Return to Transcripts main page
CONNECT THE WORLD
Phone Hacking Scandal; On the Verge of independence; New Protests in Egypt; First Asian NBA Star Retires; Fan Dies at Rangers Game Trying to Catch Ball Thrown Into Stands; Formula One Champion Sebastian Vettel; The Final Space Shuttle Mission Lifts Off; The Shuttle Program; A New Space Race? First African-American in Space Bernard Harris; Parting Shots of 134 Launches in 134 Seconds
Aired July 08, 2011 - 16:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Arrested and then bailed -- a former aid to the British prime minister is the latest scalp in a phone hacking scandal that has rocked Britain.
Counting the cost of the drama with a big business deal now hanging in the balance for a global media empire.
Is the sky falling on Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
Plus, after a heart-stopping delay, Houston, we have lift-off -- how history was made at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
And revving up for track domination -- why F1 driver, Sebastian Vettel, believes he has the right stuff to win the British Grand Prix.
These stories and more tonight, as we connect the world.
Well, it's a scandal that is threatening to shake Rupert Murdoch's media empire to its core, also sounding shockwaves through the heart of Britain's government. With his former communications chief arrested then bailed in connection with the phone hacking affair. Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to come out fighting earlier today, defending his judgment and distancing himself from one of Murdoch's most trusted lieutenants.
Dan Rivers has been following the day's dramatic events.
DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was an ignominious way to end 168 years of journalistic history -- protesters venting their anger at the antics of the British tabloid, the "News of the World," as staff prepared the paper's final edition.
It started with royal reporter, Clive Goodman, who was jailed in 2007 for hacking into Prince William's phone. Now it's believed the paper was awash with illegal eavesdropping and bribing policemen.
(on camera): The practices of the "News of the World" in the building behind me here have been widely condemned by all political parties. But the focus of the story has now shifted onto the prime minister, David Cameron, and his decision to hire a former editor of the "News of the World," Andy Coulson, as his communications guru -- a decision that has come back to haunt him with a vengeance.
DAVID CAMERON, BRITAIN PRIME MINISTER: I'm not hiding from the decision I made. I made the decision. There had been a police investigation. Someone had been sent to prison. This editor had resigned. He said he didn't know what was happening on his watch, but he resigned when he found out. And I thought it was right to give that individual a second chance.
RIVERS: Almost at the same time the prime minister was speaking, Andy Coulson himself was in a police station, answering questions about whether he sanctioned illegal phone hacking during his tenure at the paper, a scandal that forced him to stand down, first, as a journalist and then as a government press adviser, even though he's denied knowing anything about hacking.
Britain's opposition says repairing the damage of Coulson's appointment means the government has a lot to do. Like --
ED MILIBAND, LABOUR PARTY LEADER: Apologizing for bringing him into the center of the government machine and coming clean about what conversations he had with Andy Coulson, before and after he was appointed, about phone hacking.
RIVERS: But it's not just the P.M.'s relationship with Coulson, it's his alliance with Coulson's former boss, Rebekah Brooks. Both are close to Cameron, but Rebekah Brooks hasn't been arrested yet, maintaining she knew nothing about phone hacking. David Cameron has said her offer to resign on Thursday should have been accepted, but she's still in post.
That's because her boss, Rupert Murdoch, remains loyal to her. A week ago, it would have been unthinkable that a British prime minister would suggest one of Murdoch's favorite lieutenants should stand down, such was his influence and power. But as the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics. And these past seven days have seen some tectonic shifts in press power, with many wondering if Murdoch's influence over British politics is now on the wane.
Dan Rivers, CNN, London.
ANDERSON: And Andy Coulson, I've got to tell you, has since just been released and is due to return to a London police state in October, pending further inquiries.
So what's the fallout here?
Firstly, do British politicians still need Rupert Murdoch's support to survive?
Well, earlier, we put that to Alan Coulson, who is the former communications chief for ex-British prime minister, Tony Blair.
This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS CHIEF TO TONY BLAIR: I think their influence has diminished because of 24 hour news, because of the Internet, because of the social media networks and also -- I mean, now, let's just remember, the last election, the son -- "The Express," "The Mail," "The Star," "The Times," "The Telegraph," "The Financial Times," all basically said to the British people, you should vote Conservative. David Cameron didn't even get a majority.
In 1997, we won the election because the British people decided to elect us and Murdoch came behind Labour because he knew we were going to win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON: Yes, I'm not sure everybody would agree with that.
But my next guest worked at the heart of Rupert Murdoch's media empire.
Jack Irvine was the managing director of News International in Scotland.
And he joins me now here in the studio.
And more recently, an expert in crisis management, which this company surely needs.
Let's start with the prime minister and then I'm going to move on to Murdoch's empire here.
Can the prime minister escape with any dignity out of all of this?
JACK IRVINE, FORMER MD, NEWS INTERNATIONAL, SCOTLAND: No, he -- he made a very bad decision in choosing Coulson and he made a bad decision by sticking by him. Interestingly, Coulson wasn't the first choice, but he got stuck with him. But he's got a big, big problem. And what's interesting is that Miliband, who a couple of days ago was regarded as a new hoper (ph) is now emerging as an international statesman, which just shows you how these things can turn on a dime.
