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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS

Countdown to Discovery Launch Continues; More Than 60 Dead In Baghdad After Car Bomb Tears Through Market; Allegations of Rape and Murder Against Two U.S. Soldiers In Iraq; Cleaning Up After the Floods; Shuttle Vernier Jet Not Working Properly; NASA Plans to Phase Out Shuttle Program by 2010; Two Global Leaders Going to Graceland

Aired July 1, 2006 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Shuttle Discovery on the launchpad this morning. What a sight that is at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The countdown clock is ticking. You can see it in your lower right-hand corner, and we're right now less than six hours away from liftoff, five hours, 48 minutes to be exact.
This is Saturday, July 1st. Good morning, everybody. From the CNN Center right here in Atlanta, I am Betty Nguyen.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: You'd appreciate it more if there were no clouds. You'd feel a lot better about it.

NGUYEN: And there for a minute or two, it was all clear and then the clouds just started to roll in.

HARRIS: What it means we'll find out in just a moment. Good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris. Standing by at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as we count down to the launch of the Shuttle Discovery is our Miles O'Brien.

Miles, good morning.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Tony and Betty, we're not just watching clouds. We're watching a tiny little jet at the back of the Discovery. There's a thermostat in here that's not working, and we don't know yet if that's going to mean a scrub. We're going to ask an expert, Eileen Collins in just a moment. Back to you.

HARRIS: OK. Miles, appreciate it. Thank you.

Let's get you caught up with other headlines now in the news. A powerful blast, deadly consequences -- a car bomb tore through an outdoor market in Baghdad. More than 60 people were killed, some 100 others injured. We'll have a live update from Baghdad in just a minute.

There's a $5 million bounty for this man, Abu Ayyab al-Masri. The U.S. believes he is the new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, taking over for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by U.S. troops last month. The State Department posted the reward.

NGUYEN: Free in Iraq. Iraqi authorities today released about 470 detainees from Iraqi jails. It is the last in a series of prisoner releases and part of the Iraqi government's new national reconciliation program. Iraq's prime minister says none of those released were involved in violence against coalition soldiers or Iraqi security forces.

Well, another purported statement from Osama bin Laden. An Arab language Web site says it will soon post another online audiotape from the al Qaeda leader, this time, addressing the mujahideen, or holy warriors in Iraq and Somalia. Bin Laden's last audio message was posted just yesterday.

Now to some bloodshed in Afghanistan. Coalition forces say two rockets hit a military airfield in Kandahar. Ten people were wounded in Friday's attack. An investigation is underway to find those responsible but in recent months, Afghan violence has surged to its worst levels since the Taliban's ouster in 2001.

HARRIS: Well, Israel says no deal to the Palestinians again. Palestinian militants holding an Israeli soldier hostage repeated their demands today. They want 1,000 prisoners released from Israeli jails. Israel rejected the demand, saying the soldier must be released without conditions. And a moment ago, the president saying that the freeing of the Israeli soldier is key to ending the crisis in Gaza.

A checkup for the V.P. -- Vice President Cheney left George Washington Medical Center just moments ago. Aides say he had a routine physical exam with doctors checking the vice president's repaired aneurysms and the condition of a pacemaker. Cheney now plans to head to Florida to watch the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery. You are watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.

Carnage and chaos in Iraq. This deadly scene is our top story. A car bomb exploded in the crowded Baghdad marketplace this morning. A street lined with shops and cafes becomes cluttered with bodies and burned out cars.

Let's go live now to CNN's Nic Robertson. He joins us from Baghdad, and Nic, what is the latest?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tony, this is the deadliest single attack in Iraq over the last three months, 62 people killed, 114 wounded according to police. They say what happened, a car bomb went off in a crowded market just as a police patrol car was passing through the area.

It has all the hallmarks of sectarian violence. Almost undoubtedly it was a Shia policeman in the patrol car, because it was passing through a very strong Shia neighborhood in Baghdad. The market would have been crowded a the this time of the morning, people shopping early to avoid the midday heat.

There's been no claim of responsibility so far. The police don't know who was behind it. But the very nature of it does seem to point to a sectarian style of attack, Tony.

HARRIS: And, Nic, what's the latest on the Sunni lawmaker kidnapped today?

