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Archive for April 4th, 2010|Daily archive page

Poor promotions botch Hanoi’s ‘year of tourism’

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Poor promotions botch Hanoi’s ‘year of tourism’

QĐND – Sunday, April 04, 2010, 22:52 (GMT+7)

Hanoi is at risk of welcoming fewer tourists than usual during its most anticipated year of tourism due to ineffective promotional activities, officials said at a municipal meeting on Wednesday.

The number of tourists visiting Hanoi in the first quarter decreased 7.2 percent year on year, a fact that Hanoi Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism Director Pham Quang Long partially chalked up it to soaring room and tour prices.

But the main reason was that “no company spent money promoting tourism, they’ve just depended on government promotions, and their own promotional methods have been unsatisfactory,” Long said.

The capital is looking forward to its 1,000th anniversary celebration this October.

Also at the meeting, Nguyen The Thao, chairman of Hanoi People’s Committee, urged related agencies to speed up preparations for the anniversary.

Much of the planning has yet to be completed, while the grand festival is coming near, he stressed.

Hanoi has recently called off a project to bury 1,000 items to be opened 1,000 years later as part of the anniversary, because it was impossible, local newswire VnExpress quoted Pham Quang Nghi, secretary of Hanoi’s Party Committee, as saying.

They couldn’t decide what to bury as gifts to future generations, and it wasn’t enough for Hanoi to be allowed to contribute only one item, Nghi said.

Not to mention that the plan, which was announced at two press briefings in February and March, wasn’t officially approved by the city’s People’s Committee, according to Long.

Source: TNO

Source: QDND

Severe drought damages Central Highlands crops

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Severe drought damages Central Highlands crops

QĐND – Sunday, April 04, 2010, 22:52 (GMT+7)

A long bout of sweltering weather in the Central Highlands is creating havoc for residents as crops are dying and freshwater levels in rivers are being depleted at an alarming rate.

According to provincial agriculture and rural development departments, drought conditions are affecting large areas in the region. Geologists say that underground water sources are also severely declining as the days go by.

In Gia Lai Province’s eastern districts of Kong Chro, Krong Pa, Dak Po and Kbang, the parching conditions have put thousands of farmers’ crops in danger.

In Mang Yang District, the water dearth is threatening 1,000 hectares of rice.

Water levels at most irrigation works and rivers have slumped and are now one to two meters lower than last year during the same period.

Dinh Xuan Duyen, head of the Krong Pa District Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said that thousands of hectares of tobacco, fruit and vegetables in the district are dying from a lack of water.

The daily activities of locals are also suffering. Residents have been transporting water each day in containers from the Ba River, as all wells have now dried up, he said.

Meanwhile, as of March 31, Dak Lak Province had 5,000 hectares of rice, coffee and maize suffering drought conditions, with 780 hectares in danger of dying off completely.

According to the Central Highlands’ Hydro Meteorological Center, this year’s rainy season will come late compared with previous years, which means all water sources could continue drying up in the coming months.

Experts have said the Central Highlands should reduce areas used to cultivate coffee and instead increase areas to grow forests, as this will help the area retain more water in the future.

Source: SGGP

Source: QDND

Modern youth burn through cash at discotheques

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Modern youth burn through cash at discotheques

QĐND – Sunday, April 04, 2010, 22:52 (GMT+7)

When the sun sets, many modern Saigon youth gather at discotheques and night clubs to waste another night. Tuoi Tre investigated.

Humble playboys

Following Lam, a young playboy, Tuoi Tre reporters went to a café on Nguyen Kiem Road in HCM City’s Phu Nhuan district. At 8 pm, Lam summoned his “teammates.”  Thirty minutes later, two teenage girls in very short shorts and decolleté blouses and an oddly dressed young boy joined the group.

