The 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft closed in on the red planet today on a mission that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration hopes will mark a comeback after a pair of failures.
Odyssey is designed to map minerals and search for frozen reservoirs of water on the planet's dusty surface.
The probe was programmed to fire its main engine late today to ease it into orbit, following a six-month journey.
Entering orbit will be the probe's riskiest move during the $297 million mission. Two of NASA's last three Mars vehicles -- Climate Orbiter and Polar Lander -- failed just before or upon arrival in 1999.
A successful firing would place the vehicle in an elliptical, 20-hour orbit around Mars. Odyssey then would take until late January to settle into a circular, mapping orbit where it would join the Global Surveyor craft, which has been mapping the planet since 1997.
2 cosmonauts, researcher
arrive at space station
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- The three men living on the international space station welcomed their first guests today with the arrival of a Russian spaceship carrying two cosmonauts and a French researcher.
The Soyuz capsule docked with space station Alpha two days after rocketing away from Kazakstan. The capsule will serve as a fresh lifeboat for the space station residents, replacing the Soyuz that has been docked to the orbiting outpost for six months.
Arriving via the Soyuz were Russians Viktor Afanasyev and Konstantin Kozeyev and French astronaut-physician Claudie Haignere. Afanasyev, the commander of the Soyuz, steered the capsule in for the linkup.
Haignere, the first European woman to visit the space station, led the way in. Each of the guests received a hug from Frank Culbertson, the space station's American commander.
As the six space travelers gathered for a photo, a flight controller at Russia's Mission Control outside Moscow offered this advice: "Guys, put the woman in the front. Always, women in the front."
Shooting of actor holding
fake gun found justifiable
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A police officer was justified in fatally shooting an actor holding a fake gun last year at a Halloween party because the officer believed the weapon was real, a police department internal review board has found.
In a recommendation to Police Chief Bernard Parks, the board said Officer Tarriel Hopper should not be disciplined for the death of Anthony Dwain Lee, police sources told the Los Angeles Times today.
The board recommended Hopper undergo additional training to improve his tactics.
Police officials and members of the civilian Los Angeles Police Commission declined to comment to the Times, saying the matter remains under review.
Police said Lee pointed the rubber replica of a .357-caliber gun at police before Hopper, one of two officers sent to the Oct. 28 party because of a noise complaint, shot him.
Lee's sister filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Hopper, the Police Department and the city in June.
Lee, 39, had a small role in the film "Liar Liar" and appeared in episodes of such television shows as "NYPD Blue" and "E.R."
Second Democrat aims
for Condit's House seat
MODESTO, Calif. (AP) -- A California lawmaker said Monday that he will run for the seat held by Rep. Gary Condit next year, becoming the second Democrat to challenge the embattled congressman.
Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza of Atwater said he formally would launch his campaign today, ending more than a decade of friendship and political partnership with Condit.
Last week, Tom Ciccarelli, the head of a Modesto charity, became the first Democrat to announce a bid for Condit's seat.
Ciccarelli, who once campaigned for Condit, said he was "disgusted" with the congressman's behavior after former government intern Chandra Levy vanished from Washington in May. Police have said Condit, 53, is not considered a suspect in the 24-year-old's disappearance but he was acquainted with her.
Condit hasn't formally announced his plans, but he is collecting signatures to run for re-election.
Two Republicans, California State Sen. Dick Monteith and City Councilman Bill Conrad, also have announced they are running.
Man arrested after swords
provoke scare at airport
BOSTON (AP) -- A man who walked through Logan International Airport with three samurai swords faces disorderly conduct charges after nervous passengers scrambled to get out of his way.
Raymond Morrison, 23, of Dracut, did not attempt to breach security and apparently had no plans to fly anywhere, said Phil Orlandella, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs the airport.
But when Morrison walked up to three terminals Sunday wearing a cowboy hat, with the swords protruding from the waistband of his jeans, passengers became frightened.
"He caused a ruckus. People were panicking and running away," State Police Sgt. Edward Principe said.
Man convicted of murdering
ex-girlfriend on wedding day
HACKENSACK, N.J. (AP) -- Rejecting the defendant's claim that "betrayal" made him lose his head, a jury convicted a man of murder Monday for killing his former girlfriend on the day she was to have married another man.
Agustin Garcia, widely known in the Dominican community as head of several non-profit organizations, could face up to life in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 1. The jury rejected a finding of "passion provocation" manslaughter, which would have carried a maximum of 10 years.
Prosecutor Fred Schwanwede portrayed Garcia, 49, as an obsessed stalker who could not accept that Gladys Ricart, 39, finally had left him after a tempestuous seven-year relationship.
Garcia and his lawyers, how-
ever, maintained he considered Ricart his wife and had no reason to suspect she was getting married until he went by her Ridgefield home on Sept. 26, 1999.
Both sides agree that Garcia shot Ricart that Sunday afternoon as she distributed flowers to her bridal party. The shooting was captured on tape by her wedding video photographer.