ANDERSON: As the new leader of the Labour Party in the UK.
Let's talk about Rupert Murdoch and his influence on British politics and British media, as it were.
Firstly, can his influence or is his influence over British media, because he bought, let's remember, the "News of the World," some 40 years ago.
Is it over, to a certain extent?
IRVINE: No, I don't -- I don't think so. And I think we've also got to remember, Becky, that if it wasn't for Rupert Murdoch, an awful lot of papers that are about now wouldn't be about. His historic and courageous stand in 1986 to break the print unions gave British media a new lease of life.
So we have an awful lot to thank him for. And he created the most fantastic television station, as well. So he's done a massive amount for media. And I still think he's in newspapers. He loves newspapers, although the biggest money ever in there is television. But he's still a newspaperman at heart.
ANDERSON: Yes. All right. OK.
It's questionable as to how much influence he has these days over British politics, of course. Ali Campbell suggesting in 1997 he only followed the crowd. I'm not sure everybody would agree with that. I mean, certainly, David Cameron will be prepared, I'm sure, tonight, to say that having the backing of Murdoch helped them win the last election here, didn't it?
IRVINE: Well --
IRVINE: -- Alastair Campbell -- I hate to agree with Alastair on most things, but the whole game has changed, Alastair is right, in the last maybe two or three years. But on fast-moving issues like politics now, you're going to the blogs all the time, you're going to 24 hour television and you're going to things like CNN. The game has changed dramatically.
And remember, the minute you print a newspaper on a certain date, you know, you guys are on the ball every second.
So the whole game has moved on.
ANDERSON: You alluded to the fact that papers may be just sort of the old -- the old asset, as it were, and certainly the "News of the World" was a loss making asset for Rupert Murdoch. He has an enormous organization and is looking to take another piece of the pie out of the British satellite market at the moment.
If Rupert Murdoch thought that sacrificing the "News of the World" would end the affair, he was sadly mistaken. Today, car manufacturer Renault announced it was withdrawing its advertising from all of Murdoch's remaining British newspapers. And his quest to buy the British broadcaster BSkyB outright could also be under threat, with the government putting off a decision over whether to approve the deal.
Now, if you need persuading of the damage this is causing Murdoch's media empire, take a look at this. News Corporation's shares slid for a third consecutive day, off by almost 4 percent on the NASDAQ. Over the past couple of days, the company's market capitalization has lost almost $3.5 billion in value.
So is this just a storm in a tea cup for Mr. Murdoch and in Britain, with his assets, or will it cause long-lasting damage?
Jack is the former News International managing director.
You know Rupert Murdoch well.
Has the music stopped for Murdoch in the U.K.?
And then I want to talk about globally.
IRVINE: No, it's not stopped. And Rupert Murdoch has been through big, big, big problems in the past. He nearly went under when the banks wouldn't support him. You can read it in all the biographies. And he showed amendous -- tremendous fortitude.
He's a very tough operator. He's a very clever man. I don't think it's over for him.
But can I just say what intrigues me is that this is playing so big around the world. I mean this is a domestic -- a British domestic problem, but suddenly it's all over America and --
ANDERSON: And -- and Jack, that's what I want to talk about, because there are a lot of people who are mystified by the failure of Murdoch to grasp the enormity of this scandal here in the U.K. and the effect it might have on News Corp. We've just alluded to how big an effect it had on the market cap.
That will change. I mean News Corp's shares may or may not come back. But there are those on the other side of the pond who are suggesting that this Hack-Gate or Hacking-Gate, as we might call it here in the U.K., might just be Murdoch's Watergate. That side of the pond they don't like people who lie. They don't like organizations that lie.
Is there a chance that people will have a sense that News Corp smells in the future?
Is it damaged goods?
IRVINE: No. I -- I don't -- there are people in the company who are damaged goods. I think the failure has been -- I mean Mr. Murdoch has got a tremendous grasp of what goes on in his empire. But remember, you've got to rely on your executives to tell you what's going on. You know, he can't know every -- where every last pencil is or, you know, every last dime in a small company.
He needs to know what's going on. He needs to be advised. My suspicion is that he wasn't advised to the full extent or he would have acted very dramatically a long time ago.
ANDERSON: Put your other hat on, Jack.
You -- you -- you deal with organizations who need managing through crises.
What would you be doing for News Corp now?
IRVINE: Well, one of the things we always tell people when we're managing a crisis is put your hands up, admit you made a big mistake, say you're sorry and do it as soon as you can.
ANDERSON: James did that yesterday, his son.
But is it too late?
IRVINE: Yes, it's a bit late.
IRVINE: It's a bit late. But James isn't the problem. The problem is Rebekah Brooks. She should have resigned weeks ago. I mean this farce tonight -- I don't know if your viewers know about it, but she came out and addressed the staff again. And it was pathetic. It was absolutely pathetic that she's showing no leadership at all. And she was at the bridge, on the "News of the World" when the phone hacking was going on.