A Tuoi Tre reporter urged Lam to head for his “special club,” but Lam explained that first his group had to wait for “the goods”.  Understanding his meaning, a girl took the keys to Lam’s motorbike to go somewhere to buy drugs. Lam explained: “Some are addicted to ‘ke’ (xí ke, or ‘scag’) and others to ‘da’ (đá, or ‘rock,’ that is, crystal meth). It is not cool to go to a ‘special club’ without these things. A dose of ‘da’ costs 1.3 million dong. ‘Ke’ is cheaper, around 200,000 dong/dose.”

When the girl returned, the group found a cab to go to a hotel on Bach Dang Road in Go Vap district. The receptionist seemed to know this group well so he didn’t ask for ID’s. The group went up to the third floor to shoot up. Inside the rented room, the girl put the drugs on a wooden table. Lam took a needle and a distilled water jar from his bag while the girl cut down the pills into smaller pieces. The group shared these pieces, then left the hotel for a night club on Le Van Tho Road, also in Go Vap district.

The club was crowded; perhaps 150 people were dancing insanely when they came in. Sexy waitresses circulated through the crowd, vending beer and foreign wine. Lam and his group both danced and drank beer. The boy gave 400,000 dong to a man in the night club to buy him two pills of ‘keo’ (kẹo, i.e., ‘candy,’ or ecstasy).

“Let’s chew it and dance!” Lam cried out. The four friends continued to dance and drink in the dim light until the night club closed at 1.30 am, running up a bill of 2.3 million dong (roughly the monthly wage of an ordinary worker).


On a Saturday evening, a Toyota minicar stopped at the gate of the HCM City University for Social Sciences and Humanity. The driver was a young man of around 20. He made a call from a most modern mobile phone. Several minutes later, a female student hopped in.

The boy was Vu. His father is a banker and mother is a real estate trader in Dong Nai province. Vu explained that he “started going to night clubs at the age of 15. It is only fun to go there in a group.”

Vu and his group invited a Tuoi Tre reporter to join them at a discotheque on Pham Ngoc Thach Road where young playboys drink hundred dollar foreign wine like water. “Feel free! This bar is not very big but I spend at least 15 million dong ($800) each time I come here. Today I will spend twice as much,” Vu boasted.

He took out his wallet and tipped some waitresses 100,000 dong each, then continued drinking to the cheers of his friends.   Vu and his group danced madly to nerve-cracking music and drank more and more. At 2am, Vu paid over 40 million dong for the night.

Another young man is called “Grandpa” though he is only 24 years old. He is the son of a famous doctor in Dong Nai who also owns a lot of real estate.  From the age of 20, D has been a familiar client at top discotheques and night clubs in Hanoi, Hai Phong and HCM City.

“I’m fed up with local discotheques so recently I’ve been to clubs in China with my friends,” D said. These are the famous Haoshi and KK night clubs, which serve Vietnamese students at Guangxi University.

D said that each time he goes to these night clubs, he pays nearly 30 million dong ($1.600) for wine, drugs and dancing with his friends. He has often stayed there for a whole week.

“I told my parents that I am studying at the Chinese Oriental Medicine Institute to pursue my father’s career. My parents often send me 50 to 100 million dong each time,” D boasted.

Then there’s ‘LP,’ who’s famous among young players in Saigon. He’s the son of a rich family in the nearby Binh Duong province. This youth often spends several dozens of thousand dollars on trips to bars in Singapore and Thailand. Recently, he organized a million dollar birthday party at the Paradise Club in Hollywood, USA.

Tuan, a teenage playboy, says he goes to night clubs because he’s very sad; his parents have been busy at their business and haven’t paid attention to him.  Starting at humble night clubs, Tuan has progressed to luxurious clubs and his expense for a night out has risen to several hundred dollars. 

Source: VNN

Source: QDND

City to clean up streets for celebration of anniversary

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2010 at 7:19 pm

City to clean up streets for celebration of anniversary

QĐND – Sunday, April 04, 2010, 22:52 (GMT+7)

The city government passed a VND50 billion (US$2.8 million) project to repaint offices and residential houses on 75 main streets in order to clean up the city before its 1,000th anniversary in October.