ROBERTSON: Well, her party, the moderate Iraqi Islamic Party or conglomeration of parties, has held a press conference this afternoon. Politicians are calling for her release. They're concerned that this -- about this particular development. It's not a first time, of course, that parliamentarians or ministers within this government have been targeted.

Tayseer Mashhadani was traveling to Baghdad with eight armed guards this morning, not far from where that big bomb blast went off. Gunmen came in, surrounded her vehicles. Her whole entourage has been kidnapped and there's no news so far, Tony.

HARRIS: OK. CNN's Nic Robertson for us in Baghdad. Nic, we appreciate it. Thank you.

NGUYEN: American soldiers killing Iraqi civilians. Another allegation, another investigation. The latest claim comes from two U.S. soldiers who is said they heard some of their comrades were involved in rape and murder in the city of Mahmoudiya, which is south of Baghdad.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre has all the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Army sources say the allegations came up two weeks ago during combat stress debriefing sessions that followed the murders of privates Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker.

According to a senior Army official, two soldiers from Menchaca and Tucker's unit, the 502nd Infantry Regiment, told military counselors they heard about an incident that happened on March 12th in which two other soldiers supposedly raped an Iraqi woman, and then one of the soldiers allegedly killed her and three family members, including a child. The second-hand account was enough to prompt Major General James Thurman to order a criminal probe.

A brief statement issued by the military in Iraq says, "A preliminary inquiry found sufficient information existed to recommend a criminal investigation into the incident."

An Army official says one of the suspects is confined to base in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, the same area where it's alleged the four Iraqi civilians were killed in their home.

The investigation is the latest in a string of incidents in which it's alleged U.S. troops killed Iraqi civilians. In Haditha, where 24 Iraqis were killed last November, an investigations is still under way. In Hamdaniya, seven U.S. troops are charged with killing an Iraqi man in April.

At Thar Thar Lake, four soldiers are charged with killing three detainees in May. And in Ramadi, two soldiers have been charged in connection with the shooting of an unarmed man in February. (on camera): Army sources say in this latest incident, a second suspect was discharged from the service for reasons the Army won't disclose. He is believed to be in the United States and is wanted for questioning. No charges have been filed against either soldier as the investigation continues.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: And for more information on this situation in Iraq, you want to be sure to watch "IRAQ: A WEEK AT WAR" hosted by John Roberts. That airs tonight, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

We've been counting down all morning long. In fact, there's the countdown clock right there, bottom right-hand corner of your screen. We're, in fact, five hours and 40 minutes away from scheduled liftoff of Shuttle Discovery.

So far it's a beautiful day at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, but seeing some of the clouds roll -- you can look at the picture right there, clouds rolling in. Weather is always a concern when it comes to these shuttle missions.

HARRIS: So all eyes are on this mission, especially in the wake of some disagreement within NASA about whether Discovery should be launched at all.

Miles O'Brien is at the Kennedy Space Center with all of this and more, with the latest on talk about the weather. How about this thermostat problem?

NGUYEN: True.

HARRIS: Miles.

O'BRIEN: Yes, Tony and Betty. We are focusing right now on a thermostat, a single thermostat in the left, rear section of the Space Shuttle Discovery, which controls an important so-called vernier jet. I'm going to tell you what that's all about, and why that may end up delaying this launch.

Eileen Collins, former shuttle commander, sitting here with me. Eileen, I'll tell you what we'll do. First of all, let's explain what these tiny, little jets, what their function is on the Space Shuttle Discovery -- on any space shuttle.

EILEEN COLLINS, FORMER SHUTTLE COMMANDER: OK, the small vernier jets actually give the pilot fine control, which is important during the rendezvous and docking that you have that fine control. If you don't have it, you can still fly but you have to use a different technique. It's a little more difficult to fly.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's take a look at some animation. We'll show exactly what we are talking about here. There's live pictures of Discovery topped off and ready to go. Weather is a concern, as well, but I want to take a look at this animation.

Three days after launch, the commander, Steve Lindsey, will arrive at the International Space Station and during that time, be using the thrusters in the back here, those vernier thrusters, to make fine, fine corrections as he comes in.

Now, in simulators, Lindsey and Collins, certainly, when she was preparing for her mission, spent a lot of time practicing docking without these thrusters. How hard is it to do it without them?

