May 25, 2020

Virgin Orbit, the company founded by Richard Branson with the aim of launching smaller satellites, tried unsuccessfully on Monday to launch a rocket off the coast of Southern California.

It was the company's first test launch of a new rocket, which had been in development for five years, The Associated Press reports. The rocket was released from a jet dubbed Cosmic Girl, and dropped over the Pacific Ocean. In a statement, Virgin Orbit said it could confirm a "clean release from the aircraft. However, the mission terminated shortly into the flight. Cosmic Girl and our flight crew are safe and returning to base." The company did not say what went wrong, but stated it will "learn more as our engineers analyze the mountain of data we collected today."

The rocket carried a test satellite, but the purpose of the flight was to gather data on each step of the launch process. Over the weekend, Virgin Orbit executive Will Pomerantz said roughly half of all first rocket launches fail, and company CEO Dan Hart said after conducting numerous tests and inspections, "in the end the questions are always, has everything been thought about and are there any gaps or seams, and those are the questions you only learn when you commit to flight." Catherine Garcia

3:09 p.m.

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman ... grow up to be the No. 2 spot on the Billboard Top 200? The original Broadway cast recording of Hamilton: An American Musical hit a new peak this week, some 250 weeks after it first debuted on the charts, in the wake of the premiere of the show on Disney+ on July 3.

Almost more incredible is the fact that Hamilton "has never left the tally since its debut at No. 12 on the Oct. 17, 2015-dated list," writes Billboard, noting that the 250 weeks marks "the longest run by any cast album since the highlights edition of the original London cast recording of The Phantom of the Opera, which has logged 331 weeks on the list between 1990 and 1996." As a consequence, though, Hamilton's No. 2 spot is also the slowest climb to the top two ever on the chart, in terms of weeks spent on the chart.

Additionally, Hamilton is the highest charting cast album since the original cast recording of Hair hit No. 1 for a total of 13 weeks back in 1969. Hamilton had previously been tied with the original Broadway recording of the Book of Mormon as the highest charting cast album since Hair, with Mormon hitting a high of No. 3 in 2011.

To date, Hamilton has sold 1.97 million copies in the U.S., with 32,000 copies of the album sold in the most recent tracking week. Jeva Lange

3:08 p.m.

The United States has previously said it considers Beijing's territorial claims over most of the South China Sea unlawful, but Washington has officially remained neutral, refusing to pick a side between China and Southeast Asian countries like Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam that have clashed over the crucial body of water, instead advocating for freedom of the seas.

But in a statement Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. is strengthening its policy on the issue and making clear that China's claims "are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them." The statement appears to be a preview of an expected position paper that officially rejects specific Chinese claims for the first time, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

A draft of the paper seen by the Journal did not mince words. "China's maritime claims pose the single greatest threat to the freedom of the seas in modern history," it reportedly reads. "We cannot afford to re-enter an era where states like China attempt to assert sovereignty over the seas."

The Associated Press notes the U.S. will technically remain neutral in territorial disputes, but in effect the Trump administration is siding with the Southeast Asian countries. It's unclear if there will be any tangible effects as a result of the announcement, but it could depend on how the U.S. responds to claims by other countries making similar excessive maritime claims.

Either way, it's another example of heightening U.S.-China tensions. Read more at The Wall Street Journal, as well as Pompeo's full statement. Tim O'Donnell

2:56 p.m.

Two of the largest school districts in the country won't be getting back to normal in the fall.

Both the Los Angeles Unified School District — the second biggest in the country — and the San Diego Unified School District announced Monday their classes would go fully online when school resumes next month. The decision comes as California continues to see COVID-19 cases surge, after largely avoiding a massive outbreak earlier in the pandemic.

"We all know the best place for students to learn is in a school setting," LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner told the Los Angeles Times. But "we're going in the wrong direction" and can't reopen "until it's safe and appropriate." Just a day earlier, the United Teachers Los Angeles union voted overwhelmingly to keep schools closed until coronavirus infection rates slow. California has continued to hit record new infection rates over the past few weeks, with Los Angeles proving to be the epicenter of case spread in the state.