According to the project, 29 district People’s Committees in the city and one housing company will carry out the repainting project. Each committee will receive VND450 million ($25,000) in funds to repair government office buildings. They will also receive VND100 million ($5,600) in funds for advertisements and will conduct an awareness campaign about the city’s beauty. The project will begin in April and is slated to finish in June.

Besides repainting doors and walls of houses and offices, the Department of Construction is asking district authorities to remove, replace and repair dilapidated balconies, roofs and advertising banners. Funds from the city’s budget will be used to repair local government offices. For residential houses, the local government will need to persuade people to repaint their own houses.

“To make the city architecture consistent and match the surrounding environment, buildings and houses need to be painted in certain colours,” said Nguyen Quoc Tuan, deputy head of the construction department.

Nguyen Quoc Hoa, deputy head of Hoan Kiem People’s Committee, one of the main districts of the city that has 13 streets on the list to be repainted, said the most difficult thing was to persuade people to spend their own money to repaint their homes.

The total budget that we need to repair all the government offices in the district is VND30 billion, so it is very difficult to manage this project with the city’s funding,” Hoa added.

Deputy head of Hai Ba Trung People’s Committee, another district in the city, Lam Anh Tuan said, “It is challenging to persuade people to use colours that have been suggested for housing like light yellow or light blue. Some people wanted to use red or dark colours for their houses. With residents who do not have expendable funds, we try to support them financially.”

“Another difficult situation is houses that are in ownership dispute. We can’t decide who has to pay for the repainting fee,” Tuan added.

Many citizens are, however, wondering if repainting houses will actually help make the city look nicer, when there is no overall design for the houses.


Only the front wall and door of our houses are to be repainted, but not the inside so I think it could make the city even more messy,” said Le Van Vinh, a resident on Trang Tien Street in Hoan Kiem District.

Tuan, from the construction department, said there would be a group of officials to check how the project is being carried out in the districts.

“The funding from the city is not large, but the local government should call for more funding from enterprises or individuals in their districts. It is also responsible to ensure that district authorities make people aware of the need to paint their own houses in order to make the city look better,” Tuan said.

Meanwhile, in many streets of the city, pavements are under construction. Hai Ba Trung People’s Committee deputy head Tuan said that the city was putting the electric and telephone wires underground so many pavements would have to be dug up.

“The construction companies are usually required to make the pavement as clean as it was before construction started, but many of them did not do that and left the pavement unclean and messy,” said Tuan.

Thach Nhu Sy, chief of the inspection office of the transport department, said that in the first three months of 2010 his office has checked and fined several construction companies for their irresponsibility while working on pavements.

Source: VNN

Source: QDND

Get-together for Russian military experts to Vietnam

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Get-together for Russian military experts to Vietnam

QĐND – Sunday, April 04, 2010, 22:53 (GMT+7)

The valuable assistance from Russian experts helped Vietnam win a glorious victory in its past struggle against foreign aggressors, said Vietnamese Ambassador to Russia, Bui Dinh Dinh.

Ambassador Dinh made the remark at a meeting held at the Air Defence Museum in Moscow’s suburb of Balasikha to mark the 45th anniversary of the first Russian military experts in Vietnam.

Russian participants at the event recalled past memories and watched documentaries about the war in Vietnam.

They expressed their good sentiments towards Vietnam and pledged to do their best to strengthen friendship and cooperation between the two countries in the future.

Source: VOV

Source: QDND

PM Dung attends MRC International Conference in Thailand

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2010 at 7:18 pm

PM Dung attends MRC International Conference in Thailand

QĐND – Sunday, April 04, 2010, 22:53 (GMT+7)

On April 4, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and his delegation arrived in Hua Hin, Thailand for the Mekong River Commission (MRC) International Conference after successfully concluding their three-day day visit to the Union of Myanmar.

