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Intriguing people for February 8, 2010

By Jay Kernis, CNN
Astronaut Kathryn Hire was the first female in the U.S. military assigned to a combat aircrew, according to NASA.
Astronaut Kathryn Hire was the first female in the U.S. military assigned to a combat aircrew, according to NASA.
  • Astronaut on two-week mission to space station was first female on combat aircrew
  • Former mayor's son earns landslide victory in New Orleans mayoral race
  • Climate scientist tells newspaper he considered suicide amid controversy over e-mails

Editor's note: Every weekday, CNN focuses on a handful of people in the news. This is a chance to find out more about what they've done -- good or bad -- what they've said or what they believe, and why we think they're intriguing.

(CNN) -- Kathryn Hire: With one woman and five men aboard, the space shuttle Endeavour launched early Monday morning and is heading to the international space station. Endeavour's two-week visit is the first of NASA's five final shuttle missions before the space agency retires its aging space shuttle fleet later this year. It's also the last major construction project on the 11-year-old space station.

NASA says the crew members are Cmdr. George Zamka, pilot Terry Virts, and mission specialists Nicholas Patrick, Robert Behnken, Stephen Robinson and Kathryn Hire. Hire's official NASA biography details that she was born in Mobile, Alabama, served in the U.S. Navy for 7 years, and in 1993, became the first female in the U. S. military to be assigned to a combat aircrew. She was selected by NASA for astronaut training in December 1994, and has logged over 381 hours in space. Endeavour soars in predawn launch

NASA: Astronaut biography

CNN: Endeavour lifts off on two-week mission

Video: Behind the shuttle launch

Mitch Landrieu: The last time New Orleans, Louisiana, had a white mayor was between 1970 and 1978, when Maurice "Moon" Landrieu led the desegregation of the city and appointed many African-Americans to top positions in City Hall. On Saturday, voters elected his son, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, to the office his father once held.

WWL-TV reports that Landrieu, who had run for the mayor's office twice before, captured votes across all racial lines this time in the majority-black city. Landrieu, a Democrat, said, "We decided that we were going to stick the pole in the ground and strike a blow for unity, strike a blow for a city that decided to be unified rather than divided, a city that understands that where there is equal opportunity, there is equal responsibility."

In 1996, the mayor-elect's sister became the first woman from Louisiana to win election to a full term in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Mary Landrieu, discussing her brother's win, said, "He ran an exceptional race and people could see the sincerity." According to Mitch Landrieu's official biography, he attended Catholic University in Washington, where he majored in political science and theatre --obviously a useful combination. He takes office on May 6.

WWL-TV: Landrieu wins in landslide About Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu

Laura Chinchilla: Costa Rica elected its first female president on Sunday, as the ruling National Liberation Party claimed a historic victory. Chinchilla replaces her protégé, President Oscar Arias, a Nobel laureate. The New York Times reports that Chinchilla is center-left when it comes to welfare policy, but is socially conservative and opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.

The 50-year-old mother of a teenaged boy, she received a master's degree in public policy from Georgetown University. "I want to thank the pioneering women who years ago opened the doors of politics in Costa Rica," Chinchilla said to flag-waving supporters in the capital, San Jose. "My government will be open to all Costa Ricans of good faith."

New York Times: Ex-vice president claims victory in Costa Rica

CNN: Costa Rica elects first woman president

Anthony Thomas: Last June, the Boys Scouts of America selected the teenager from Lakeville, Minnesota, as the honorary 2 millionth Eagle Scout. Today, he's scheduled to be in Washington to take part in a celebration of Boy Scouts of America's 100th birthday. The Scouts were incorporated on February 8, 1910.

According to the Boy Scouts, there are some 2.8 million people between the ages of 7 and 20 who participate in scouting, but fewer than 5 percent earn the highest rank, Eagle Scout. Thomas, a junior at Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, Minnesota, has been involved in scouting since age 7. His parents adopted him from Korea, and he volunteers as a counselor to Korean adoptees.

Thomas has been traveling the country as a 100th anniversary youth ambassador. He rode the BSA float in the Tournament of Roses parade last month and in March is scheduled to meet President Obama when the Boy Scouts deliver their annual Report to the Nation. Thomas, who has also earned 26 merit badges, told CNN Sunday that the greatest lesson from scouting is, "Once you learn to lead a little bit, you learn there is a fine line between being strict and being nice. I've learned to be assertive, without being too strict."

Boy Scouts of America: Teen named 2 millionth Eagle Scout (PDF)

Boy Scouts of America: Presidents and the Boy Scouts

Phil Jones: In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times of London, the University of East Anglia professor said the recent "climategate" e-mail scandal caused him to consider suicide. In those hacked e-mails, Jones expressed concern that global warming skeptics would discredit the work of climate change scientists and apparently suggested that it might be better to destroy scientific data rather than have it discredited, the Times reported.

When the e-mails surfaced before the Copenhagen climate summit in December, the harsh reaction that was unleashed around the world took Jones by surprise. He told the Times, "I am just a scientist. I have no training in PR or dealing with crises." The newspaper reports that Jones, who temporarily left his university job as director of climate research, still gets death threats. He said, "People said I should go and kill myself. They said that they knew where I lived. They were coming from all over the world."

Sunday Times: Climate professor thought of killing himself

What makes a person intriguing?

There are people who enter the news cycle every day because their actions or decisions are new, important or different. Others are in the news because they are the ones those decisions affect. And there are a number of people who are so famous or controversial that anything they say or do becomes news.

Some of these people do what we expect of them: They run for office, pass legislation, start a business, get hired or fired, commit a crime, make an arrest, get in accidents, hit a home run, overthrow a government, fight wars, sue an opponent, put out fires, prepare for hurricanes and cavort with people other than their spouses. They do make news, but the action is usually more important than who is involved in the story.

But every day, there are a number of people who become fascinating to us -- by virtue of their character, how they reached their decision, how they behaved under pressure or because of the remarkable circumstances surrounding the event they are involved in.

They arouse our curiosity. We hear about them and want to know more. What they have done or said stimulates conversations across the country. At times, there is even a mystery about them. What they have done may be unique, heroic, cowardly or ghastly, but they capture our imaginations. We want to know what makes them tick, why they believe what they do, and why they did what they did. They intrigue us.