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WATCH LIVE: NASA to launch final shuttle at 11:30 ET

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Watch live as NASA and the astronauts prepare and then launch the shuttle Atlantis, which will be the final shuttle flight of the U.S. space program, courtesy of MSNBC:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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COVID-19

Pharma chiefs see coronavirus vaccine by year-end, but challenges ‘daunting’

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Pharmaceutical company executives said Thursday that one or several COVID-19 vaccines could begin rolling out before 2021, but warned the challenges would be "daunting" as it was estimated that 15 billion doses would be needed to halt the pandemic.

Well over 100 labs around the world are scrambling to come up with a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, including 10 that have made it to the clinical trial stage.

"The hope of many people is that we will have a vaccine, hopefully several, by the end of this year," Pascal Soriot, head of AstraZeneca, told a virtual briefing.

His company is partnering with the University of Oxford to develop and distribute a vaccine being trialled in Britain.

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COVID-19

How coronavirus contact tracing works in a state Dr. Fauci praised as a model to follow

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After weeks of keeping people home to “flatten the curve,” restrictions on U.S. businesses are loosening and the coronavirus pandemic response is moving into a new phase.

Two things will be critical to keep COVID-19 cases from flaring up again: widespread testing to quickly identify anyone who gets the virus, and contact tracing to find everyone those individuals might have passed it to.

It’s a daunting task, but states are working hard to take the necessary steps to reopen safely. When Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, explained that task to the U.S. Senate recently, he pointed to South Carolina as a model for the country, one that he would “almost like to clone.”

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How Europe’s CHEOPS satellite will improve the hunt for exoplanets

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While the planet has been on lockdown the last two months, a new space telescope called CHEOPS opened its eyes, took its first pictures of the heavens and is now open for business.

The CHEOPS mission adds a unique twist in the science that the public normally associates with planet discovery missions like Kepler and TESS. Kepler and TESS produced many groundbreaking discoveries and brought the number of known exoplanets into the thousands – so many that we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can learn from them. Consequently, rather than simply finding more planets, the primary objective of CHEOPS is to better understand the planets that we’ve already found.

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