COLLINS: Well, it's a little bit harder. First of all, let me say you use more fuel. Also, it's a little bit harder to control your braking. You're going to have to do more braking motions which is not only going to use more gas, but it's also going to make it get a little bit harder.

You're going find that the shuttle is going to move a little bit more, right to left and up and down and we call them larger dead bands. And, again, it will be a little bit harder to fly and Steve Lindsey is trained to do and he could do a good job if we can get approval to fly with this vernier thermostat not working. Right now, it needs to work to launch.

O'BRIEN: One of the things they'll do is call the crew. Well, how do you feel about flying with this? What would you say?

COLLINS: Well, personally, for me, I trained to fly with the loss of verniers, so I would be prepared to go. I'd actually look at it as a challenge.

O'BRIEN: Yes, and probably Steve Lindsey would answer the same way. The question is, will the mission management team go along with all that? This is -- this thermostat is something that, by the rules, does not need to be checked between flights. It worked well in the last flight so it's considered OK.

They powered it up this morning, and all of a sudden, that thermostat is not working and so, they will make that decision. Right now, under the launch commit criteria, which is kind of the Bible, but they are not rules so much as guidelines, right? So there are ways of kind of working around these things.

COLLINS: Well, depending on the circumstances, there are some things that you can fly with, but keep in mind we do have redundancy in there. If you were up in space and then lost it, you wouldn't come home for that. You have an A and a B circuit, and there are multiple heaters and thermostats back there, so the flight controllers have a way to guarantee the health of the system.

O'BRIEN: Live pictures now as you see the photo opportunity. There you see members of the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Eileen, does anybody ever eat the cake that is presented there? I see the photo-op, but I never see anybody eating.

COLLINS: Well, the tradition is you eat the cake when you come back after landing, and they save it for you. But you have a nice breakfast.

O'BRIEN: There's Mark Kelly, the pilot, on the left. Steve Lindsey, the commander right there. That's Lisa Nowack, mission specialist. Stephanie Wilson, and is that Piers on the end there?

COLLINS: That's Sellers.

O'BRIEN: Yes, Piers Sellers, mission specialist. There our first view of them. That was Thomas Reiter on the far right. I apologize. It's hard to see out here in the glare. Thomas Reiter is the European astronaut who will spend six months at the International Space Station once they get going.

One of the things they'll be watching is the weather. The forecast slightly improved. We see a lot of puffy, white clouds here in Florida. That happens as a matter of course here in Florida.

Reynolds Wolf, I think, is still in the Weather Center, who's been looking at this all morning. We're still 60 percent go on the weather front. What do you see -- apparently we're not going to weather department right now. I apologize. I thought we were.

(WEATHER REPORT)

O'BRIEN: Here's the thing. It is like playing football. You are the quarterback, and you're trying to hit your receiver. The receiver is the space station, the football is the shuttle. You have got to release the football at just the right moment in order for the shuttle to reach the space station. If they launched this morning, they would never have enough fuel to catch up with the International Space Station.

COLLINS: Yes, you would be too far ahead if you launched right now. We have -- there's a window of about 10 minutes that will guarantee you a fuel-efficient trajectory to reach the station as it actually flies overhead when we launch.

O'BRIEN: It is, in fact, rocket science. Eileen Collins, it's good to have you with us walking us through this all this. Reynolds, thank you very much. Let's get back to Betty and Tony.

HARRIS: Well, that's guys.

(CROSSTALK)

NGUYEN: That's good stuff. I like the analogy. The football. We get it.

(CROSSTALK)

NGUYEN: We understand it now, Miles. Thanks.

HARRIS: All right. Guys, we'll talk to you a little bit later.

O'BRIEN: All right. HARRIS: And we want to hear from you this morning. Here's our e-mail question. Do you think NASA is rushing to launch the shuttle? E-mail us your thoughts. Our address, weekends@CNN.com.

NGUYEN: And you want to be sure to stay with CNN all morning long as we do continue our coverage of the Space Shuttle Discovery launch. The countdown is ticking, and at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, catch a special live show hosted by space correspondent Miles O'Brien.

HARRIS: And later, reaching for the stars to fulfill a dream.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I come from a family that were pioneers and explorers and settlers. And for me, this is my chance to continue carrying that flag, if you will, for my family, for our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: But what does the future hold for the space program and tomorrow's explorers? We'll find out. CNN SATURDAY MORNING continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: And good morning, everyone. Our top stories now.

