July 14, 2014

After traveling three billion miles over the course of almost a decade, the New Horizons spacecraft will finally make it to Pluto on July 14, 2015.

"It's Bastille Day," Alan Stern, principal investigator for NASA's Pluto-Kuiper Belt Mission, told NPR. "To celebrate, we're storming the gates of Pluto." New Horizons isn't actually going to land on Pluto, but will fly within 6,000 miles of the dwarf planet. The mission has been calculated so the spacecraft — which is unmanned and the size and shape of a baby grand piano — doesn't get caught in Pluto's orbit, but can still get close enough to take photographs that are not too blurry.

The closest any spacecraft has been to Pluto is one billion miles, and the best images have come from the Hubble Telescope. When New Horizons left Earth in January 2006, it was prior to Pluto's demotion to a dwarf planet, and Stern is excited to see what will be discovered in 365 days. "When we first sent missions to Jupiter, no one expected to find moons that would have active volcanoes," he said. "And I could go down a long list of how often I've been surprised by the richness of nature." --Catherine Garcia

9:28 a.m. ET

A Kansas House leader seemingly praised the "profound" words of Adolf Hitler in a Facebook post Thursday. "Great quote from Hitler in the video," Speaker Pro Tem Peggy Mast (R) wrote on her Facebook page. "Please listen to it closely. His words are profound! Let's start using discernment."

Mast's post, however, didn't include any video or other media to "listen to," making her seeming praise for the Nazi leader all the more puzzling. House Speaker Ray Merrick's chief of staff, Christie Krieghauser, tried to get some clarification. "Sorry, I'm confused," she wrote on Mast's page. "What video and how is there a great quote from Hitler?"

Mast, who is the third-ranking Republican in the Kansas House, put up another Facebook post an hour later intending to explain herself:

"Her intent was to compare Planned Parenthood, the country's largest reproductive health provider, to the Nazi leader," The Wichita Eagle reported.

Mast also shared an article from a pro-life Christian blog, which referenced anti-abortion activist Gianna Jessen quoting Hitler while testifying about Planned Parenthood before Congress. Jessen, during her testimony, apparently used this Hitler quote to compare Planned Parenthood's services to the Holocaust: "The receptivity of the masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan."

Mast did not respond to The Witchita Eagle's requests for comment. She is not running for re-election. Becca Stanek

9:23 a.m. ET

Federal prosecutors plan to charge former National Security Agency contractor Harold T. Martin III with violating the Espionage Act after he stole what is believed to be "the largest theft of classified government material ever" over the course of 20 years, The Washington Post reports.

In a 12-page memo, U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein and two other prosecutors laid out a much more far-reaching case against Harold T. Martin III than was previously outlined. They say he took at least 50 terabytes of data and "six full banker's boxes worth of documents," with many lying open in his home office or kept on his car's back seat and in the trunk. Other material was stored in a shed on his property.

One terabyte is the equivalent of 500 hours' worth of movies. [The Washington Post]

In early October, Martin's former wife told The New York Times Martin was "a bit of a hoarder." Investigators were unsure if Martin had intended to leak the data.

For now, prosecutors are hoping to keep Martin in jail, saying he could still flee abroad; he reportedly communicated with people in Russia and downloaded information on the Russian language. Martin also had an "arsenal" of weapons in his car and home, which his current wife, Deborah Vinson, asked to be removed because she feared Martin would commit suicide if he "thought it was all over." Jeva Lange

8:41 a.m. ET
George Frey/Getty Images

Fifty-five percent of Americans say they have never heard of Independent candidate Evan McMullin, but in Utah he sits only one point back from Donald Trump, a survey published Friday has found.

A conservative Mormon and graduate of Brigham Young University, McMullin offers an appealing alternative to Trump for conflicted Utah voters. Trump still manages to lead in the state with 30 percent, followed by McMullin at 29 percent and Clinton at 25 percent. Interestingly, Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, finished third in Utah in his 1992 election behind George W. Bush and Ross Perot.

