July 22, 2014

If you can't make it to Mars, Hawaii is the next big thing.

On Friday, the second Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation mission (Hi-SEAS 2) will come to an end on Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano. On March 28, six crew members went there to live in a 36-foot wide, solar-powered structure meant to mimic a "Mars habitat," reports. During their four months on "Mars," the crew worked on improving space walks, looked at how plants grow under different wavelengths of light, and even took treks in fake spacesuits, the only time they left their home.

(Facebook/Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation)

The point of Hi-SEAS is to "test what will be necessary for future astronauts to live on the surface of Mars for an extended period of time," Cmd. Casey Steadman, an officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, wrote in a blog post. "The challenges future human missions to Mars will face are not easily duplicated on Earth. But through careful planning, analog studies can simulate some [of] the factors in order to better prepare us." Catherine Garcia

11:30 a.m. ET

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) suggested Wednesday in an interview with CNN that the 2016 Democratic National Committee email leak could have been an "insider job." "There's still some question as to whether the intrusion at the DNC server was an insider job, or whether or not it was the Russians," Farenthold said.

When pressed for evidence to back his claim, Farenthold cited "stuff circulating on the internet." He didn't specify what "stuff."

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia was behind the cyberattacks throughout the 2016 presidential election, including the DNC hack:

Watch Farenthold's full interview below. His comments about the "insider job" start around the 3:20 mark. Becca Stanek

11:27 a.m. ET
Joe Raedle/Newsmakers

Tommy Arthur, a 75-year-old Alabama inmate sentenced to death in 1983 for murder, is facing his eighth execution date Thursday evening. Seven times before — in 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2016 — he's been slated to sit down for his last meal, only for his execution to be delayed after his legal team won appeals.

Arthur has been accused of two murders: He served five years for the second-degree murder of his wife's sister, but he's maintained his innocence in the 1982 murder of Troy Wicker, for which he was sentenced to death. Arthur's lawyer has argued that "neither a fingerprint or a weapon, nor any other physical evidence" ties Arthur to the murder.

Arthur's case has become a flash point for people on all sides of the death penalty, The New York Times reported. "People who simply want the execution are unhappy because of the passage of time," said Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "People who oppose the death penalty are unhappy because they don't want Tommy Arthur executed. People who want fairness are unhappy because, despite the length of time this case has been in the courts, the process has never been fair."

Arthur said his oldest daughter "came to six execution dates, and the stress of her father about to be killed was so traumatic it damaged her heart." She did not come to his seventh execution date and she was not originally planning to come to his eighth, scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. Arthur isn't bothering with requesting a last meal either. "I don't believe in that last meal baloney — I never have the appetite. When they're trying to kill you, you're not hungry," he said.

Arthur's lawyers are fighting for another delay, but The New York Times reported that Arthur "allowed that his case might be near its end." On Friday, the day after Arthur's eighth execution date, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) is slated to sign a measure that would shorten death penalty appeals. Becca Stanek

10:20 a.m. ET

As President Trump waltzes across the Middle East and Western Europe this week, he leaves at home a gaping hole at the top of the FBI following the ousting of former FBI Director James Comey. Despite Trump claiming he was "very close" to having an FBI director last week, the leading candidate, former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), is now out of the running, CNN reports.

"Trump has since decided he wants to see a broader range of candidates for the job," CNN reports an administration official as saying.

Lieberman had no federal law enforcement background, The Hill reports, which sparked concerns in Congress. Lieberman is a partner at the same law firm as Trump's private attorney, Marc Kasowitz, who will represent Trump in the investigation, led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

For the position, Trump has also interviewed former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating (R), acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and former FBI official Richard McNeely; McNeely has since withdrawn from the running, and Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, New York Court of Appeals Associate Judge Michael Garcia, Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R), and South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) have also removed themselves from consideration. Jeva Lange

9:59 a.m. ET
Ron Sach-Pool/Getty Images

U.S. allies are having a particularly tough time preparing for the upcoming G-7 summit in Italy on Friday and Saturday, the first that President Trump will attend in person. Officials are trying to write up the statements they'll deliver, as is the norm ahead of such meetings, but they are struggling to work with the "broad points" that U.S. officials have submitted that "fail to nail down positions on issues the leaders will discuss," Politico reported.

The French are hoping Trump can clear up whether or not he actually wants to back out of the Paris climate agreement, while Italy wants to know if Trump would be willing to help out with the influx of refugees. So far, the White House has only indicated that Trump will "promote economic prosperity and global growth" and "address unfair trade practices and other global issues, such as the role of innovation in the economy, women's equality, and food security."

"We haven't exactly seen the same situation before," said Pierre Vimont, a former French ambassador to the United States who has talked to people involved with G-7 conversations. "It's been difficult to find an agreement with the Americans."

Trump's ambiguity may be a bargaining tactic, so that he can see what other leaders will offer him before he puts his cards on the table. But, Politico noted, such vague answers in response to allies' demands for clarity could very well "cause drama" during his first foreign trip. Becca Stanek

9:49 a.m. ET

President Trump very nearly became the first American president since World War II to forgo an audience with the pope, The New York Times reports.

Former President George W. Bush's ambassador to the Vatican, James Nicholson, helped set up the meeting between Trump and Pope Francis when he realized Trump's advisers were waiting for an invitation to the Vatican — apparently unaware that it was their responsibility to request the audience.

"They hadn't gotten an invitation, and I said, 'You'll never get an invitation,'" Nicholson said. He added that the historic significance of Trump missing an audience with the pope was "a data point that I was pretty persistent on." Read more dispatches from Trump's visit to the Vatican on Wednesday at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

9:02 a.m. ET

Google now knows how your shopping habits in the "real world" correspond with the ads you interact with online. The advertising giant is teaming up with credit and debit card companies to "match up in-store purchases with your online identity," CNN reports.

The credit card companies provide Google with encrypted information about purchases, which Google software then compares to Google profiles of people who viewed relevant ads. Google cannot actually see any of the encrypted data, so it does not have access to identifiable payment information, like the person's name or what they bought.

The matches are tallied up in aggregate to protect privacy. That means Google can tell a restaurant their ads resulted in 1,000 people going there to eat and how much they spent, but not share any personal information about individual diners. [CNN]

"The privacy implications of this are pretty massive, so Google needs to tread very carefully," San Diego State University marketing professor Miro Copic told the Los Angeles Times. The massive partnership between Google and the card companies will account for 70 percent of all debit or credit card purchases in the country.

You can get around Google tracking your IRL purchases, but it isn't exactly easy: You would have to either log out of your Google account before searching anything, or turn off your search history. CNN also suggests using "cash," like some sort of caveman, "to buy your frosty and fries." Jeva Lange

8:18 a.m. ET
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images

NATO is expected to symbolically join the international coalition against the Islamic State on Wednesday in a bid to earn to approval of President Trump, who is traveling to their headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, The Associated Press reports. Trump has slammed the alliance for being "obsolete" because it is not addressing "taking care of terror," although member nations have increased defense spending in recent years in response to Russian aggression.

"It's not fair that we're paying close to 4 percent and other countries that are more directly affected are paying 1 percent when they're supposed to be paying 2 percent," Trump has complained. The United States is among five members currently meeting spending targets in the alliance.

On Thursday, "an anti-terror coordinator may also be named, but most changes will be cosmetic, as NATO allies have no intention of going to war against [the Islamic State]," The Associated Press reports.

"It's totally out of the question for NATO to engage in any combat operations," said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Jeva Lange

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