AB WEDNESDAY. MAY 14, 1997 WASHINGTON THE SAUNA JOURNAL A comet's tale NASA denies allegations of Hale-Bopp cover-up By The Associated Press WASHINGTON — The latest but not the last word on comet Hale-Bopp is that the space agency is being accused of a cosmic cover-up. "What are you afraid of telling us?" demanded one irate citizen. Accusations that NASA refused to photograph the comet with the Hubble Space Telescope started arriving not long after 39 Heaven's Gate cultists in California killed themselves in expectation they would catch a ride on a UFO they believed was trailing the comet. Some messages had a nasty tone, and all of them demanded , that NASA use Hubble to get pic- tures of the departing Hale-Bopp and publish them. NASA's answer: It has done both. The controversy began after lecturer Richard Hoagland was interviewed on a syndicated radio program. In the past, Hoagland has claimed to have seen a face carved on a milewide rock on Mars and a "glass dome" and other huge structures in pictures taken on the moon. "It has come to my knowledge that those in charge of the Hubble Telescope have either not taken detailed pictures of the Hale-Bopp comet or taken the pictures and denied doing so," wrote one citizen. "What is happening? What are you afraid of finding out? What are you afraid of telling us? Most of us who are interested in this stuff are adults and can take it!" NASA provided a sampling of the memos at the request of The Associated Press. "These accusations are totally false," NASA said in a letter to Art Bell, host of the syndicated radio show who had interviewed Hoagland. "Hubble has been used to observe Hale-Bopp a number of times since 1995, and the images have been widely available on the Internet, and have been in the news." The two NASA Hale-Bopp computer sites had 4,500 images in mid-April when sighting of the comet was at its peak. T NUCLEAR WEAPONS Russian official backs START II Rodionov and U.S. disagree on wisdom of expanding NATO east By The Associated Press WASHINGTON — Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov said Tuesday he supports the START II nuclear arms- reduction treaty, even though it has not been ratified by the Russian parliament. "I'm deeply convinced we can ensure the security of our country with a lesser number of missiles and warheads," Rodionov said at a Pentagon briefing also attended by Defense Secretary William Cohen. RODIONOV The Russian defense minister came to the Pentagon for his first session with Cohen, who took over defense chief in January. He was questioned about a report in The Washington Times that he opposes START II despite the backing of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Rodionov said he has "had some doubts" about the treaty in years past, but has come to see its benefits. "We need to do it," he said of Russian ratification. Rodionov, however, remained opposed to NATO's planned expansion to include some former Soviet bloc countries. "This is a mistake to expand NATO eastward," Rodionov said. "We agreed to disagree," responded Cohen. President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, one of the countries expected to join NATO, told a Capitol Hill news conference that expanding the military alliance would fill a "security vacuum" that has existed in Central and Eastern Europe since the Soviet Union dissolved. But Havel, who will meet Friday with Cohen, objected to any attempt to limit conventional forces for new member states as part of a NATO-Russia charter that could be signed this month to ease Moscow's concerns. Earlier this year, Yeltsin agreed with President Clinton to try to secure passage of the START II nuclear-missile treaty in the Russian parliament, where it is being held up by nationalists and Communists. The accord sets a warhead limit of 3,500 on each side, down from about 8,000 and strips Russia of its most powerful weapon, the SS-18 missile. TSCIENCE Researchers find a way to control cassava pest it Staple in African diet is often bugged by pesky green spider mites By The Associated Press WASHINGTON — An insectlike predator has been found to control a pest that attacks cassava, a major food source for hundreds of millions of the world's people, agricultural research scientists said Tuesday. . Cassava is a starchy root rich in carbohydrates that can be steamed, boiled, sliced for frying or turned into starch or flour. Of the estimated 500 million cassava consumers, some 200 million live in Africa. . Cassava also is used in Asia and Latin America to feed livestock and as an ingredient in soap and plywood. After 15 years of work, the scientists from three international research centers identified an in- sectlike creature that preys on green spider mites that infest cassava crops. They said the predator reduced the mites by up to 90 percent in field tests and now is used in 11 African countries. "The economic benefits of this research will be enormous for poor African farmers because we can now protect cassava against one of its most important enemies," said Lincoln Smith, an insect specialist, at one of the centers. The cassava plant is sometimes known as manioc or yuca. According to the research centers, worldwide consumption of cassava was 40 pounds a person in 1992, the last year for which figures are available. In Africa, consumption was 194 pounds a person. 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