October 18, 2019

After a delay, NASA is taking one giant leap with the first ever all-female spacewalk.

Astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch are about to make history Friday morning when they begin the first spacewalk to be conducted entirely by women, CNET reports. The spacewalk outside the International Space Station is expected to last between five and six hours, NASA says, and it's being streamed live on NASA's YouTube channel.

This step was expected to be taken back in March, which would have aligned with Women's History Month, but it was canceled at the last minute — believe it or not, because NASA didn't have the right size suit for one of the astronauts. History will finally be made Friday, albeit seven months later than expected.

"It's wonderful to be contributing to the space program at a time when all contributions are being accepted, when everyone has a role," Koch told NASA.gov. "That can lead in turn to increased chance for success. There are a lot of people who derive motivation from inspiring stories of people who look like them, and I think it's an important story to tell."

NASA actually didn't plan the all-female spacewalk on purpose, though, noting it was simply "bound to happen eventually because of the increasing number of female astronauts." Meir will become only the 15th woman to spacewalk, with the first being Svetlana Savitskaya in 1984, CNN reports. Next up, NASA is looking to put the first woman on the moon by 2024. Brendan Morrow

6:04 p.m.

The much-heralded joint launch between NASA and Elon Musk's SpaceX was postponed on Wednesday due to light rain in Florida. It was a disappointing anticlimax for the first manned space launch from American soil since 2011 — all systems were "go" just an hour before astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley were scheduled for 4:33 p.m. liftoff — but there was a silver lining to the clouds above Cape Canaveral: the world got to see, for the first time, NASA and SpaceX's alarmingly cheesy spacesuits, which looked something like man-sized Mentos dispensers topped off with garden galoshes.

While many on Twitter hailed the gear as looking "soo cool" and "so f—ing dope," the correct reaction came from one commenter who said the suits "make [the astronauts] look like stunt extras in a low budget space movie." Whether or not Behnken and Hurley find themselves menaced by rubbery Venus ghouls in some misbegotten Roger Corman epic, the suits might lead to an even graver danger: not being able to extract their heads from the two-sizes-too small helmets that Musk looks to have grabbed from his local Spirit Halloween.

If the spacemen are fortunate enough to somehow wrench the helmets from their skulls, NASA and SpaceX will give it another go on either Saturday or Sunday — probably not enough time to raid NASA's old closets for some real spacesuits. Jacob Lambert

5:51 p.m.

The United States has officially reached a heartbreaking milestone in the coronavirus pandemic.

As of Wednesday, more than 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in the U.S., according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Experts expected the U.S. would hit the milestone this week, and in anticipation of the number, The New York Times recently published an unforgettable front page filled with the names of victims of the pandemic, representing just a small portion of the "incalculable loss." The U.S. passed 50,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths on April 24.

In March, the White House had warned that the U.S. might be facing between 100,000 and 200,000 coronavirus deaths even if Americans did everything "almost perfectly," as Dr. Deborah Birx said, although President Trump in April suggested the death toll could be between 50,000 and 60,000. Later, Trump said "we're going to lose" up to 100,000 people total. Reported cases and hospitalizations are still on the upswing in many states.

Every U.S. state has now begun the process of reopening their economies, even as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country stands at over 1.6 million. Experts have cautioned there may be a second wave of cases in the fall, although Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday that this is "not inevitable." Fauci previously told Congress that the United States' coronavirus death toll is likely higher than has been reported. Brendan Morrow

5:42 p.m.

Jerry Falwell Jr. is conceding to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's (D) coronavirus-fighting demands with a mask that's almost certain to backfire.

Northam's recent order mandating everyone in the state wear a mask when they're in public has seemingly made Falwell pretty mad about preserving public health. So on Wednesday, the Liberty University president and influential conservative figure, revealed he'd ordered a mask printed with the blackface photo found on Northam's college yearbook page — something anyone who sees Falwell wearing the mask will likely not know.

It's been more than a year since it was revealed Northam's 1984 yearbook page featured a photo of a person in blackface standing beside a person in KKK robes. While Northam said he had worn blackface before, he maintained that he wasn't either of the men in the photo, and a three-month investigation couldn't prove it was or wasn't him. That photo is on Falwell's new mask, though without any context or explanation, those unfamiliar with Northam's scandal will likely just think Falwell is wearing a racist photo.

The News & Advance, a Virginia paper, asked Northam if he had anything to say to Falwell, and spokesperson responded that "the office of the governor will not dignify that tweet with a response." Kathryn Krawczyk

4:21 p.m.

As the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic continues, Paul Krugman says he's feeling "more positive than I expected to be" about the recovery.