If she had an ounce of decency, she should walk out the door.
ANDERSON: Is this an organization that is tarnished at this point?
Certainly the markets would tell you so.
IRVINE: Well, it's tarnished at the moment. But if you look back over Rupert Murdoch's career, he's been able to come back from problems time and time again. He is an amazing individual. And I think with -- now that he appears to be taking more control of it, I think we'll see better results, more dynamic results.
ANDERSON: Jack, we're going to leave it there.
We thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.
Lest any of us thought that this was a story which is just important to the U.K., this is a story that is doing the rounds around the world -- the world -- "Good-bye Cruel World" is what "The Daily Telegraph" said this morning in its front page. "The Daily Mail," "Paper That Died of Shame." That's a picture of Rebekah Brooks. Jack's just been talking about her.
The "Irish Independent" for you this evening, Friday, the 8th of July: "End of the World," as in the "News of the World." Murdoch Shuts His 168- Year-Old Paper." That's a picture of him and his wife.
"End of the World" again. This is "The National Post" for you from Canada.
"The Globe and Mail" for you this evening: "Hacking Scandal Kills U.K. Tabloid."
"The Wall Street Journal," which, of course, is owned by News Corp, "News Corp Closes Tabloid in Phone Hacking Scandal," fairly straight. That's the way that they've dealt with that one.
And the "South China Morning Post," slightly smaller, but still made it on the front page there.
It's a tough one, isn't it?
Still ahead on CONNECT THE WORLD, independence day -- South Sudan readies to become the world's newest nation, but not without challenges. We'll have more on that in about five minutes' time.
Then, later in the show, can we expect an Arab Summer?
Frustration grows in Egypt at the lack of progress since February's uprising.
And don't go anywhere, because the Space Shuttle Atlantis has blasted off for the last time. We're going to have the latest from the Kennedy Space Center in about a half hour's time.
You're with CONNECT THE WORLD.
This is CNN.
Stay with us.
ANDERSON: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD.
Here's a look at the other stories that we are following for you this hour at 16 minutes past 9:00 in London.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis lifted off today. Thousands of people gathered to watch the final mission of the United States' orbiter program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: T-minus 10 and nine, eight, seven, six, five.
All three engines up and burning.
Two, one, zero and lift-off -- the final lift-off of Atlantis. On the shoulders of the Space Shuttle, America will continue the dream.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON: The four member crew is bringing supplies to the International Space Station. They'll spend 12 days in space. We're going to have much more on the shuttle launch a little later in the show, including a live report from Florida, a look back at the historic program and what the future holds for young kids still hoping to be astronauts.
Well, those hoping to find work in the U.S. right now won't welcome the latest jobs report. The figures are the worst in nine months. Stocks dipped sharply on news that the economy added only 18,000 jobs in June, well below what was expected. It pushed the U.S. employment -- or unemployment rate to a new high for the year, 9.2 percent.
Well, Syrian opposition activists say security forces killed at least eight demonstrators across the country today. Protesters rallied after Friday prayers, calling for President Bashir Assad to step down; also rejecting his attempts at dialogue, saying negotiations can only begin after the killings stop.
Well, the government wants to convene a national conference this Sunday.
South Sudan will become the world's newest nation in just a few hour's time.
And as Jonathan Mann explains, the capital, Juba, has been preparing for this day since January's referendum.
JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a remote, impoverished corner of Africa, people are preparing for a celebration, cleaning up the capital city of what will be the world's newest nation, the Republic of South Sudan. Some are already displaying the country's new flag.
DAVID CHOAT, SOUTH SUDAN DIPLOMAT TO U.S.: (INAUDIBLE) means a lot. It means freedom to the people. It means that the people of Southern Sudan will be part of this world in their own territory.
MANN: Located on the dry plains of North Africa, South Sudan will be formed by splitting the Republic of Sudan in two. It's a hard-won independence based on a referendum that followed decades of civil war between North and South -- a conflict that left two million people dead and still echoes today. Recent skirmishes on the disputed border have continued to cause displacement and starvation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have nothing to eat. We sleep on the trees. Of course, the children become sick again and again.
MANN: Though most of South Sudan is now peaceful, it will become one of the world's poorest countries, with one of the highest infant mortality rates and lowest education levels on the planet.
But the region is rich in oil, largely untapped resources that could offer the new country a chance at economic development -- a hopeful beginning for a country whose future is still unclear.
JIMMY MULLA, SOUTH SUDAN ACTIVIST: Raising the flag and announcing that it's a new country, this is one thing. And then what happens the next day, that's what people are looking to.
MANN: Jonathan Mann reporting.
ANDERSON: Well, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive in California in just over two hours time, after wrapping up their nine day visit to Canada with a visit to the rodeo. Wearing traditional cowboy hats, William and Catherine took in some dancing leading up to the 99th Annual Calgary Stampede.
Well, earlier, the prince tried and almost failed to throw a stove into a chuck wagon. It's how the wagon races normally begin.
After landing in Los Angeles, the royal pair will head to a reception at the British consul's residence.