But just because McMullin is Mormon doesn't make him a lock for LDS members. While he leads 43 percent to Trump's 31 percent with "very active" LDS voters, Trump leads McMullin by 15 points among "somewhat active" Mormons. "If you want to understand why Utah has suddenly become the flavor of the month among the political cognoscenti, look no further than independent voters," explains. "Among that group, Trump comes in third place, with McMullin grabbing 31 percent, Clinton winning 27 percent, and Trump with 20 percent."

The RealClearPolitics average for Utah between Aug. 19 and Oct. 14. shows Trump at 37 percent to Clinton's 23 percent, trailed by Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. The survey was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates between Oct. 12 and Oct. 18 among 818 likely Utah voters. It has a margin of error plus or minus 4 percent. Jeva Lange

8:07 a.m. ET

Donald Trump has urged his supporters to "watch the polling booths" on Nov. 8, a rallying cry that has election officials worrying — and training for how to deal with guns or possible attacks at the polls.

It is an unprecedented situation; in fact, most states don't even have laws governing guns at polling places, sending election officials scrambling to sort through their states' various open-carry and concealed weapons laws, The Washington Post reports.

"We've never seen this level of concern, this far out from Election Day — poll workers in states across the country being trained to deal with guns," Everytown for Gun Safety spokeswoman Erika Soto Lamb said.

In Colorado, for example, poll workers are being trained on how to respond to a mass shooting at the voting site. In Philadelphia, election commissioner Lisa Deeley is also considering training law enforcement officers on what to do if someone opens fire. "It's one of the many things that we are contemplating prior to election day," Deeley told The Guardian. "There's a lot that we have to hash out, and it's a new unfortunate reality that we have to think about these things."

Trump, stoking fears of a rigged election, has told his supporters, "You've got to go out, and you've got to get your friends, and you've got to get everybody you know, and you gotta watch the polling booths." He has also claimed that "second Amendment people" could stop Hillary Clinton.

In a recent report by The Boston Globe, one voter explained, "Trump said to watch your precincts. I'm going to go, for sure. I'll look for…well, it's called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can't speak American. I'm going to go right up behind them. I'll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I'm not going to do anything illegal. I'm going to make them a little bit nervous." Jeva Lange

7:29 a.m. ET

Hillary Clinton's campaign had a curious disbursement listed on its Federal Elections Commission filings for September — $260 spent at the Trump International Hotel.

But despite having dropped campaign cash in the heart of enemy territory, it appears Clinton and her team truly got the last laugh in the end:

If you're curious what exactly Clinton was buying at the Trump International Hotel, this could be it. Jeva Lange

7:13 a.m. ET

Iraqi military and Kurdish peshmerga forces drew within 10 miles of the outskirts of Islamic State–held Mosul on Thursday night, and early Friday, ISIS launched a series of coordinated attacks on Kirkuk, about 100 miles away. At least 11 people were killed by ISIS militants at a power plant 30 miles north of Kirkuk, including at least three Iranian engineers, and there are an unknown number of casualties from multiple suicide bombers, grenades, and gun battles inside Kirkuk. Security forces have at least two ISIS militants surrounded in a building used as a hotel, Iraqi security forces say.

The attacks on Kirkuk appear to be an attempt by ISIS to draw forces away from the Mosul offensive. Peter Weber

6:24 a.m. ET

If you missed Wednesday's final presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — or you didn't — and you don't want to watch it (again) because it was ugly, long, or boring, "Weird Al" Yankovic and the Gregory Brothers have already made it short and sweet for your pleasurable consumption. Weird Al is the moderator of this three-and-a-half-minute debate, and like actual moderator Chris Wallace, he asks substantive questions then gets out of the way and lets Clinton and Trump answer — only he belts out the questions and the candidates' answers are edited and auto-tuned so they sing them in rhyme (somehow while still remaining coherent).

"We can't say we were shocked that songifying the final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump revealed a terrifying space opera about bad hombres and nasty women," the Gregory Brothers write in The New York Times. "So terrifying, in fact, that it ripped open a wormhole to another dimension, and pulled an unsuspecting Weird Al Yankovic in from his home in a parallel universe to moderate the whole thing." If that sounds unpleasant to watch, just give it a try — as the Gregory Brothers write, "the hidden songs of the cosmos are full of surprises." Peter Weber

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