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Obama aide: Plans for new moon mission are ‘dead’

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A plan to return US astronauts to the moon “is dead,” a White House adviser on space issues said Friday, confirming reports that NASA will instead focus on developing commercial space transport.

“Constellation is dead,” the adviser told AFP on condition of anonymity, referring to a program that envisioned returning to the moon by 2020 and using Earth’s nearest neighbor as a base for manned expeditions to Mars.

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Florida Today newspaper first reported the demise of the program Thursday, saying the plan was doomed by financial constraints in the 2011 budget which President Barack Obama is to present to Congress on Monday.

Reports added that the US space agency will work on finding a commercial solution to ferrying US astronauts to the International Space Station after the scheduled end of NASA’s shuttle program in September 2010.

Only five more shuttle flights, including a mission by the Endeavor set for a February 7 launch, are planned.

Astronauts will be able to hitch rides aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft, but the United States will need a commercial alternative if Congress approves White House plans to scrap development of a successor to the shuttle program.

The administration reportedly plans to hike NASA’s budget by 5.9 billion dollars over five years to boost commercial development, with the goal of a first commercial flight to the ISS launching by 2015, the source said.

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The Constellation program was launched in 2004 by then-president George W. Bush.

Space expert John Logsdon said the abandonment of the program did not spell the end for US ambitions in space.

“While Constellation is dead, it does not mean human space exploration is also dead,” said Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.

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He said NASA would probably start to plan with the private sector and international partners for the future of the ISS past 2020.

Getting the cancellation through Congress would be “tough,” he added, as lawmakers from Florida and other states with close ties to the space program would oppose anything that threatened local jobs.

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News of Constellation’s cancellation came as NASA marked its day of remembrance, honoring astronauts who died in the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia space missions.

President Obama released a statement paying tribute to those “who lost their lives supporting NASA’s mission of exploration and study of the Earth, the planets and the stars.”

“All of humanity has benefited from their courage and devotion,” he said.

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“We mourn their loss while celebrating their spirit of discovery. May their sacrifice be an inspiration as we continue our nation’s work to explore our universe.”


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Ex-cops indicted in fatal shooting of Black woman and ‘public torture’ of Black man in separate incidents

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Two former Mississippi police officers were indicted in the brutal beating of a Black motorist, and one of them was also charged in an unrelated fatal shooting.

Wade Robertson, 28, and Bryce Gilbert, 27, were charged with aggravated assault in the 2018 beating of James Barnett, and Robertson was also charged with manslaughter in the 2019 shooting death of Dominique Henry, reported The Laurel Leader-Call.

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Quarantine, racial strife, Trump have Michelle Obama feeling down

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Former First Lady Michelle Obama said she is suffering from "low-grade depression" from coronavirus quarantine, racial strife in the United States and the "hypocrisy" of the Trump administration.

Obama made the remarks in the latest episode of "The Michelle Obama Podcast" released on Spotify on Wednesday.

"I'm waking up in the middle of the night because I'm worrying about something or there's a heaviness," the 56-year-old former First Lady said.

"I try to make sure I get a workout in, although there have been periods throughout this quarantine, where I just have felt too low," she said.

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Another watchdog at US State Department abruptly gone

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The internal watchdog looking into accusations against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo abruptly quit Wednesday, just months after his predecessor was fired.

The State Department's acting inspector general, Stephen Akard, is a longtime aide to Vice President Mike Pence and his installation in May had widely been seen as a way to keep a friendly figure in the role.

Akard informed colleagues that he is "returning to the private sector after years of public service," a State Department spokesperson said.

"We appreciate his dedication to the Department and to our country."

But Akard's departure comes just as his office finalizes a report on Pompeo's controversial decision to bypass Congress to sell $8.1 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies.

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