The moon’s first tourists
Elon Musk’s SpaceX revealed this week that Japanese clothing billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will be among the first private citizens to circle the moon—in 2023, at the earliest. SpaceX hopes to host the first lunar journey by humans since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, although the rocket it plans to use has yet to be built. Still, Maezawa, 42, was willing to put down “a very significant deposit” for the trip, Musk said. Maezawa said he plans to bring six to eight artists from around the world along for the ride, which should last four to five days. Maezawa made headlines last year after buying a 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat painting for $100 million. “Maybe 10 years from now, people will be laughing I paid so much” for the moon trip, Maezawa said, “but somebody needs to make the first payment. Otherwise, space development is not going to evolve.”
A U.S. Border Patrol agent was arrested last week and confessed to fatally shooting four women, prosecutors said. The county sheriff described Juan David Ortiz, 35, as a “serial killer” who appeared to be “hunting” prostitutes. A woman who may have been his intended fifth target was with Ortiz in his truck when she mentioned one of the prostitutes who’d recently gone missing. Ortiz pulled a pistol and grabbed at her shirt, but she escaped the car and ran to a gas station, where she found a state trooper. Ortiz fled on foot and was discovered in the bed of a truck in a hotel parking lot in Laredo, a city of about 250,000 people near the U.S.-Mexico border. He’d allegedly continued working as usual as a border agent supervisor while committing the murders off duty.
Merrimack Valley, Mass.
A series of explosions and fires stemming from gas leaks last week left one person dead, injured more than 20, and forced the evacuation of 8,600 homes and businesses. Forty-eight miles of pipe will need to be replaced. The precise cause of the blasts in the three towns north of Boston—Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover—is under investigation, though federal regulators found that natural gas from Columbia Gas of Massachusetts was flowing through pipes at 12 times the normal rate. Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera called the company “the least informed and the last to act” as the chaos unfolded. The area’s representative in Congress, Democrat Seth Moulton, charged that the gas company took five hours to let anyone know there was even a problem. Residents waited for inspectors to move through houses one by one as electricity got cut off and smoke filled the skies.
A federal judge acknowledged a “concrete risk” that Georgia’s electronic voting machines would be tampered with, but rejected a motion forcing the state to switch to paper ballots for the November elections. Judge Amy Totenberg rebuked state officials who “buried their heads in the sand” by failing to safeguard election machines, but said a sudden switch would overwhelm polling stations. Georgia is one of five states that conducts voting with no paper record; an advocacy group sued the state, arguing voters have a right to cast secure ballots. The vulnerabilities highlighted by expert witnesses, Totenberg wrote, include “unverifiable election results, outdated software susceptible to malware and viruses, and a central server that was already hacked multiple times.” Georgia’s gubernatorial election in November pits Democrat Stacey Abrams against the GOP Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is now in charge of election oversight.
Russia docs declassified
President Trump this week ordered the Justice Department to declassify materials from the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. His order covers about 20 pages of a secret application to monitor former campaign adviser Carter Page, as well as text messages from former FBI Director James Comey and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. “This is a witch hunt,” Trump said after giving the order, adding that he wants “total transparency.” He also moved to declassify documents involving Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. Ohr served as a point of contact for Christopher Steele, the British author of a dossier describing ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Critics charged the declassification could reveal law enforcement sources. “The president shouldn’t be declassifying documents in order to undermine an investigation into his campaign or pursue vendettas against political enemies,” said Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
FEMA chief under fire
Brock Long, the top official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, faces a criminal probe for improperly using government vehicles. The Department of Homeland Security inspector general had investigated whether Long and two FEMA officials violated ethics rules by using government Suburbans for weekend drives between Washington and Long’s home in Hickory, N.C. Long reportedly often traveled home on Thursdays with other officials in a caravan of government vehicles; employees stayed in hotels for the extended weekend. Long says he needed access to the vehicles for secure communications in case of a national emergency. Democrats’ calls for Long to step down had intensified after he backed President Trump in questioning the Puerto Rico death toll from Hurricane Maria. News of the probe also comes as FEMA mobilizes to respond to the devastation of Hurricane Florence. ■