The countdown is on to the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery. If the weather cooperates and this pesky thermostat ...

NGUYEN: Right.

HARRIS: ...cooperates, the shuttle will liftoff from Kennedy Space Center, oh, just under six hours from now. And we'll, of course, bring it to you live.

In Iraq, it is the deadliest attack in three months. At least 62 people are dead, more than 100 wounded. Iraqis authorities say the car bomb explosion at a crowded market targeted a police patrol.

Elsewhere in the Mideast, Palestinian witnesses say Israeli troops raided a house in Gaza and detained a Hamas member. Army sources didn't comment. Israel has been carrying out airstrikes in Gaza after Palestinian militants kidnapped an Israeli soldier.

Well, for folks up east, it is likely going to be a working weekend as flood waters continue to recede.

Jason Carroll is in Trenton, New Jersey. So Jason, the question is -- boy, look at that water behind you.

HARRIS: Yes.

NGUYEN: When are people going to be allowed back home?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very good question, and it looks as if because the Delaware River waters continue to recede, people will be allowed home. In terms of when, I will be able to tell you that coming up.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HARRIS: Look at this, Betty. Isn't this a great morning in Florida?

NGUYEN: Oh, it is, especially if you're on that cruise ship.

HARRIS: On that cruise ship back there. You're looking at Cape Canaveral, Florida this morning, not far from the Kennedy Space Center where the shuttle is poised. Take a look at the countdown to launch clock there, lower right-hand portion of your screen.

NGUYEN: 5:27.

HARRIS: What? Under six hours now. Five hours, 27 minutes from launch and there's the beautiful shuttle on the launch pad. Some clouds rolling in. We'll check with Reynolds in just a moment to find out if that might impact the launch scheduled for later today.

NGUYEN: Well, there's also that thermostat that people are very concerned about right now.

HARRIS: Got to fix that, yes.

NGUYEN: So we'll get the latest on that from Miles as well.

Well, in much of the Northeast, though, check this out. This is the scene today. New Jersey's governor has asked President Bush for federal money to help with cleanup costs after massive flooding earlier this week. Thousands had to evacuate, including many homeowners in Trenton, New Jersey.

That's where we find our Jason Carroll. What's the latest there, Jason?

CARROLL: Well, Betty, we are being told that the Delaware River water levels have been dropping about two feet every 12 hours. That's definitely encouraging news to people who are evacuated here in Trenton, people who desperately want to go home and begin the process of cleaning up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jeffrey McKeen hasn't slept for days.

JEFFREY MCKEEN, TRENTON RESIDENT: I'm exhausted. I was up until 12:00 o'clock last night trying to stay ahead of it and it just kept coming up in the basement.

CARROLL (on camera): So this is your pump here, right? MCKEEN: Yes.

CARROLL: Your hose.

MCKEEN: It literally was all the way up to the wall in the back.

CARROLL (voice-over): For the past 30 years, McKeen has lived in a section of Trenton, New Jersey called Glenafton, a section where dozens of homes are still waterlogged from the swollen Delaware River. More than 1,000 people were told to evacuate the area. McKeen stayed.

MCKEEN: Yes, I've been pumping steady for about three hours.

CARROLL: This isn't the first flood McKeen has been through. So this time he knew where the water would go and what it would do.

MCKEEN: It was up to the top step. You see where the gray step is right here?

CARROLL (on camera): Yes.

MCKEEN: And then it was all the way up to the ceiling.

I'm a teacher and I'm moving into a new school. And I had to put, you know, all my stuff -- these are all my tools from the basement.

Well, it's devastating. It's emotionally wrenching. I collapsed twice yesterday. I couldn't go any farther. I just had to lay down and breathe.

CARROLL (voice-over): McKeen is one of a handful of people who didn't leave. Emergency crews say those who did evacuate are now anxious for any word on how their homes fared.

STEVEN BARYLA, CEDAR BRIDGE MILITARY ACADEMY: I guess the toughest part about this is when you get out of the area and the residents want to know from you what does my home look like? And they're giving you house numbers. Are my cats alive? You know, and you have to be compassionate.

CARROLL: Steven Baryla took us on a tour of the neighborhood. He's an instructor at a military academy who volunteered when the floodwaters started rising.

(on camera): How high is the water here at this point?