Well, they sacrificed everything for the chance at freedom, but five months after their dictator fell, many Egyptians feel cheated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Nothing has changed whatsoever in Egypt," he says. "Corruption continues. Police brutality continues. Nothing really has changed at all."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON: We'll see why some in Egypt say it's time to take back the revolution.
And later, lifting off for the very last time -- NASA's space shuttle program blasts into the history books.
ANDERSON: Well, they are free from a long-time dictator, but also frustrated that change has inched along so slowly since Hosni Mubarak was forced from office. Tens of thousands of Egyptians filled the streets of Cairo and other cities today to demand faster reforms from the country'/s military rulers.
Tired of vague promises, these demonstrators want a clear, detailed plan for a transition to democracy.
Well, Egyptians are also angered by a lack of justice for hundreds of protesters killed during the revolution. Some police accused in these crimes are showing up to work as usual, walking the streets as free men. Others have been arrested only to be released on bail.
Fred Pleitgen picks up the story in Suez for you.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Clashes erupt in Suez after an Egyptian court released 14 policemen on bail. They're accused of killing protesters in the revolution that brought down the Mubarak regime.
Not everyone likes our presence here, one man even kicking our camera.
Among the protesters, Ali Al-Ganadi (ph), who says his son, 24 -year- old Islam (ph), was killed by police, shot on the family's balcony while giving water to protesters.
"Nothing has changed whatsoever in Egypt," he says. "Corruption continues, police brutality continues, nothing really has changed at all."
(on camera): This is the balcony where Islam was shot. You can still see the bullet holes here in the wall. But the perceived continued lack of accountability of the police force here in this country is only one of the many things that's angering people and making them frustrated with the momentum of the revolution.
(voice-over): Egypt's interior ministry has announced a reform of the police and says it wants to purge the force of police officers involved in violence against demonstrators. But clashes erupted last Tuesday, leaving more than 1,000 injured when protesters say police blocked families of those killed in the uprising from attending a memorial service.
The discontent in post-Mubarak Egypt, however, runs deeper. A faltering economy, massive unemployment, security concerns and a feeling that the military council which is currently governing the country is dragging its feet implementing democratic and social reforms, are causing people to take to the streets.
It was almost five months ago that the protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square toppled Hosni Mubarak after almost 30 years in power. "People must begin to feel the benefits of democracy soon," warns presidential candidate and former head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa.
AMR MOUSSA, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are not in a good situation. And therefore, we will have to address this -- this -- this issue very, very quickly. But I believe that the most important thing for us is to move quickly to build the new system in Egypt.
PLEITGEN: Politicians speak of economic progress and social justice. But at this cafe in Suez, people say they've seen no improvement in their situation since Mubarak was toppled.
Still, Ahmed Karib (ph), who says he was beaten so badly by police during the uprising that he lost his vision, tells us it was worth it.
"The revolution is still going on the right track," he says, "but no one is helping us or giving us a hand."
Those who brought about change in Egypt have waited almost half a year for their sacrifices to pay dividends and many say their patience is running thin.
Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Suez, Egypt.
ANDERSON: Well, another of Egypt's presidential candidates, Mohamed ElBaradei, says what the country needs is a bill of rights that would become the core of a new constitution.
Now, he, of course, is the UN's former nuclear chief.
He's drafted a bill of rights for public debate. It guarantees equality for all, as well as freedom of expression and religion, the right to gather peacefully and the right to privacy.
Well, the bill also codifies Islam as Egypt's official religion and Sharia law as one of the main sources of legislation.
Well, earlier, I talked with ElBaradei, asking him what challenges lie ahead for his country.
MOHAMED ELBARADEI, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, there's a lot of challenges. There are, Becky, of course, unrealistic expectations. People feel, you know, after 60 years of repression, that they would like to see an opportunity to have a job, to have a basic, decent life, a good education, health care, what have you. And that, obviously, is going to take time.
There is the whole question of retribution, how far can you go to purge the old regime?
ANDERSON: There are those who say that Egypt would actually be better off with Mubarak back in power.
What do you say to those people?
ELBARADEI: No, I think -- I think that's bogus. I mean Egypt, you know, has been going down the drain in every respect. We have 40 percent living under $2 a day after 30 years of Mubarak's reign. We have 30 percent illiterate. After every revolution or every uprising, Becky, there is a bumpy road. And we -- we, philosophically, we know, or historically we know it will take a year or two. But -- but definitely, there is no going back. At least people now are still poor, but they are free. I mean you see a different Egyptian right now. I mean the fact that you can -- they can go by the millions in the streets to demonstrate and demonstrate peacefully, it's a fantastic feeling. It's a -- it's a feeling that they are being empowered.
They haven't yet translated this sense of freedom into a -- and managed it properly. Well, that will take some time.
But -- but there is nothing like being free and like -- nothing like being empowered and -- and move into, hopefully, an Egypt that is built on some sort of social justice. There is an obscene gap, as you know, Becky, between the rich and the poor here. And a continuation of the Mubarak regime would have led to a clear -- a clear explosion. The one, the kind of thing we saw in Libya. And we are lucky that we have avoided that.