PM Dung met with his Thai and Lao counterparts Abhisit Vejjajiva and Buasone Bouphavanh on the sidelines of the conference.

During his meeting with the Thai PM, Mr Dung expressed the hope that Thailand would successfully organize the MRC International Conference to promote MRC cooperation. He said Vietnam always attaches great importance to developing the friendship and comprehensive cooperation with Thailand including the MRC.

The Thai PM said Thailand will help Vietnam to assume the 2010 ASEAN Chair and will attend the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of Thang Long-Hanoi.

The two PMs agreed upon measures to boost economic, trade, and investment cooperation and to hold an inter-government meeting for the two foreign ministries to arrange a convenient schedule.

They also underlined the need to promote an exchange of information and propose effective measures to cope with the challenges that face the MekongRiver. The two PMs believed that major step orientations would be devised at the conference to improve regional cooperation and encourage Myanmar and China to take part in the MRC.

Vietnam, Laos aim for US$1 billion in two-way trade turnover in 2010

In a meeting with his Lao counterpart, Bouasone Bouphavanh, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung expressed his delight at the strong development in the two countries’ investment and trade cooperation. Despite numerous difficulties in 2009, Vietnam-Laos two-way trade turnover reached more than US$420 million, equal to the previous year’s figure.

The two PMs agreed to introduce specific measures to increase the effectiveness of bilateral cooperation in various fields, with the aim of raising the two-way trade turnover to US$1 billion in 2010.

They pledged to instruct ministries and functional agencies in both countries to review the implementation of the 2006-2010 Vietnam-Lao cooperation programme.

Both sides also reached consensus on building the cooperation programme in 2011-2015 and the Vietnam-Laos cooperation strategy from 2011 to 2020 in combination with the plans and strategies for socio-economic development in both countries.

PM Dung and his Lao counterpart also appreciated this year’s MRC International Conference.

Mr Dung said that the MekongRiver is currently in jeopardy, thus requiring stronger cooperation to overcome challenges for mutual benefits.

Source: VOV 

Source: QDND

British kissing couple jailed in Dubai

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2010 at 11:24 am

DUBAI, April 4, 2010 (AFP) – Dubai’s appeals court upheld a one-month prison sentence on Sunday against a British couple for kissing in public in the Muslim emirate, their lawyer said.

“The court has upheld the verdict” of the court of first instance, the lawyer, Khalaf al-Hosani, told AFP.

A closeup shot shows the facade of the Dubai Courts building during a hearing on April 04, 2010 in the case of the British couple. AFP photo

The Britons had been on bail since their arrest in November last year, when an Emirati woman accused them of kissing in a restaurant in the trendy Jumeirah Beach Residence neighbourhood.

The pair have been named in the British press as Ayman Najafi, 24, a British expat, and tourist Charlotte Adams, 25, whose surname was previously reported as Lewis.

They said they only kissed on the cheek, but pleaded guilty to charges of consuming alcohol.

The two are entitled to challenge the sentence in the cassation court, the highest court which can review cases in the United Arab Emirates, a Gulf state made up of seven members including Dubai.

They were convicted in January and sentenced to one month in prison, but were released on bail with their passports held by the authorities, Hosani said.

The lawyer said he would discuss with the defendants whether they wish to take the case to the cassation court, but that “the hope is dim” to overturn the verdict.

Hosani had told court last month that the only witness, a 38-year-old Emirati woman, had presented different statements.

“She told the police that she saw them kissing, while she told the prosecution that her children saw them,” he said, adding the defence is arguing that the couple only kissed on the cheek “as a greeting” which is allowed.

Dubai, which despite its pro-Western outlook still adheres to certain strict Islamic rules and bans sex out of wedlock, is a popular destination for British tourists.

Around 1.1 million Britons visited the United Arab Emirates in 2009, and more than 100,000 British nationals live in the country.

In 2008, a British couple, Vince Acors and Michelle Palmer, were convicted of having sex on the beach in Dubai but an appeals court suspended their three-month jail term.