BARYLA: We're probably at about three-and-a-half feet.

CARROLL (voice-over): Baryla helped emergency crews by offering the use of his military vehicle, an M35-A2. It can be driven submerged in water.

BARYLA: Every 15 minutes or so, we're bringing officers in with the officials to see how the water is going down. We're measuring levels on the vehicle. CARROLL: Baryla helped not only emergency crews, but wary homeowners like Jeffrey McKeen.

MCKEEN: You have a nice day, sir.

BARYLA: All right. Stay well.

CARROLL: For McKeen, staying well could be challenging. He's only been working on the cleanup for a few days, but says it will easily take months to get the job done.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: And the water in McKeen's neighborhood has receded. Emergency crews are expected to bring in pumps either Monday or Tuesday. They say that those residents are evacuated can begin to come back to the neighborhood about at that time. Back to you.

NGUYEN: A lot of work to be done. Jason Carroll, thank you so much for that.

HARRIS: Man, I hope he -- waders? Get out of that. He's not in the water, is he?

NGUYEN: There's water everywhere. No, I think he is all right.

HARRIS: What'd they say to Jason?

NGUYEN: Get him out there.

HARRIS: Get him out of that water.

NGUYEN: Reynolds Wolf joins us to talk about the weather outside. You know, this is a big holiday weekend, Fourth of July weekend.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HARRIS: And I sent that to Jason.

NGUYEN: Get him out of there.

HARRIS: Get him out of that water, man.

All right, still ahead, the countdown clock keeps ticking down. Miles O'Brien is back with us from the Kennedy Space Center in a moment.

And later ...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUNICHIRO KOIZUMI, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER: To dream the impossible dream -- my dream came true.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NGUYEN: Oh boy, did it. It was a command performance at Graceland, courtesy of Japan's prime minister. You have got to see this, because he -- well, he has the moves and hunk of, hunk of burning love for The King and you know what? He is not afraid to show it. And we're going to show it to you. You don't want to miss this.

HARRIS: He is not running for re-election.

NGUYEN: No, he is not hence that air guitar, whatever that is that he's doing right there. We'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: And this just in to CNN. President Bush says the key to ending the current crisis in Gaza is for Palestinian militants to free an Israeli soldier they're holding hostage. Israeli forces entered the southern Gaza strip this week in an effort to free the 19-year-old soldier.

Just a little more information on this. The president in a telephone conversation with Turkey's prime minister said the initial goal should be freeing the Israeli soldier. That is key to ending the crisis. So the president weighing in on the current situation in the Middle East. We'll continue to follow developments in the story and bring you the latest.

NGUYEN: I want to give you a live picture right now on the launch pad. Let's take a look at it. There you have it. And ready to go. Just over five hours from now, shuttle Discovery will blast off headed for the international space station. We're going to try to put up that countdown clock up for you.

We do have live coverage for you though all day long. So you want to keep it right here on CNN. We'll be checking in with our space correspondent Miles O'Brien, very busy today and, former shuttle commander Eileen Collins for another shuttle update. That is straight ahead.

Now to Iraq. It's a bloodiest attack in three months. At least 62 people were killed when a car bomb exploded in a crowded Baghdad market this morning. Iraqi officials say the attack targeted a police patrol. More than 100 people were injured.

HARRIS: Within the last hour, Vice President Dick Cheney left George Washington University Medical Center following an annual physical. Doctors say the vice president's pacemaker is working properly and his overall heart condition is stable. The high-tech pacemaker was placed in the vice president's chest in June of 2001.

OK. The clock continues to tick down to this afternoon's shuttle launch a little more than five hours from now. "Discovery's" crew is finishing up breakfast and will soon be suiting up.

NGUYEN: CNN's Miles O'Brien is uniquely qualified to cover today's launch. And Miles, you've been telling us about this technical glitch. What's the latest on that? O'BRIEN: Well, there's a lot of attention here on this left rear vernier jet. A vernier is for the fine tuned flying on orbit. When the very most precise sorts of maneuvers have to occur in space, they use these very, very -- well, relatively speaking weak jets to provide that kind of smooth ride and to create that kind of path that they want just so when they're performing certain kinds of maneuvers.