ANDERSON: Social justice is something that the Muslim Brotherhood, of course, talk about, as an Islamist group. That, to a certain extent, is -- is quite surprising.
You've been very measured about the way that you have dealt and talked about the Islamist groups in Egypt.
Other people will say they see an increasing divide, a sectarian divide in Egypt.
Are you concerned about that?
ELBARADEI: Yes, I am concerned about that somewhat. And that's why, again, because we are not yet in a -- in a process where we are managing the transition. But there is a kind of polarization between -- between the so-called Islamist groups and maybe the rest -- the rest of the Muslims and -- and also with the Christians, the Copts.
But I -- I think that is just still, you know, the -- you know, the outcome of -- of moving from 60 years of repression. There's a lot of aggression coming out and many people are wrapping themselves around, you know, the -- around religion as a way to express frustration, to express aggression.
We need to work and work hard to make sure that under the new constitution, under the bill of rights, you can believe in whatever you want to believe in. You have freedom of religion, but don't -- but everybody should have the same basic rights. And these are -- are absolutely linked to the human dignity that each one of us should have.
ANDERSON: You make a lot of sense.
Briefly, are you being naive?
ELBARADEI: I don't think I'm being naive. I think -- I think, looking around at -- at many of the -- of the revolutions in Eastern Europe and -- and Latin America, they have gone through the same process in Indonesia and in many other places.
ANDERSON: Mohamed ElBaradei, speaking to me earlier. The picture in Egypt today.
You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. This is CNN at half past nine in London. Still to come, he may be the youngest on the Grand Prix track, but he is reigning it, at least. In seven minutes, our big interview tonight is with Sebastian Vettel.
Then, the end of an era.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Two, one, zero, and liftoff! The final liftoff of "Atlantis," on the shoulders of the Space Shuttle --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON: In just under 15 minutes, we're going to get you our special coverage of the final mission in an historic US Shuttle program. We look at the legacy left and who's taking the next big step for mankind.
This is CNN. Stay with us.
ANDERSON: Welcome back, just after half past nine in London, you're back with CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Becky Anderson. Let's get you a check of the headlines this hour.
The former communications chief to Britain's prime minister has been arrested and bailed over a phone hacking affair. Andy Coulson was questioned by police over whether he sanctioned the activity while editor of the "News of the World."
Activists say Syrian security forces killed at least eight people on Friday as anti-regime protests swept the nation. This amateur video is said to be from Hama. The city has been the focus of a crackdown against dissent, which the government has denied.
Huge crowds also flooded cities across Egypt, angry at the slow pace of reform since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted. Demonstrators called on the country's military rulers to provide a clear road map towards a democratic transition.
Silvio Berlusconi says he will not run for reelection when his term ends in 2013. The Italian prime minister faces a variety of charges before the courts. He says, though, at 77, he is just too old to stay on.
The US Space Shuttle "Atlantis" is soaring towards the International Space Station this hour after launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida earlier today. This is the last mission in the 30-year-old Shuttle program. More on that in the next 10 minutes or so here on CNN.
Those are your news headlines. Let's get you your headlines from the world of sports, shall we, at this point? Patrick Snell's at CNN Center, and Patrick, a big surprise from the NBA.
PATRICK SNELL, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Becky, absolutely. We're going to begin with news that no basketball fan wants to here.
Chinese center Yao Ming, who became the NBA's first superstar player, really, from Asia, has notified the Houston Rockets and the league itself he's retired. This according to multiple reports this Friday here in the United States.
It's reported that Yao has decided against trying to make another comeback after injuries limited him to playing in only five games over the past couple of seasons.
Now, with NBA players currently locked out, of course, by owners in a contract dispute, there's been no immediate confirmation as yet from the Rockets or the league regarding the status of the Chinese star.
The 30-year-old, just to recap, from Shanghai making his debut for the Rockets back in 2002 after a truly stellar career, really, for the Chinese national team and the Shanghai Sharks as well.
And investigation's underway after a baseball fan died during a major league game on Thursday after he fell over a railing while trying to catch a ball thrown into the crowd. The tragedy happened at the game between the Texas Rangers and the Oakland A's.
Former US president George Bush was at the match. After a foul shot in the second inning, Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton threw the ball into the stands, and a Rangers fan who tried to grab it fell around 20 feet or so onto a concrete surface.
The man was a local firefighter, and his young son was with him at the game. Truly tragic news, Becky. Back to you.
ANDERSON: Yes. All right, don't go anywhere for the time being, Patrick. Going to check in with you again in a moment. First, let's take a look at Don Riddell's interview with Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel. As usual, he's the favorite for this weekend's British Grand Prix.
DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the space of just eight months, Sebastian Vettel has gone from being a title contender to the dominant force in Formula One. Red Bull's 2010 champion is so far ahead in this year's standings that he could miss the next three races and still be on top.
RIDDELL (on camera): Did you think it would be this easy to defend your title? Has it been this easy?
SEBASTIAN VETTEL, LEADS F1 DRIVER STANDINGS: Well, I think it's not over. We are not even halfway through the season, so there's a lot of races to come.
