June 21 Spaceflight Set

For Private Rocket Plane

Aviation designer Burt Rutan said yesterday that he plans to launch the rocket plane SpaceShipOne on a suborbital spaceflight June 21, the first time a nongovernmental vehicle with a human pilot will attempt to leave Earth's atmosphere.

Rutan and Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, the sponsor of SpaceShipOne, said in a statement that the rocket plane will be carried June 21 aboard a specially designed airplane to an altitude of 50,000 feet above the Mojave Civilian Flight Test Center in the California desert and released.

SpaceShipOne will glide free and fire its rockets, the statement said, accelerating to Mach 3 -- three times the speed of sound -- in a climb before coasting to an altitude of 62 miles -- high enough to escape Earth's atmosphere but not to maintain an orbit.

Rutan, whose Voyager in 1986 became the only aircraft to fly around the world without refueling, designed SpaceShipOne at the California-based aerospace company Scaled Composites and has flown it 13 times. Justice Dept. Lawyer

Defends Abortion Law

LINCOLN, Neb. -- A lawyer representing the Justice Department argued that the government weighed considerable medical evidence before passing the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act.

The closing arguments in a Nebraska lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal law were made a day after a California judge declared the law unconstitutional. A similar case is being heard in New York.

Government attorney Anthony J. Coppolino said that at best this is a procedure that could be used but that there is no evidence it is safer than alternatives. He says evidence credibly supports Congress.

Abortion rights supporters argue that a woman's health during an abortion is more important than how a fetus is terminated. They say the banned method is often a safer solution than a conventional abortion.

* SAN ANTONIO -- Two missing propane tankers, whose disappearance prompted the FBI to issue a nationwide alert, were found in southern Texas near the U.S.-Mexico border, an FBI spokesman said. The trucks, still carrying their combined load of 5,500 gallons of fuel, were abandoned on a highway three miles east of Laredo, FBI agent Rene Salinas said. A citizen tipped police to the whereabouts of the tankers, which authorities thought had been stolen to use as bombs.

* BEAUMONT, Tex. -- Lemrick Nelson, who was convicted of stabbing a Jewish man during the 1991 Crown Heights race riots in New York was released from a federal prison in Texas. Nelson, who was 16 at the time of the attack, will spend the next nine months at a halfway house, prison officials said.

* BERNALILLO, N.M. -- The county clerk who issued marriage licenses to dozens of gay couples in February overwhelmingly lost her bid for a county commission seat. With all ballots counted, unofficial results showed Victoria Dunlap with 76 votes, to 199 for Chris Espinosa, Sandoval County election officials said.

-- From Staff Reports and News Services