This particular vernier jet heater or thermostat is not working properly right now. The question is, will they fly with it? A good person to help us answer that is Eileen Collins, former shuttle commander who was here a year ago strapping into Discovery. If they had told you a year ago, no vernier jets, what would you have said? Would you go for launch?

COLLINS: That is a good question. The astronauts do train for this. I know Steve Lindsey was trained for it as I did. I would certainly be go for launch. I look at it as a challenge. It's a little bit harder to fly without those vernier jets. They may be able to use it, but right now, maybe not. So they'll ask the commander and the crew if they feel comfortable with it.

O'BRIEN: They're working on that right now, trying to develop a comfort level with it. Let me show you some animation, give you a sense of what we're talking about here and why this is important. One of the maneuvers and I think it was the first to fly it a year ago, one of the most important maneuvers in this flight, is as the space shuttle Discovery approaches the international space station three days from launch - there you see the animation right now.

Take a look, this is much, much sped up of course. You wouldn't do it that fast in the real world. They do a somersault maneuver. I don't know if you recall, but when that somersault maneuver occurred last time, they discovered a problem wedged between some of the thermal protection system tiles. It is part of the whole rigorous inspection campaign and that somersault normally is flown with those vernier jets. Can that maneuver be flown without a vernier?

COLLINS: The maneuver can be flown without verniers. Again, we train for that. It's a little bit harder to control because once you get a portion through the maneuver, you go to what we call free drift, which is you completely stop any interaction with the flying and you just let the shuttle do its own thing. You can get up to 30 degrees out of attitude, which maybe would affect the shadowing. It might affect some of the pictures, but I think you could still get what you need as far as the data is concerned.

O'BRIEN: All right. For more on that and more on what they're going to be doing to check out these. There's a little piece of tile and we'll tell you about what they're going to be doing in the way of inspections on orbit a little bit later. Tony, Betty?

HARRIS: Miles, thank you. Eileen, thank you.

NGUYEN: And we want to hear from you this morning, as well. Do you think NASA is rushing to launch the shuttle with this jet that they're dealing with today? Also, the tiles that Miles mentioned. Are they rushing to launch? E-mail us your thoughts. Our address, weekends@CNN.com.

HARRIS: And staying with us all morning long as we continue our coverage of the space shuttle Discovery launch. And at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, catch a special live show hosted by space correspondent Miles O'Brien. Check out this picture.

NGUYEN: OK.

HARRIS: How do you respond if you're Priscilla, if you're the president? What do you do with your hands?

NGUYEN: I think you just smile.

HARRIS: Put them behind your back. Lisa Marie, smile. What a -- all right. What not to say about this picture? This is one happy man. The Japanese prime minister rocks the house that Elvis built. That story a little bit later.

NGUYEN: A little frightening, too.

But first, today's shuttle launch will be a culmination of a lifetime of hard work for "Discovery's" astronauts. But how many more men and women will have the chance to put on NASA's space suit?

And is the shuttle big enough for two big-time college rivals? There they are. Texas and A&M. We'll tell you about all that. CNN SATURDAY MORNING continues in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: And good morning. One of our top stories, chaos and bloodshed in Baghdad. A car bombing killed at least 60 people and wounded more than 100 others. It happened at a popular Shia market in Sadr City. More talk from Osama bin Laden.

An Arab language Web site says it will soon post another online audio tape from the al Qaeda leader, this time addressing the mujahideen who are holy warriors in Iraq and Somalia. Bin Laden's last audio message was posted just yesterday.

Vice President Dick Cheney gets a clean bill of health. Cheney, who has a history of heart problems had his pacemaker checked during his annual checkup this morning. Doctor's also checked aneurysms repaired behind his knees. With the routine exam behind him, Cheney now heads to Florida to watch this afternoon's shuttle launch.

NGUYEN: Let's give you a live look now at the space shuttle Discovery on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center. We are just about five hours out from liftoff. These seven astronauts are about to fulfill their dreams of space travel. But, NASA plans to phase out the shuttle program by 2010, flying only 16 more flights.

What does this mean to the millions of kids looking to the skies and dreaming of the future? Well, Helen Reed is the head of aerospace studies at Texas A&M University, and Ben Streetman, the dean of the college of engineering at the great University of Texas at Austin. Good morning to you both.

BEN STREETMAN, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: Good morning.

HELEN REED, TEXAS A&M: Howdy!