Yes, we had a brilliant start, so obviously this should help for the rest of the season, but you never know. We never know what happens.
RIDDELL: Are you the fastest driver in the world, or are you just in the fastest car?
VETTEL: Well, I think it always needs both. Surely in Formula One, you depend on your car, so in a bad car, you cannot always win.
But I think it still needs the drivers to push the team and to make sure that you keep that level and you keep developing yourself and the team, and together you can achieve the next step.
RIDDELL: You fought incredibly hard to get to where you are, and last season was just incredible, wasn't it? You, of course, emerged on top.
This season, when you're so far ahead, and you are doing so well personally, there are now some people who say, "Oh, this sport's boring, I don't want to watch anymore." How does that make you feel?
VETTEL: I don't care. I think the races this year, they are very exciting, from what I've seen, obviously. On Sundays, I'm sitting in the car, I can't see the race live, but I do watch them afterwards, and yes, I think some of the races we had were just very thrilling. Always you didn't know until the end, it was not that clear.
Some races it was maybe more obvious, but I think all in all, we do have a lot of action, a lot overtaking and strategy not being clear going into the race.
So, the race -- basically, the races are not decided after the first corner or the first lap.
RIDDELL (voice-over): Vettel has just celebrated his 24th birthday, and his youth has helped him break a string of F1 records.
He was the sport's youngest driver when he was barely 19. He was the youngest to lead a race, to score points, to qualify on pole, to make the podium, to win a race, and to win the championship.
And there's still plenty of time to make more history if that's what drives him.
ANDERSON: It probably is. Patrick's still with us. It might be getting a bit boring, Pat, but how good is Vettel looking for this weekend?
SNELL: Quite formidable once again, we should say, Becky. There's no doubt about it. I find him a breath of fresh air. I think he's a fantastic young talent, he's a very personable young man, still in his early 20s, of course.
And as Don said, he could afford to actually sit out the next three Grand Prix, he'd still be clear in the drivers' standings, such is his dominance right now, it really is quite phenomenal.
I'll do the quick tally of his points. He's on 186 right now, leading the way. The nearest two challengers are 109. That's way behind him, 109 points, Jenson Button and Mark Webber.
He's very much in control, and I believe he's probably going to win the British Grand Prix again at Silverstone this weekend. But you know what, Becky? I've been wrong before.
ANDERSON: Good stuff. All right. I don't think you're going to be wrong this time, but anyway, well done. Patrick Snell with your sports news this evening here on CONNECT THE WORLD.
Coming up, a glitch with only 31 seconds to go, but the Shuttle "Atlantis" still made history in Florida today. We go there in 90 seconds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: T minus ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five - - all three engines, up and burning. Two, one, zero, and liftoff! The final liftoff of "Atlantis," on the shoulders of the Space Shuttle, America will continue the dream.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON: And with that, the hairs stood up on all of our arms, and the final Shuttle in the US Space Orbiter Program lifted off just before 11:30 local time this morning at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
CNN's John Zarrella was there, as he's been for dozens of others, both successes and failures, for nearly three decades. I hope you don't mind me saying that, sir. And he joins us now, live. How was it?
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I tell you, Becky, it was spectacular to watch. The one thing that I keep saying to everybody is, every time I've been up here in the past, I've always known that there was another one to cover. But this time, there wasn't. This is it, this is the last one.
We're looking at the flight deck, now, some live pictures. Sandy Magnus is there, we saw her -- oops, that was her hair, there, floating by a minute ago. So, the astronauts are in orbit, they're chasing down the International Space Station rendez-vous Sunday morning with the space station.
And then, the really -- what begins of the docking and then the 12-day mission that will end back here at the Kennedy Space Center on the 20th or 21st of the month. Becky?
ANDERSON: All right. I know you've got a short report for us this evening.
ANDERSON: Because it didn't all go to plan, necessarily, did it? At 31 seconds, T and 31 counting, it all sort of flattened out. I was holding my breath, I thought I was going to hold my breath forever.
ZARRELLA: Yes, there was a little bit of a glitch, there, but NASA worked it out. They stopped the count at 31, and then right away they were able to work through the problem, turned out not to be a problem at all.
They picked the count up with literally just minutes to go before they would've run out of time in the launch window, and they got "Atlantis" off the ground. And so, it was a heart stopper, that's for sure. Becky?
ANDERSON: All right. Let's take a look. I'm going to let John go, I want to take a look at John's report that he filed just earlier on. The -- what is, of course, an historic moment for the space program in the US. Let's take a look at this.
ZARRELLA (voice-over): From the beginning, it was a marvelous machine, releasing from its cargo bay deep space probes, like Ulysses, that went to Jupiter. Astronauts ventured out untethered --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The trip to solar max estimated to take ten minutes.
ZARRELLA: -- to capture and retrieve failed satellites, dead in space. Dangerous feats unheard of before Shuttle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Houston, I think we've got a satellite.
ZARRELLA: The great observatory, Hubble, dazzles with breathtaking images of the universe and its ability to see galaxies born nearly at the dawn of time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hubble has arrived onboard "Atlantis" with the arm.
