NASA has a professional smeller
Meet George Aldrich, the man who gives all space-bound items the go-ahead — by giving them a sniff test.
Aldrich has worked with NASA for nearly 40 years, smelling things before they go into space. Gizmodo reports that "smells don't get quite aired out in space as they do back home." Odors can linger for years in a space station since there isn't additional, fresh air available, so NASA keeps a vigilant watch on the odors that are allowed into space.
The Telegraph reports that Aldrich's official title is "staff sniffer," and he has worked at NASA for 38 years. "My friends and family think I'm a little crazy," Aldrich says in the video. Typical items Aldrich inspects include books, hats, glues, and watches, in addition to specialized space equipment.
The Science Channel created a fun video profile of Aldrich and his job, noting that if Aldrich "fails to identify just one problematic pong, a whole mission could be in jeopardy." Watch Aldrich's olfactory skills in action in the video below. --Meghan DeMaria
The Department of Defense is sponsoring a writing contest in honor of late Saudi King
Students at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. have the opportunity to participate in an essay competition to honor Saudi Arabia's controversial King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz, who died last Friday at the age of 90.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey established the contest. In a Defense Department press release, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey says the contest is a "fitting tribute to the life and leadership of the Saudi Arabian monarch" who was "a lifetime supporter of his country's allegiance with the United States."
"I found the king to be a man of remarkable character and courage," Dempsey said.
Abdullah's legacy, however, is far from pure. National Review points out that under the Saudi king's rule, Christianity and other religions were outlawed nationwide, women remained repressed, public executions were rampant, and homosexuals and victims of rape were punished, as were those who insulted Islam.
Mattel CEO fired amid declining profits
Mattel's CEO, Bryan Stockton, was fired on Monday after the company reported a 59 percent drop in profits. Stockton was Mattel's chairman and chief executive for the past three years.
The company's overall earnings have declined, but the drop in Barbie sales has been the most discussed among analysts. In 2009, more than 25 percent of dolls purchased in the U.S. were Barbies, but in 2013, Barbie accounted for only 19.6 percent of doll sales.
Christopher Sinclair, who has served on the Mattel board since 1996, has been named the brand's interim chair and CEO. Sinclair said in a statement that the company needs "new leadership to maximize its potential."
Uber caps its blizzard surge pricing in New York
Uber announced Monday that it would cap its surge prices in New York for this week's blizzard.
"Due to the State of Emergency declared in New York City, prices will not exceed 2.8x the normal fare," Uber said in an email. "Anytime a disaster or state of emergency strikes, dynamic pricing is capped, and all Uber proceeds will be donated to the American Red Cross to support relief efforts."
Ridesharing service Lyft is also capping its surge prices for the storm at twice the price of a normal fare. Both companies increase their fares with demand-based pricing during emergencies or holidays such as New Year's, in which there aren't enough cars to handle requests.
CBO: Federal deficit will drop to lowest level since Obama took office
The Congressional Budget Office said Monday that the budget deficit should this year shrink to its lowest level as a percentage of the economy since 2007.
The nonpartisan agency said the deficit for the fiscal year, which ends in September, will be $468 billion, down a tick from last year's $483 billion mark. In addition, the CBO said there were 19 million fewer uninsured Americans this year compared to the year before thanks to changes implemented under ObamaCare.
Sam Smith will pay Tom Petty songwriting royalties for 'Stay with Me'
Sam Smith's 2014 hit "Stay with Me" bore striking similarity to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' 1989 hit "I Won't Back Down," and now Smith is paying the price.
Smith's rep told Rolling Stone that "the likeness was a complete coincidence." He added that the "Stay with Me" writers were "not previously familiar" with Petty's hit, but when they heard it, they "acknowledged the similarity."
Smith agreed to pay Petty royalties for the song, and Petty and singer-composer Jeff Lynne will get a 12.5 percent songwriting credit.
S&P downgrades Russian credit rating to 'junk' status
Standard & Poor's on Monday cut Russia's credit rating to junk status, the first time in a decade it has done so. The downgrade reflects the global plummet in oil prices, Western sanctions on Russia, and the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Those factors caused the ruble to nosedive last year, placing Russia on the brink of recession.
KFC is testing the Double Down Hot Dog
KFC's new "Double Down Dog" is exactly what it sounds like: a hot dog with fried chicken in lieu of a bun, covered in cheese.
The monstrosity is currently only for sale in the Philippines. Replacing bread with fried chicken seems pretty American, though, so perhaps one day you'll be able to live the Double Down Dog dream right here in the states.
Blizzard threat prompts states of emergency across Northeast
New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts declared states of emergency Monday as a massive blizzard churned into the region.
The storm, which could dump more than two feet of snow in some places, has forced airlines to cancel at least 3,400 flights and prompted travel bans that will go into effect Monday evening. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered all non-emergency vehicles off the roads by 11 pm and urged people to leave work early if possible.
"I don't think it's draconian," he said of the road closures at a press conference Monday. "I think it's necessary."
A huge asteroid is flying by Earth today
A giant asteroid is headed straight toward Earth, but NASA says not to worry.
The asteroid, 2004 BL86, will be about 745,000 miles from Earth, which is roughly three times as far away as the moon is. That may sound far away, but today's event marks the closest known asteroid of its size to pass near Earth until 2027.
Check out a video of the asteroid reaching its closest point with Earth here — and if you've got clear skies at home, scientists estimate that the best time to watch the event is between 8:00 p.m. Monday and 1:00 a.m. Tuesday. If your skies aren't affected by the Northeast blizzard, these NASA sky charts will help you figure out when is the best time to look for the asteroid today.
NASA's next mission might be sending a helicopter to Mars
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory hopes to send a remote-controlled helicopter to Mars. The camera-equipped helicopter could triple the distance that Mars rovers travel in a Martian day and would "pinpoint interesting targets for study," according to NASA.
Flying the helicopter over Mars won't be easy, though — the planet's atmosphere has low density, and the copter will need to maintain stable flight on its own. But the scientists have been developing the Mars helicopter for month, and they've already made a full-scale prototype.
The scientists are testing the prototype in a vacuum chamber with Martian conditions to see what needs to be improved before it goes into flight. They also have to make sure it has a functional landing system before they can send it to Mars. Check out the JPL roboticists' explanation of how the helicopter will do what Martian rovers can't in the video below. —Meghan DeMaria