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Air Force says rocket accident won’t bump SpaceX from satellite competition

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SpaceX can compete to launch a U.S. Global Positioning System satellite despite a Falcon 9 rocket accident this weekend, the Air Force said on Wednesday.

“SpaceX remains certified and can compete for the upcoming GPS III launch service,” Lt. General Samuel Greaves, who heads the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, wrote in an email to Reuters.

The Air Force plans to release a solicitation for launch service proposals this month, the first time SpaceX, which is owned and operated by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, will be eligible to compete against United Launch Alliance (ULA). The joint-venture of Lockheed-Martin and Boeing has had a monopoly on the military’s launch business.

In May, SpaceX won a hard-fought, two-year battle to have its Falcon 9 rocket certified to fly military and national security satellites. On Sunday, one of those rockets exploded after liftoff.

The cause of the accident, which claimed a cargo ship heading to the International Space Station for NASA and was the first Falcon 9 launch failure in 19 flights, is under investigation.

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While not directly involved in the mission, the Air Force said it has been invited to observe the accident investigation and has offered support.

SpaceX is leading the investigation, with support from NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees commercial space launches in the United States.

Preliminary analysis indicates a problem with the liquid oxygen system of the rocket’s upper-stage engine.

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SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told reporters after the accident that Falcon 9 launches would be suspended “a number of months, or so” pending the results of the investigation.

“We are working with our partners to prepare for potential delays on the order of a few months,” SpaceX wrote in an email to Reuters.

The rocket that blew up on Sunday was the third cargo ship lost in the past eight months. In October, an Orbital ATK Antares rocket exploded seconds after liftoff from Virginia. Orbital is buying new engines for the rocket and expects to return to flight next year.

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In April, a Russian Progress capsule failed to separate properly from its Soyuz launcher, dooming the ship. Russia hopes to break the string of launch failures with liftoff of another Soyuz rocket and Progress capsule at 12:55 a.m. EDT/0455 GMT on Friday.

(Reporting by Irene Klotz and Andrea Shalal Editing by Christian Plumb)


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Trump pits Apollo 11 astronauts against NASA chief — he thinks he understands space travel better

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President Donald Trump welcomed surviving Apollo 11 crew members Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the White House Friday, using the occasion to tell his space chief he would prefer to go straight to Mars without returning to the Moon.

It is a theme he had touched upon earlier this month in a tweet, and this time drew on the support of the two former astronauts, who are taking part in celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of their mission, to make his case to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.

"To get to Mars, you have to land on the Moon, they say," said Trump, without looking convinced.

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Babies born near oil and gas wells are up to 70% more likely to have congenital heart defects, new study shows

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Researchers at the University of Colorado studied pregnant women who are among the 17 million Americans living within a mile from an active oil or gas well

Proximity to oil and gas sites makes pregnant mothers up to 70 percent more likely to give birth to a baby with congenital heart defects, according to a new study.

Led by Dr. Lisa McKenzie at the University of Colorado, researchers found that the chemicals released from oil and gas wells can have serious and potentially fatal effects on babies born to mothers who live within a mile of an active well site—as about 17 million Americans do.

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Mueller testimony ‘is going to be a devastating day for the president’: former White House lawyer

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The eyes of the nation will be on Capitol Hill on Wednesday when former special counsel Robert Mueller publicly testifies before Congress.

Mueller, who was a federal prosecutor, top DOJ official, and director of the FBI before serving as special counsel, is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning and the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday afternoon.

"As Democrats prepare for the arrival of special counsel Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill next week, their plans for his day of wall-to-wall testimony is becoming clearer: if Donald Trump were anyone but the president, he would be charged with the crimes Mueller uncovered," MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace reported on Friday.

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