Acors and Palmer, both their thirties, were expelled from the Gulf Arab country, however, and fined 1,000 dirhams (270 dollars) for drinking alcohol.

A mother-of-two and her alleged lover, a fellow Briton, were convicted of adultery and jailed for two months in June 2009 after her estranged British husband tipped off police who caught the couple leaving a Dubai hotel at 2:30 in the morning.

The Foreign Office warns Britons travelling to the UAE that the Muslim country has strict rules on public displays of affection, and points out women should dress modestly in public.

“Proportionally, Britons are most likely to be arrested in the UAE than any other country in the world,” says the travel advice, highlighting also the UAE authorities’ zero tolerance on possession of drugs.

Source: SGGP

S.Korea to salvage sunk warship after calling off rescue

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2010 at 11:23 am

SEOUL, April 4, 2010 (AFP) – South Korea prepared Sunday to salvage a warship that sank more than a week ago near a disputed sea border with North Korea after calling off a dangerous operation to rescue its missing crewmen.

The operation stopped at the request of relatives of the missing sailors late Saturday after rescuers recovered the first body from the sunken warship, military officials said.

Family members (C) cry as South Korean sailors carry the body of Senior Chief Petty Officer Nam Ki-Hoon, who was one of 46 sailors missing from the ship, at the naval base in Pyeongtaek on April 4, 2010. AFP photo

“The rescue operation has been called off. The military will do its best to salvage the ship together with civilian experts,” defence ministry spokesman Yoon Won-Shik told reporters.

Navy officials said it would take weeks to lift the ship from the sea floor.

The 1,200-tonne Cheonan, crewed by 104 sailors, broke in two and sank on March 26 after a mystery explosion near the maritime border in the Yellow Sea.

A total of 58 people were rescued from the bow section of the 88-metre (290-foot) warship soon after but efforts to locate the missing 46 crew were hampered by bad weather and strong currents.

Navy officials said the body of Senior Chief Petty Officer Nam Ki-Hoon was retrieved from the petty officers’ mess hall of the sunken corvette.

After receiving confirmation of Nam’s death, the families of the missing crew asked the military to halt the rescue.

“We decided to request the military to stop the search and rescue operation and begin work to salvage the hull,” Choi Soo-Dong, representing the families, told reporters.

“Divers must not be sacrificed any more,” he said.

A navy diver died last week during the rescue operation.

Officials are still searching for answers as to what caused the ship to break in two in the murky waters off Baengyeong Island.

Military and presidential officials have dismissed media reports that the ship had been tracking North Korean submarines at the time.

Defence Minister Kim Tae-Young said Friday a torpedo might have sunk it but did not indicate who might have fired one.

Seoul has not cited any evidence that the North was involved, although the defence minister earlier in the week said a North Korean mine — either drifting or deliberately placed — might have caused the disaster.

The disaster site is close to the disputed border which was the scene of deadly naval clashes between North and South Korea in 1999 and 2002 and of a firefight last November.

South Korea’s navy, backed by fishing boats and US military divers, had been struggling against high waves and strong currents to explore the hull of the warship where many of the missing sailors could have been trapped.

A 2,000-tonne sea crane to be used to recover the wreck arrived Saturday near the site where the warship went down. The navy said a US landing ship was also ready nearby.

Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering said its 3,600-tonne crane would join the salvage operation.

A total of four giant cranes and three barges will be used to lift the front and rear sections of the sunken corvette from the sea floor, navy officials said.

The area around where the Cheonan went down has been crowded with ships and aircraft combing the sea.

Two people including an Indonesian sailor died and seven were missing after their fishing boat, which had been helping in the search, collided late Friday with a Cambodian-registered freighter, coast guard officials said.

The missing also included an Indonesian fisherman, they said.

The body of Nam has been transferred via helicopter to a naval command in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul.

But at his family’s request, his funeral will be delayed until the fate of his missing colleagues is confirmed, navy officials said.

