING: I got to get a break, but are you saying Barbara was disloyal to you?

REYNOLDS: What I'm saying to you is my response is going to be indicative of my character. I've sat with the most amazing female broadcaster in the history of business, and I thank her for the opportunity.


PHILLIPS: Well, ABC says the decision to remove Reynolds was based on her negative impact on the show, due in part to all those freebies that she sought for her wedding in 2004.

Two guys going to Graceland. It's not usually big news, unless it's these two guys. The president and the prime minister and the Elvis connection. Stick around.

Now, in honor of the president's visit to Graceland, a trivia quiz about the king. Which of Elvis' nine number one top albums was atop the billboard charts the longest?

Was it "Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite," "Blue Hawaii," or the self-titled, "Elvis Presley"? Don't be cruel. Stick around. The answer, after the break.


PHILLIPS: Thank you, Otis. All right, so which number one albums, rather, spent the longest time at the top of the billboard chart? The answer, "Blue Hawaii." It spent 20 weeks at number one, 79 weeks total on the chart. My favorite from that (INAUDIBLE) -- Lisa Clark's (ph) favorite rockahula baby, and Sonny Houston (ph), both of my great writers and producers.

Well, Hope and Crosby, Martin and Lewis, Bush and Koizumi? Well, how did a couple of world leaders become such bosom buddies? CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a closer look at a beautiful friendship.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the story of a president who seems smitten by a prime minister, who is himself smitten by The King.

ELVIS PRESLEY (singing): Love me tender...

MOOS: President Bush is always talking tender about Japan's prime minister.


He's a good friend.

How close our relationship is.

He's a good buddy.

Hey, friend.

MOOS: And now the two friends have sealed their relationship with a trip to Graceland, accompanied by Elvis' flesh and blood, Priscilla Presley and daughter Lisa Marie.

JUNICHIRO KOIZUMI, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (singing): Japan's prime minister is one big Elvis fan.

BUSH: Laura and I gave him a jukebox as a gift. What was the first song you put on it? It wasn't "Hound Dog," it was...


BUSH: Yes.

MOOS: Yes. But in case you missed that...

KOIZUMI (singing): I want you, I need you

MOOS: Or, as Elvis put it...

PRESLEY (singing): I want you, I need you.

MOOS: Which sort of describes the relationship between President Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi.

BUSH: It strikes me as just amazing. A lot of people take it for granted. I don't. Because 60 years ago, we were at war.

MOOS: W.'s dad actually fought the Japanese. The president cites the closeness of U.S./Japanese relations as an example of how a former enemy becomes a democracy and then an ally.

These two first bonded at Camp David, where the prime minister revealed that his favorite movie is "High Noon." No doubt that endeared him to a cowboy president.

During his visit to Graceland, the prime minister couldn't stop singing.

KOIZUMI (singing): Wise men say...

MOOS: He modeled Elvis sunglasses and played air guitar, describing the trip as a dream come true.

KOIZUMI (singing): Love me tender...

MOOS: Not since this famous stroll has the president so tenderly demonstrated his male bonding skills.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


PHILLIPS: Well, the president and the prime minister are dining at a famous Memphis barbecue joint, The Rendezvous. We're going to talk with the restaurant's owner in the next hour of LIVE FROM. Stick around.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Weekend rain may not only spoil holiday plans in Florida, it could be the deciding factor in NASA's critical Discovery space shuttle launch at Cape Canaveral. For all the latest updates, log onto our Web site at

The weather isn't the only safety concern for the takeoff, scheduled for July 1st. Tensions are extremely high before the mission, for this will be the second last since the Columbia disaster claimed seven lives in 2003.

But what are NASA officials saying now. Read about their difficult decisions, risks, and the countdown to this weekend's launch. You can also learn about past trips to space. This gallery has a timeline dating back to Columbia's first voyage in 1981 and have you ever wondered what the stages are to a successful shuttle launch? This interactive space ship explains it all as it soars in and out of orbit. You can get discovery mission updates online at For the dot com desk, I'm Veronica De La Cruz.


PHILLIPS: Fredricka Whitfield working on another developing story for us. Fred?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Well two things, one in eastern Iowa, we're hearing reports of a chopper going down. You're seeing right there the remnants of this chopper near Cedar Rapids, taking place in Benton County. Right now, that's all we know.