NGUYEN: Hi there. First let me start with you, Dean Streetman. This has got to be so exciting for you and the university, because Stephanie Wilson is the eighth, count them, the eighth longhorn to go in to space. How exciting is this for you?

STREETMAN: It's very exciting. As you know, Alan Bean that walked on the moon was one of our graduates, as was Bob Crippen and Ken Cockrell and several others, so the University of Texas at Austin has played a big part in the space program from the beginning.

NGUYEN: Well, Dr. Reed, as you well know, the Aggies have played a big role, as well. Michael Paulson (ph), the second Aggie to fly a shuttle mission. How inspiring is this for your students?

REED: Oh, this is incredibly inspiring for everybody here at Texas A&M. In fact, I guess the best way to express this is by relaying a conversation I had recently with one of our aerospace engineering seniors, Mr. John Graves and I'm paraphrasing our conversation. But he said, you know, he sees the going into space and working for the space program are in fact, attainable and this is providing a great motivation for him to keep working hard because he knows he can achieve his goals.

NGUYEN: Without a doubt.

REED: I think that is summing it up.

NGUYEN: Yes. Let's talk about those goals in just a minute because as you know, there is only going to be 16 more of these missions. But Dean Streetman, let me get back to you because, Stephanie Wilson, the second African-American woman going into space. What is the school doing to recruit African-American women, in fact, minority women and those of color into this kind of program?

STREETMAN: We have a lot of programs to try to interest young women and minorities in engineering. We have programs in the summer where about 60 middle school girls come to the campus and spend a week with us designing and building things, learning how to do things with their hands that we hope will lead them to go into engineering.

NGUYEN: Well, Dr. Reed.

STREETMAN: And we have a number -- we also have a number of programs for minority students. So that they come to campus and see engineers who are successful who look like them and sound like them. And it's a great way of introducing young people to engineering.

NGUYEN: Yes, important message, as well. Dr. Reed though, you must know this very well being a female in the department of aerospace engineering. What is your school doing to attract minorities and especially women to this field? REED: I'm just delighted to see the numbers of women and underrepresented groups coming into science and engineering, and as Dr. Streetman said, we have very similar programs to bring students on campus, to make them aware of what engineers do, to encourage them to join the program and to nurture them through to their graduation and then on into the work force. So we have many, many programs in place similar to what Dr. Streetman was saying.

NGUYEN: That's all and good. But you know there are only as mentioned 16 planned shuttle missions before the program is retired. So Dr. Streetman -- Dean Streetman, I should say, let me get back to you. What does this say to those students who are coming up and those students who have their eyes on the skies?

STREETMAN: Well, there's a space program left after the shuttle launches. There's a lot of activity about going to other planets. The space program is going to be a wonderful place for young people for a long time. Engineering is a very broad field from bio medical engineering all the way to building bridges and micro processors. So for young people out there watching, you really ought to think about engineering as a career. It is one of the most exciting things you can do and it's a way that you can change the world.

NGUYEN: Dean Streetman, I see you have your longhorn shirt on. In all fairness, I have to admit, I too am a longhorn. So Dr. Reed, let me ask you this. With the longhorn and the Aggie going up in space on this mission, is there room enough for both of them because there is a rivalry as you know.

REED: Well, let me say that I think the rivalry we might say is on the football field. But in fact, there are a lot of close collaborations between the two institutions. For example, just as mission specialist Michael Fossum and Stephanie Wilson need to collaborate to work together to make this a success in space, the two universities are embarking on a program called lone star.

And this is a student satellite program where the students from both institutions are actually working together to build satellites over the next eight years and hopefully in the not too distant future on a shuttle, you'll see the first of four missions in which there will be a Texas A&M and a UT Austin satellite up in space working together. So this is just one of many examples of cooperation between the two great institutions.

NGUYEN: Definitely, it sure is and you know what? I knew you would play nice so that being the case, let me add a little ammunition to this because Michael Fossum is bringing a Texas A&M flag into space and Stephanie Wilson says, quote, let me tell you what she says. She says I am trying to figure out how I can collect all of the Aggie items so they don't appear in photos. So Dean Streetman, does this mean that this rivalry extends beyond planet earth?

STREETMAN: Well, we'll see if Stephanie is able to get the cow on his space helmet before he goes out into space.

NGUYEN: All right. STREETMAN: This is the most excitement we have had since the last six minutes of the Rose Bowl.