Source: SGGP

Much hyped iPad hits the market

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2010 at 11:22 am

SAN FRANCISCO, April 3, 2010 (AFP) – Apple’s hotly-anticipated iPads are finally in consumers’ hands in what the maker of iPods and iPhones heralds as a personal computing revolution.

While Apple Stores were thronged for the iPad debut in the United States Saturday and the California firm was flooded with pre-orders, analysts said it remained to be seen whether the tablet computers would transform culture.

People at the SoHo New York Apple store try out Apple Inc’s new iPad on April 3, 2010 in New York City. AFP photo

“We think it will be a success no matter what,” Gartner Research vice president Ken Dulaney told AFP.

“Tablets have not done well in the past. If Apple changes that paradigm, they are on a new road.”

Innovative new applications “plus using it as a television set” should drive iPad purchases, according to Delaney.

The Walt Disney Company has released an application for watching ABC television shows on the iPad.

US video rental titan Netflix and Warner Brothers entertainment studio have “apps” to deliver content to the devices.

Most consumers want to use mobile devices like the iPad to work while on the go, according to a Sybase survey released last month.

More than half of smartphone users (52.3 percent) said they would be most interested in using a new tablet device like the iPad for work than watching movies (48.2 percent) and television programs (35.4 percent).

Software savants who made fortunes crafting mini-programs for iPhone and iPod Touch devices were quick to focus on designing applications for the iPad.

The enthusiasm of developers bodes well for iPad, since the “ecosystem” of fun or functional programs is credited with being behind Apple mobile gadgets’ success as marketplace stars.

iPad programs were filling up virtual shelves of Apple’s online iTunes shop.

Even Internet leader Google threw its weight behind the iPad, rolling out a version of its free Web-based email service for Apple’s latest creation.

And while the iPad is seen as a threat to Kindle electronic readers, has released an application that lets people read digital books from the Kindle Store on the Apple gadgets.

German TV journalist Richard Gutjhar, 36, said he hoped the multi-media device would bind together the increasingly fractured media market and help newspapers and other outlets collect revenue in an age where content circulates for nothing on the Internet.

“I believe our work must be paid and if this will help, then that would be great,” he said after securing his small place in consumer history as the first person to exit the New York City Apple Store with a new iPad.

The 9.7-inch (24.6 centimeter) device allows users to watch video, listen to music, play games, surf the Web or read electronic books. It runs most of the 150,000 applications made for the iPod Touch and the iPhone.

Unlike a laptop, the keyboard is touchscreen, making for a far slimmer, lighter package. It starts up as easily as a phone, customers said, and has lightening-fast Internet access.

“The iPad is, in many ways, simply a proof of concept that’s certain to get better over time,” said Scott Steinberg, head of technology consulting firm TechSavvy Global.

“More importantly, it may prompt a paradigm shift in the way we look at portable computing, including serving to reignite interest in the tablet personal computer category as a whole.”

The flagship Apple Store in New York greeted hundreds of people Saturday who had waited since just after dawn with high fives, whooping and a New Year’s Eve-style countdown.

Many of the shoppers were from outside the United States, the first and initially the only country to sell the touchscreen tablet, retailing at between 499 and 829 dollars.

Adi Thomas, who flew in from Australia, said the iPad was “slim, beautiful.”

“I really want to get it home and play with it,” said Thomas, 38.

IT consultant Hans Schoenmakers, 49, proudly declared himself the first Dutch person to own the shiny gadget.

“It’s better than I thought. I will use it for email while on the couch — and Internet and reading books,” he said.

The iPad leapt into the Top Ten list of topics at microblogging service Twitter, where buyers described it as “awesome” and “amazing.”

“Wow, loving the iPad so far,” Digg social news website founder Kevin Rose said in a Twitter message.