The other story out of Selmer, Tennessee. How and why did it happen? An investigative agent testifying today that Mary Winkler told police she shot her pastor husband because of a host of things gone wrong. Here's Tennessee bureau of investigation agent Brian Booth in court today reading Winkler's statement.


BRIAN BOOTH, TBI: He had a shotgun he kept in the closet in a case. I don't remember going through the closet or getting the shotgun or getting the gun. The next thing I remember is hearing a loud boom. I remember thinking it wasn't as loud as I thought it would be.

I heard the boom and he rolled out of the bed on the floor. And I saw some blood on the floor and some bleeding around his mouth. I went over and wiped his mouth off with the sheet. I told him I was sorry and that I loved him. And I ran away.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: And she ran with her children. She was located the following day and was arrested where now she is facing those charges. Prosecutors are seeking no bond for her during the bond hearing today. Her attorneys are hoping that the court will be lenient and give what they call a reasonable bond -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, Fred, thank you.

Now the war in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops have gone in, somewhat fewer have come out. Each of their experiences unique.

CNN Nic Robertson spent time with an army sergeant on combat patrol in Ramadi.


SEAN STONER, U.S. ARMY: When we get there, he needs to grab it.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sergeant Sean Stoner is neither average nor ordinary.

STONER: I'm from Chesapeake, Virginia, it's a nice place. Hopefully, I get to go back there one day.

ROBERTSON: He is a typical soldier.

STONER: Well, honestly, you know, no one likes being here. But we have a job to do. We all signed on the line. Just don't let us get shot

ROBERTSON: His father did three tours in Vietnam.

STONER: Slow down a little bit.

ROBERTSON: He's on his second in Iraq.

STONER: These are better humvees, they've got more armor on them.

ROBERTSON: Fear is the enemy.

STONER: One of my soldiers, also a close friend and he was injured in that IED that they hit. He was a gunner on the truck, both of his legs were broke, compound fractures. So, they were pretty bad.

ROBERTSON: Do you ever think that could be me?

STONER: All the time, all the time. And you try not to think about it because the more you think about something like that, the less you're going to think about doing your job.


This soccer stadium here is a place for children to come play soccer and here was the insurgents reusing it to cachet weapons. We found a pretty good amount of stuff along this side over here, which is now torn down.

ROBERTSON: Explosives, IED material?

STONER: Yes, cachet, weapons, explosives, all sorts of stuff. That looks like a base plate. Yep, that's exactly what that is. I know we put a huge dent in their efforts to repel us, but, we put a very large dent, I'm sure there's still more. There's always more. So, more.

ROBERTSON: Those mortars are the kind of things they're firing at your base on a regular basis?

STONER: I wish they were just firing those. Those are only 60 millimeter. We normally get hit with the 82 millimeter or the 120 millimeters.

ROBERTSON: Bigger ones?

STONER: Yes. If they were just shooting those at us, that would probably be a little bit better. When we first got here, any time we stepped foot outside the building, we had to be in full gear. Now, things have calmed down a little bit. We can stand outside and smoke a cigarette without having to put all this stuff on.

ROBERTSON: So, what advice does he have for Washington on when troops like him should pull out?

STONER: It's war. People are going to get hurt and it's just we're here for a reason. So, as long as they need us here we need to be here. We need their support. Which, from what I understand, the American public does support the soldiers, they might not support the cause, but they do support the soldiers, which is always appreciated.

They don't really see exactly what's going on here, they just see what the media shows them. And I'm not saying that's a bad thing. But out here in Ramadi, we don't get a lot of media. So, you don't really see too much about Ramadi. It's mostly all Baghdad, which, I'm guessing is because Baghdad is a little safer than out here. I'm lucky I haven't had one hit my truck yet.

But I had men in one vehicle in front of us hit by one. Killed one of our platoon members and injured three others, four others. It's not easy to take. But, you know, because we work with each other so much, it's like a family. We can't stop the war just because one of our friends gets killed.

ROBERTSON: Are you going to be a changed guy when you go back home?

STONER: I definitely think so. I think all of us will be changed. My parents are extremely proud of me. They tell me all the time how proud they are of me. I don't really know what to say about it. I'm just glad that they support me in what I do.

Feels good to come back safe.

ROBERTSON: Another mission over.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Ramadi, Iraq.



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