March 10, 2014

Attention aspiring paleoclimatologists: NASA is awarding $35,000 to one lucky civilian who can develop a specialized asteroid-detecting technology. The "Asteroid Grand Challenge," which was announced at the South By Southwest Festival today and will begin on March 17, aims to develop better algorithms used to find the flying space rocks that could ruin life as we know it (no pressure).

To win the money, the scientist's solution "must increase the detection sensitivity, minimize the number of false positives, ignore imperfections in the data, and run effectively on all computer systems." That doesn't sound like something you'd get from your run-of-the-mill weekend hack-a-thon.

Euronews writes:

"Protecting the planet from the threat of asteroid impact means first knowing where they are," said Jenn Gustetic, Prizes and Challenges Program executive. "By opening up the search for asteroids, we are harnessing the potential of innovators and makers and citizen scientists everywhere to help solve this global challenge." [Euronews]

Just think how sweet "Asteroid Data Hunter" is going to look on LinkedIn. --Jordan Valinsky

flying high
11:50 a.m. ET
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According to the Pentagon, it would be cheaper in the long run to replace the aircraft that carries the President of the United States, and the goal is to have three new Boeing 747s to use as Air Force One by 2023.

Air Force Col. Amy McCain, whom CBS News reports is in charge of ordering the new fleet of planes, said that the current airplane used to transport the commander-in-chief was fielded in 1991, and is the only plane of its type (747-200) flying in the U.S.

Congress initially requested $102 million for the project, a number CBS reports will grow to more than $3 billion over the next five years, not including the final three years of the project.

Developing story
11:44 a.m. ET
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One person was killed near the headquarters of the National Security Agency on Monday after a car tried to ram a barrier at the Fort Meade military base, according to law enforcement officials. Preliminary reports said a vehicle carrying two men tried to crash the base's main gate, and an ensuing gunfight killed one and wounded at least one more person. "The shooting scene is contained and we do not believe it is related to terrorism," the FBI said in a statement.

11:37 a.m. ET
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Agents of the National Security Agency (NSA) claim that senior officials within the department wanted to shut down the mass surveillance program before whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed it to the American public.

The Associated Press reports that a "proposal to kill the program was circulating among top managers but had not yet reached the desk of Gen. Keith Alexander, then the NSA director." However, the agents expressed doubt that Alexander would have been convinced to shut the mass spying program down — despite the fact that it has "no discernable impact" on stopping terrorism.

The Law
11:21 a.m. ET
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What's on SCOTUS' docket? The justices met Friday to decide whether or not to hear Dariano vs. Morgan Hill Unified School District, an appeal that asks if wearing an American flag shirt is a right protected under the First Amendment or a fashion statement that could provoke violence.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the controversy began in 2010 at Live Oak High School, south of San Jose, California. Several students, responding to a group of Mexican-American students who had paraded campus with a Mexican flag on Cinco de Mayo the year before, wore U.S. flags on the Mexican holiday in protest. The Mexican-American students, protesting racism, complained to the school's principal, who told the students to turn their shirts inside-out or go home.

Families in favor of free expression filed suit, while the school asserts necessary measures were taken to avoid violence. The L.A. Times reports that school officials said there were at least 30 fights between white and Latino students.

The justices will decide as early as today whether or not they'll hear the case.

Memory Lapse
10:44 a.m. ET
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A number of prominent Democrats in the past supported laws similar to the controversial new legislation in Indiana, which says the government can't "substantially burden a person's exercise of religion" in requiring them to engage in business practices or transactions that violate their beliefs. (The classic example in which the law could come into play, of course, is in allowing religious bakers or florists to deny service to a gay couple for their wedding.)

Though this particular bill was backed by Republicans in Indiana, Democrats like President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Chuck Schumer have all supported similar legislation themselves. President Bill Clinton signed a similar (though narrower) federal law into effect in 1993, and then-State Sen. Barack Obama voted for religious freedom legislation in Illinois in 1998.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest avoided explaining any substantial differences between the laws, arguing instead that the Indiana legislation is outdated.

Coming Soon
10:33 a.m. ET
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The Volvo Car Group hopes to boost its diminishing sales by building an auto factory in the U.S. The company announced the $500 million investment on Monday.

Bloomberg reports that the Sweden-based company will choose the factory location "within the next two months." The site will begin production in 2018 and will have a target capacity of 100,000 to 120,000 cars.

Volvo's U.S. sales last year included just 56,000 cars, less than half of what it sold at its peak in 2004. Having a U.S. factory would put the company "on a similar footing as BMW AG and Mercedes-Benz," Bloomberg notes.

The U.S. factory would be Volvo's fifth worldwide. Volvo has two factories in Europe and two in China.

This just in
9:59 a.m. ET
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Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot believed to have deliberately crashed an airliner last week in the French Alps, received treatment years ago for "suicidal tendencies," prosecutors said Monday. "In the following period, and until recently, further doctor's visits took place, resulting in sick notes without any suicidal tendencies or aggression against others being recorded," Ralf Herrenbrueck, a spokesperson for the prosecutors, said in a statement. However, investigators said they had yet to determine a motive for why the 27-year-old Lubitz crashed the plane with himself and 149 others on board.

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