NGUYEN: This is good stuff and so proud of both of them. And we thank you both for being with us today. What a momentous day it is for both universities. Thank you.

STREETMAN: Thank you.

REED: Thank you so much.

NGUYEN: Sure. And stay with us all morning long as we continue our coverage of the space shuttle Discovery launch and at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, a special live show hosted by space correspondent Miles O'Brien -- Tony.

HARRIS: Still ahead, the president, the prime minister and the king. Graceland may never be the same. Only Jeanne Moos can give this story the treatment it deserves. CNN SATURDAY MORNING continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: So many Elvis cliches, so little time. So we leave it to our Jeanne Moos to tell us about two global leaders going to Graceland.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the president and the prime minister meet. It usually sounds like this. When that same prime minister goes to the home of the king ...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I knew he loved Elvis. I didn't realize how much he loved Elvis.

MOOS: Graceland brought out the Prime Minister's Koizumi's inner Elvis. He even put on Elvis sunglasses, transformed in to an Elvis impersonator. All that was missing was the leather outfit. Elvis songs played aboard Air Force One as the two leaders flew down to Memphis.

Press vehicles following the motorcade got in to the swing. As they passed the heartbreak hotel, we should have known Prime Minister Koizumi would break out in song. After all, he'd done it once before during a CNN interview.

The prime minister with the same birthday at Elvis toured Graceland with Elvis' flesh and blood, daughter Lisa Marie and former wife Priscilla. Lisa Marie got an arm and an earful. The prime minister called the hour-long tour a dream come true. It was as if the prime minister was possessed by Elvis. He spoke in Elvis-isms.

KOIZUMI: Thank you very much for treating me nice, Elvis song, treat me nice MOOS: Even the hard bitten press corps seemed bitten by the Elvis bug, donning those gold framed glasses. President Bush managed to resist, seemingly bemused by his guest. The president is forever talking about how well they get along.

BUSH: Very friendly relationship. He's a good friend. How close our relationship is. He's a good buddy.

MOOS: And while the president seems smitten with the prime minister, the prime minister is smitten with Elvis. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: I don't know.

NGUYEN: Very entertaining.

HARRIS: Just ...

NGUYEN: all right. Well, you know ...

HARRIS: Odd.

NGUYEN: This is really a wonderful sight and it's something that gets so many people excited on day of launch for good reason. We are four hours and 54 minutes away from the shuttle Discovery blasting off. There's concern, though, Tony about the weather and a glitch, a technical glitch that's occurring.

HARRIS: This thermostat, this thermostat. We'll talk to Miles about that. We got another question for Miles in a second. Here's our e-mail question we've been asking you to consider all morning long and send in thoughts on it. Here's the question.

Do you think NASA is rushing to launch the shuttle?

And Miles, Kelly Roland of Greenwood, Indiana, has a question for you. She wants to know or he wants to know, "because of ozone concerns, did the company that manufactures the foam have to take an active chemical out of the formula used to hold the foam firmly together"?

O'BRIEN: Kelly, the answer is, true.

HARRIS: Really?

O'BRIEN: Yes. It was reformulated to satisfy concerns about ozone, Freon specifically contributing to that ozone hole, Freon being banned. That was part of the original mixture. No one has proven, however, that that made it worse, made the problem worse, made the foam less adherent.

As a matter of fact, every astronaut I have ever talked to says that from day one to the missions we saw last summer, there's always been foam that has fallen off those fuel tanks. So I don't think it was a bit of a red herring post "Columbia" that that might have been part of the problem. I think the foam has been falling off probably more than we knew over the years.

HARRIS: Gotcha. Gotcha. Good step, Miles. Folks in to this, this morning, this discussion, these questions for you. If it is OK, we'll just keep you going the next hour as well. Why not.

NGUYEN: Miles is the man with the answers. We'll be checking in with him.

HARRIS: Thanks, Miles.

NGUYEN: The wheels are turning as the 93rd -- can you believe? The 93rd tour de France gets under way but ...

HARRIS: But ...

NGUYEN: A big but.

HARRIS: It is. With the doping suspension of two of the top riders and the absence of seven-time champ Lance Armstrong, can organizers keep it from becoming the Tour de Farce? We'll find out.

Stay with CNN, the most trusted name in news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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