ZARRELLA: Hubble was launched, repaired, and serviced from Shuttle. Every major building block of the football field-long space station was carried up and assembled from Shuttle.
Before becoming NASA's head man, Charlie Bolden was an astronaut. He flew four Shuttle flights, including the Hubble launch.
CHARLIE BOLDEN, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: I defy anybody -- and I will argue with my Apollo comrades -- the accomplishments, the achievements, the record of performance, the spinoffs, the capabilities that have been developed, what we did in Shuttle over 30 years dwarfed what was done in the Apollo era.
GENE CERNAN, APOLLO ASTRONAUT: We can build spacecraft, we can build hardware, we can build boosters, but there's no goal, there's no mission. We are wandering in the desert in space today. Period.
ZARRELLA: So, why now? Why call it quits now? From the time of its inception 40 years ago until the Shuttles are retired, the program will have cost the American taxpayers just shy of $115 billion. That's less than $4 billion a year. A drop, if that, in the federal budget. Still, the problem is money.
NORM AUGUSTINE, PRESIDENTIAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: There's just not enough money in NASA to continue the existing programs and start a new program at the same time.
ZARRELLA (on camera): Was it time?
BOLDEN: Yes, it was time. And it has been time for some time to phase out of Shuttle and go back to exploration.
ZARRELLA (voice-over): Whether you hated it or hailed it, whether you felt it a waste or worth it, the Shuttle was an iconic flying machine that symbolized America's inspiration and ingenuity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger all.
ANDERSON: Remarkable stuff. And as you were watching John's report, there on the right hand side of your screens, you were seeing live pictures from the final Shuttle in the US Space Orbiter program, which lifted off around about 11:30 this morning.
And there had come those pictures once again, live pictures as "Atlantis" makes its way towards the International Space Station. I think John said docking Sunday and there for, what is it? Twelve days or so.
NASA TV aboard the Shuttle "Atlantis." Quite remarkable stuff, isn't it?
All right. Get you some other pictures from the Shuttle, now. Take a look at this. For each mission, there's a huge crew of people that strap in the astronauts and make sure that everything is A-OK for launch.
This is a touching personal thank you from those who made the historic program possible, and you can see they're appearing one at a time with their own message of thanks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TEXT: On behalf of all who Designed & Built --
-- Serviced & Loaded, Launched & Controlled --
-- Operated & Flown These Magnificent Space Vehicles.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON: An era ends, so who will pick up where the US has left off? Next up, is a new space race emerging? We're going to take a look at some of the countries well on the way to filling the void. Stay with us.
ANDERSON: Well, the final mission is underway. "Atlantis" blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center just about five hours ago, about 11:30 local time, Florida time. The last flight in the Space Shuttle's 30-year history.
It is the end of an era, of course, for the United States, but other countries are standing by to fill the void. We're going to take a spin around the globe on this story.
Shortly, we're going to head to Moscow, where Matthew Chance will tell us how Russia fits in. From Mumbai, we'll hear from Mallika Kapur about India's controversial program. We're going to begin for you, though, tonight in Beijing, where Stan Grant takes us inside China's space mission. Have a look at this.
STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Stan Grant in Beijing. As we all know, China continues to make its mark here on Earth, but it also wants to be a superpower of the skies, and it is well on the way, completing its long march to the moon.
GRANT (voice-over): It was 2003 when astronaut Yang Liewi went where no Chinese man had gone before, into space. When he returned, it was a scene of absolute pandemonium. Yang carried aloft, an instant national hero.
This was the culmination of a space program that dated back decades. This old footage from the 1970s showing China launching its first satellite into orbit to a soundtrack of a Chinese revolutionary song. The successful rocket launch is hailed as a milestone. "China's voice is finally heard in space," the narrator of this video says.
How times have changed. As the United States retires its Shuttle Program, China is planning to launch a space station. From there, it will make the ultimate statement in the skies.
GRANT (on camera): Less than a decade ago, this man was China's first man into space. Its ultimate aim is to put a man on the moon. That would be the real test of China's power.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Matthew Chance in Moscow, and behind me is a replica of the Buran spacecraft, the old Soviet Union's answer to the US Space Shuttle Program.
CHANCE (voice-over): It only flew once, back in 1988, never really achieving the success of its American counterpart.
All the more ironic, then, that with the end of the Shuttle Program, US astronauts must now depend on Russian rockets, which are much cheaper to get them into space, at least until the next generation of NASA spacecrafts comes online.
But the truth is, these days, space travel is much more about economics and collaboration than competition.
CHANCE (on camera): It may have started as a race between two superpowers, with the first satellites, the first human orbit, the first lunar landing, the first Shuttle.
But today, space travel is one of the few areas in which the United States and Russia truly cooperate.
MALLIKA KAPUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Mallika Kapur in Mumbai. Over the last 50 years, India has developed a rather ambitious and expansive space program. It takes great pride in saying that it's self-reliant.
KAPUR (voice-over): India can design, develop, build, and launch its own satellites from its own soil without the help of any other country.
