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Private company wins US clearance to fly to the moon

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A Florida-based company won U.S. government permission on Wednesday to send a robotic lander to the moon next year, the firm’s founder said, marking the first time the United States has cleared a private space mission to fly beyond Earth’s orbit.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s unprecedented go-ahead for the Moon Express mission also sets a legal and regulatory framework for a host of other commercial expeditions to the moon, asteroids and Mars.

As approved by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, the privately held Moon Express, headquartered in Cape Canaveral, plans to fly a suitcase-sized lander to the moon for a two-week mission in 2017, said the company founder and chief executive Bob Richards.

The spacecraft will carry a number of science experiments and some commercial cargo on its one-way trip to the lunar surface, including cremated human remains, and will beam back pictures and video to Earth, the company said.

Before now, no government agency was recognized as having authority to oversee private missions beyond Earth’s orbit, though a 1967 international treaty holds the United States responsible for any flights into space by its non-government entities.

So far, only government agencies have flown spacecraft beyond the orbit of the Earth.

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To address the conundrum, the FAA, which already exercises jurisdiction over commercial rocket launches in the United States, led an interagency review of the Moon Express proposal, which included steps the company would take to ensure compliance with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

“It’s been a very steep mountain,” Richards said in a telephone interview. “We had to lay the track at the same time that we wanted to do the mission.”

Other companies are expected to soon follow the same framework.

Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of Space Exploration Technologies, plans to fly a spacecraft to Mars in 2018, a mission that raises a host of issues dealing with protecting potential indigenous life on the planet from contamination by Earth microbes.

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Among other private space ventures in the works are missions to mine asteroids, operate science labs and repair and service satellites.

Planetary protection is less of a concern on the moon, but Moon Express did have to contend with concerns about disturbing Apollo and other historic lunar landing sites, among other issues.

“We proposed a scenario that built on the existing FAA mission-approval framework,” Richards said.

NASA and other agencies, including the Defense, State and Commerce departments, ultimately agreed that no new law was necessary, Richards said.

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As part of the agreement, NASA will advise, but not regulate, Moon Express activities on the lunar surface.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Andrew Hay)

Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
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Heiress and designer, Gloria Vanderbilt dies at 95

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American heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, a designer and artist who became one of the most chronicled socialites of her era, died Monday, her son announced. She was 95 years old.

The great-great granddaughter of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, she was thrust into the spotlight as the "poor little rich girl" at the center of a sensational custody battle in the 1930s, before finding fame in her own right for her line of designer blue jeans and it-girl fashion.

"Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman, who loved life, and lived it on her own terms," her son, the popular CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, said in a tribute read on air.

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‘Black students don’t tip’: Texas restaurant says forcing African-American kids to pay gratuity is not racist

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A restaurant in Cypress, Texas has come under fire after an employee allegedly said that black students "don't tip."

Brittany Blakney told KPRC that she and her friends went to Locatelli’s restaurant to celebrate graduating from Prairie View A&M University.

Blakney said that she was surprised to find out that the server had already added a 15% gratuity to her check.

“He said, 'Black students from Prairie View don’t tip,'” she recalled.

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Kids in cages: Geneva protest urges UN action on Trump migration policy

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Teenagers huddled in a cage outside the UN in Geneva Monday, as protestors demanded that the world body address the "unconscionable" US policy of separating migrant families crossing its southern border.

Three teens wearing t-shirts with "#ClassroomsNotCages" scrawled across the front stood inside a small cage erected outside the gates of the United Nations's European headquarters, as dozens of demonstrators urged the UN Human Rights Council take on President Donald Trump's administration.

"The action today is about creating more pressure and more exposure of just how terrible and dehumanising this policy of the American government is towards children," said Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers, which helped organise the protest.

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