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Shuttle Sparks Panic In Central America

Endeavour's sonic boom over El Salvador sent residents into the streets and put local authorities on high alert.

The shuttle Endeavour made an unexpected course change during its landing approach to Florida's Kennedy Space Center on Sunday.

The maneuver allowed the craft to circumvent bad weather plaguing its normal route across the southern U.S., but it also sent unwary residents of Central America into the streets in panic.

Endeavour's sonic boom over El Salvador caused a stir not unlike what occurred in the wake of Orson Welles' infamous War Of The Worlds radio broadcast.

"Dogs barked, kids asked what's going on, parents went around their homes with flashlights, people called the police, some rescue helicopters were placed in 5-minute alerts," said InformationWeek.com reader Juan Carlos Sol, of San Salvador, in an e-mail.

"People who were outside thought it was a meteorite," said Sol.

Indeed, Endeavour's detour, and its auditory fallout, made front page headlines across the Western hemisphere's middle region, even as NASA remained mum on the incident.

"Sorpresa y alarma por el paso del Endeavour," declared El Diario, in a headline that translates in English to "Surprise Alarm Over Endeavour."

A sonic boom occurs when a rocket or plane catches up to sound waves it's already produced.

Sol said calm was restored after local media reported that the thunder clap was, in fact, nothing more than the shuttle making its way home to Florida to close out a two-week mission to the International Space Station.

The shuttle crew was busy throughout the mission, which began Feb 8.

Crewmembers conducted a live Q&A session with President Obama last week, during which Obama asked them what it would take to get humans to Mars. They also performed an overnight spacewalk to open the new cupola observatory on the International Space Station.

Shuttle mission STS-130 saw the astronauts perform three spacewalks in total to conduct maintenance and repair operations on the ISS.

Endeavour carried a six-member crew, including pilot Terry Virts, commander George Zamka, and mission specialists Robert Behnken, Kathryn Hire, Robert Patrick, and Steve Robinson.

STS-130 was Endeavour's 24th flight and the 130th for the space shuttle program overall. NASA is cancelling the program at the end of this year, and there are only four remaining missions scheduled through the remainder of 2010.

InformationWeek has published a report on how telepresence is turning video communications into a near in-person experience. Download the report here (registration required).

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