It's launched a number of satellites over the years and, perhaps, the highlight of its accomplishments in its space program so far has been the launch of Chandrayaan in October 2008, an unmanned mission to the moon.
Since then, India has increased its budget for its space program, which is now around a billion dollars a year.
Of course, there are plenty of people in India who wonder why India is spending so much money on its space program, and they say that this money could be better spent on helping the common man.
They want to see this money used to help people who are hungry. There are millions of people who go hungry in India every day. They want to see this money spent on better infrastructure, on food and clothing, on shelter.
KAPUR (on camera): Now, those who support the space program have this comeback. They say that advances in space technology will help everyone, and that it'll help India deliver better infrastructure, better resources, better natural disaster management, and also better management of its natural resources.
ANDERSON: Mallika Kapur in Mumbai for you.
Most of those programs, I think it's fair to say, probably wouldn't have been around if it hadn't been for the US Space Orbiter Program, which has been pioneering in so many ways.
And our next guest is among those whose name the Shuttles have helped cement in history. In 1995, Bernard Harris became the first African- American to walk in space. The former NASA astronaut joins me now from Indianapolis.
What do people say when you say, "I'm an astronaut?"
BERNARD HARRIS, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: Well, you know, sometimes, depending on the environment, they don't believe me.
HARRIS: Then, of course, I have to share with them, once they believe me, what it's like to travel in space, and then they are really excited.
ANDERSON: What a dream. OK, listen. You watched today. At 31 seconds and counting, everything stopped, and they said there'd been some sort of mechanical failure. Talk us through what the astronauts in the "Atlantis" were going through.
HARRIS: Well, as you saw today, we usually go in about two to three hours before liftoff, so there's a lot of time to just sit on your -- back thinking about -- contemplating what's going to happen in the next few minutes.
And at that 31 seconds, a few heart rates went up because -- not because of any issue that they were concerned about being scared, but as more of that may not launch today, at least that's the way it was for me.
ANDERSON: Were you holding your breath?
HARRIS: Well, I describe the ascent ride, we hit first stage when you're on the solid rocket motors, which lasts about two minutes, and then you have the second stage that goes on into orbit, only taking eight and a half minutes to get there.
And I tell people, I took my first breath when the engines, main engines lit, and I took my second breath when we got off the solid rocket motors.
ANDERSON: Goodness, you must be a -- you'd work well underwater as well as in the -- in space. Listen, this is the end of the program as we know it. It will be a very sad day for NASA, but is it the right thing?
HARRIS: I believe it's the right thing to do. The Shuttle has been around for over 30 years, now. It has served its purpose, and just like all things, there comes a time in which you need to move on. And I think that time has come.
I think the next era for us is going to be exciting. As we get private industry more involved in the space program and you have in that new innovation, new ideas about how vehicles are developed and built and how you get people into low Earth orbit. So, I'm excited.
ANDERSON: Good stuff. We are, too. Bernard, we thank you very much, indeed, for joining us. Going to have to take an advertising break very shortly. Bernard Harris, your astronaut this evening.
Well, your Parting Shots today, 134 launches in 134 seconds, not counting today's takeoff. That is how many times NASA's Shuttles "Columbia," "Challenger," "Endeavour," "Discovery," and "Atlantis" have blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center, and here at CNN, we've made it a bit easier for you and crammed those memorable launches into 134 seconds.
We haven't quite got time to show you it all, but you can check it out at cnn.com, and we'll do as much as we can before this short break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: T minus ten --
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: -- nine --
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: -- eight --
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: -- seven --
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: -- six --
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: We have engine start.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Five --
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: -- four --
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: -- three --
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: -- two --
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: -- one.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: And we have liftoff!
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: And lifting the largest astronaut crew is on its way.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Space lab two --
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Shuttle has cleared the tower.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Rollover initiated.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Houston controlling now.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Roger, roll, Challenger.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Americans return to space as Discovery clears the tower.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Liftoff of Columbia and the first dedicated medical research flight.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Six-man crew on a Department of Defense flight.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Climb to 28.5 degree inclination orbit.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Atlantis speed now 500 miles an hour.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Banking on the dynamic pressure on the vehicle in the lower atmosphere.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Burning engines at 100 percent.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Well, the vehicle's rate of speed will virtually triple.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Flight controllers standing by for burnout and jettison of the twin solid rockets.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Three main engines, second stage.
NASA MISSION CONTROL: Columbia, Houston. Performance nominal.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: On a heads-down position, on course.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Space Shuttle Columbia, with the micro- gravity science laboratory.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Start out about one G vertical acceleration.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Send the photo now.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: All systems onboard are continuing to perform well.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Good solid rocket booster separation.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Houston now controlling the flight of Columbia, the international research mission finally underway.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: And liftoff of Space Shuttle Discovery, beginning America's new journey.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Atlantis begins its penultimate journey to shore up the International Space Station.
NASA LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: The final liftoff of Discovery.
SPACE SHUTTLE ENDEAVOUR: Houston, Endeavour. All program.
NASA MISSION CONTROL: Roger, roll, Endeavour.
(END VIDEO CLIP)