New York state also released its guidelines for reopening schools on Monday, but has yet to make final decisions on what classes will look like. Schools in areas that are in the state's fourth phase of reopening by August 1 will resume in-person classes in some form, while those where the rate of COVID-19 infection is greater than nine percent will stay closed. New York City, the country's largest school district, will at most reopen schools for three days a week, its guidelines released last week say. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:00 p.m.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is turning the tables.

Cuomo oversaw the state as it went through America's earliest and harshest COVID-19 outbreak, and was critical of other states' suggestions of banning New Yorkers from crossing their borders. But now that New York is on the mend, he's flipping that policy back on states that aren't doing so well.

In late June, Cuomo and the governors of Connecticut and New Jersey announced anyone visiting from one of 16 states with surging COVID-19 numbers would have to undergo a mandatory 14-day self quarantine. Cuomo expanded that guidance in a Monday press conference, saying travelers from those states will now have to fill out a form divulging their contact information or risk a fine of up to $2,000. The information will presumably be used for contact tracers and perhaps to enforce the quarantine.

The provision is part of an executive order Cuomo will soon sign. When President Trump threatened to quarantine the tri-state area back in March, Cuomo called the idea "preposterous" and a "federal declaration of war."

Cuomo also unveiled an illustrated recap of the state's coronavirus response, which is full of inside jokes for avid Cuomo press conference watchers. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:57 p.m.

The executive chairman of WeWork is expecting the company to be a "profitable venture" in a year after reportedly slashing thousands of jobs since 2019.

A new report from the Financial Times details how the shared workspace company has "slashed its workforce from a high of 14,000 last year to 5,600 people," cutting more than 8,000 jobs. The company recently told employees that it has completed a restructuring process that included these cuts, according to the report.

Marcelo Claure, WeWork's executive chairman, told the Financial Times in an interview that he expects that in "a year from now, you are going to see WeWork to basically be a profitable venture," and the report notes the company is looking at having a positive cash flow a year earlier than expected.

In addition to the cuts, WeWork also "renegotiated leases and sold off assets," the report says. Claure said in the interview that during the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for WeWork's office spaces has been "through the roof" as employees working remotely "basically now come to a WeWork facility to use it one day a week, two days a week, three days a week."

The report notes this number of job reductions at WeWork hadn't previously been reported, although reports emerged last year that major layoffs were happening at the troubled company. Prior to a deal with Softbank announced last fall, WeWork was quite close to running out of money, and last year, the Financial Times reported the company lost more than $200,000 every hour in 2018. Brendan Morrow

1:14 p.m.

The Houston Rockets are already in the NBA's coronavirus bubble in Orlando, Florida, but their without one of their — and the league's — biggest stars. Russell Westbrook, one half of the team's dynamic guard duo alongside James Harden, announced Monday he tested positive for COVID-19 before the Rockets' departure.

The one-time MVP says he's "feeling well" and plans to join the Rockets, who are in the thick of the Western Conference race, once he's cleared.

It's not clear when exactly Westbrook received his positive result, but Houston's first game isn't until July 31, so if his recovery continues to progress, it seems likely he won't have to miss much game time and should be able to contribute in the playoffs. Tim O'Donnell

1:08 p.m.

There is another.

Disney has announced a new animated Star Wars show is in the works for Disney+, this one a spinoff of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. It's called Star Wars: The Bad Batch and will revolve around the eponymous group of experimental clone characters from an arc in The Clone Wars' final season, which debuted on Disney+ earlier this year.

"In the post-Clone War era, they will take on daring mercenary missions as they struggle to stay afloat and find new purpose," the announcement said.

The Clone Wars executive producer Dave Filoni is set to return as producer for The Bad Batch. The announcement says it will be set "in the immediate aftermath" of the end of the Clone Wars, which in the Star Wars timeline is followed by the rise of the Empire. The Clone Wars largely took place between the second and third prequel films, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

This is yet another new Star Wars series in the works for Disney+ following the finale of the Skywalker saga, The Rise of Skywalker. Live-action series based on Obi-Wan Kenobi and Cassian Andor are in the works, as is a female-centric series from the creator of Russian Doll. The first live-action Star Wars TV show, The Mandalorian, is also set to return for another season later this year. Star Wars: The Bad Batch, meanwhile, will take its first steps into the larger world of Disney+ in 2021. Brendan Morrow

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