The economist and New York Times writer spoke in an interview with Bloomberg about the state of the U.S. economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, cautioning that the crisis should not be looked at as "a garden-variety recession" instead of a "shutdown enforced by social distancing."

Asked how long the economic fallout might last, Krugman explained that looking at past recessions, "until now we've had two kinds: 1979-82-type slumps basically caused by tight money and the 2007-09 type caused by private-sector overreach. The first kind was followed by V-shaped 'morning in America' recoveries; the second by sluggish recoveries that took a long time to restore full employment."

Krugman argues that the current crisis is "more like 1979-82 than 2007-09," not being caused "by imbalances that will take years to correct," which suggests a "fast recovery" once the coronavirus is contained. He offers a few caveats, though, nothing that it's unclear how long the pandemic will last and that states reopening too soon could "extend the period of economic weakness."

Almost 40 million Americans have filed initial unemployment claims since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and economists from Goldman Sachs in a report earlier this month forecasted that the unemployment rate will reach 25 percent with the pre-virus rate not returning for years. Krugman tells Bloomberg, though, that all in all, he doesn't "see the case for a multiyear depression."

This interview with Krugman comes after Jason Furman, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, predicted to Politico a "partial rebound" with "the best jobs and growth numbers ever" in the months before the November election. Read the full interview at Bloomberg. Brendan Morrow

4:13 p.m.

President Trump took to his favorite social media platform to attack social media platforms on Wednesday morning, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certainly didn't do anything to help his boss' case.

Shortly after Trump claimed on Twitter he would "strongly regulate" or "close down" social media platforms that are allegedly silencing "conservative voices," Pompeo sent out a tweet saying the U.S. "will not tolerate" government-imposed censorship or shutdowns.

Pompeo's tweet isn't in response to Trump, exactly — it references the Freedom Online Coalition, a partnership of 31 governments seeking to improve Internet freedom. The group has been vocal about combating any attempts to limit freedom of expression or increase Internet surveillance as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Trump's social media threats came after Twitter labeled two of his tweets as misleading on Tuesday, the first time that distinction was given to the president on the platform.

Seeing as Pompeo specifically boosted the FOC's statement and has been vocal about combating COVID-19 disinformation, it's unclear if his tweet was a targeted dig at Trump's situation or just a case of bad-timing.

After all, Trump isn't exactly known for being on the same page as his employees. Marianne Dodson

3:17 p.m.

Archaeologists have revisited an ancient Roman dig site that hasn't been touched in a century — and found something incredible underneath.

In a vineyard outside the Italian city of Verona, under several feet of vines and dirt, researchers have uncovered what appears to be a perfectly preserved mosaic floor and pieces of a villa foundation dating back to the third century A.D. Surveyors in the commune of Negrar di Valpolicella north of Verona shared images of the site, providing a glimpse at a discovery that's largely still hidden beneath the dirt, BBC reports.

Archaeologists first mapped out what appeared to be the remains of an ancient Roman villa outside Verona back in 1922 before the site was abandoned. The Superintendent of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape of Verona decided to revisit the site last October and again in February, but their efforts to unearth the site were cut short when COVID-19 arrived in Italy, the Guardian reports. Excavation resumed last week and, by Monday, there was something incredible to show for their efforts.

There's still a lot of careful work to be done before the whole floor and foundation can be revealed — along with some careful negotiation with the owners of the vineyard now growing on top of this ancient discovery. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:21 p.m.

The U.S. State Department has determined Hong Kong no longer holds autonomy under Chinese rule, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday.

"No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground," Pompeo said in a Wednesday statement. Pompeo informed Congress of the department's decision on Tuesday, and there's a strong chance the move will change Hong Kong's trade relationship with the U.S., CNBC reports.

"While the United States once hoped that free and prosperous Hong Kong would provide a model for authoritarian China, it is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself," Pompeo said. America's economic and trade relationship with Hong Kong is separate of that with China, largely exempting Hong Kong from the tariff war between the two nations. But with the U.S. now considering Hong Kong to be more closely tied with the mainland, the region will now likely be subject to America's heavy trade restrictions.

The announcement comes just a day before Beijing is slated to pass a law that will let it curtail civil liberties in the administrative region — something Pompeo called a "death knell for Hong Kong," The New York Times reports. Hong Kong has long operated as an administrative region autonomous from mainland China, but Beijing has increasingly tightened its grasp on the area. Widespread protests by pro-democracy Hong Kong residents were a constant for months until COVID-19 spread throughout the country, and more demonstrations took place ahead of debate over the law at the city's legislature early Wednesday. Kathryn Krawczyk

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