Critics were also busy tweeting, with comments bashing the devices weighing in roughly equal with messages of adoration, according to Tweetfeel, a service that gauges sentiment by analyzing Twitter streams.

iPads quickly popped up on popular online auction website eBay, some offered at prices hundreds of dollars higher than those charged at Apple stores.

There was an array of offers at eBay to sell website names or email addresses playing off “iPad.” One seller was asking 999.99 dollars for the rights to “”

Analysts predict Apple will sell 300,000 to 400,000 iPads by the end of the weekend.

The model that went on sale Saturday features Wi-Fi wireless connectivity, while a model offering both Wi-Fi and 3G cellular connectivity will appear late April.

Source: SGGP

Discovery readies for Monday launch

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2010 at 11:20 am

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2010 (AFP) – The space shuttle Discovery readied for a Monday morning launch to rendezvous with the International Space Station that will put more women in orbit at the same time than ever before.

The sun rises over Pad 39A (L) on April 3, 2010 as the space shuttle Discovery is prepared for an early morning April 5 launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. AFP photo

As Discovery prepared for lift-off with its crew of seven, including three female astronauts, American Tracy Caldwell Dyson headed for the space station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft with two Russian cosmonauts.

Discovery’s arrival at the space station, tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, would mark a first in space, with four women in orbit. It also is also the first shuttle mission with three female crew members.

Joining Dyson from the Discovery will be mission specialists Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, 34, a former high school science teacher; Stephanie Wilson, 43, a veteran of two shuttle missions; and Naoko Yamazaki, 39, an astronaut with the Japanese space agency since 1996.

Rounding out the Discovery crew are mission commander Alan Poindexter, 48; co-pilot Jim Dutton, 41; mission specialist and spacewalker Rick Mastracchio, 50; and fellow spacewalker Clay Anderson, 51.

Officials at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center gave their thumbs up after their prelaunch briefing for a “go” for Monday’s launch just after sunrise at 6:21 am (1021 GMT) from the Florida facility.

The weather was expected to cooperate. Going into the weekend, forecasts put the chances of favorable weather conditions at 80 percent, said meteorologist Cathy Winters.

After this flight, the second shuttle mission this year, only three more are planned before all three remaining US manned orbiters are retired at the end of 2010, ending 30 years of service. The first shuttle flew in April 1981.

During the 13-day mission, Discovery and its crew will deliver nearly eight tonnes of cargo, including spare bunks for the occupants of the space station, a large tank of ammonia coolant and seven racks filled with science experiments.

“We’re really excited about this mission… and the science we’ll be able to get onboard for the ISS to do what it needs to do and demonstrate its true ability as a national laboratory,” said space shuttle launch integration manager Mike Moses.

Among the gear being hauled into space is a freezer to preserve samples of blood, urine, saliva, plants or microbes used in micro-gravity experiments and then analyzed later back on Earth.

Discovery also will be carrying an exercise machine designed to study the effects of micro-gravity on the body’s musculoskeletal system. Muscles can atrophy during long sojourns in space so astronauts have to take care to exercise regularly.

The supplies, racks and other gear are packed into a pressurized Italian-built module named Leonardo, carried in the shuttle’s bay.

After linking up with the International Space State three days after the launch, Leonardo will be removed from the orbiter and docked to the station for unloading.

Until construction of the orbital outpost is completed, NASA has to ferry spare parts and gear to maintain the space station and service the scientific experiments on board.

Two Discovery astronauts will conduct three space walks lasting six and a half hour each on days five, seven and nine of the mission.

One of their principal, and most complex, tasks will be to replace an empty ammonia tank attached to the rear of the station with one that is full. Ammonia is used in the station’s cooling system.

The ISS, a hundred billion dollar project begun in 1998 with the participation of 16 countries, is financed mainly by the United States.

In presenting his 2011 budget proposal in February, President Barack Obama announced that the space station will be maintained until at least 2020.

Once the shuttle program is closed, the United States will depend on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry their astronauts to the ISS until a new US launch vehicle is ready to take over around 2015.

Source: SGGP