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SpaceX makes history with NASA-backed commercial launch

A SpaceX mission roared into the heavens as President Trump looked on Saturday, marking the first time a commercial space company has sent American astronauts into orbit. Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence watched from a rooftop two miles away as the Falcon 9 rocket launched the Crew Dragon capsule from the Kennedy Space…

SpaceX makes history with NASA-backed commercial launch

A SpaceX mission roared into the heavens as President Trump looked on Saturday, marking the first time a commercial space company has sent American astronauts into orbit.

Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence watched from a rooftop two miles away as the Falcon 9 rocket launched the Crew Dragon capsule from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to ferry astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station. The trip should take about 19 hours.

The first manned mission from U.S. soil in nine years offered a dazzling, the-future-is-here moment amid a deadly coronavirus pandemic that’s upended normal life.

It also represented a new era of space travel, as NASA partners with commercial space explorers and Mr. Trump eyes ambitious plans to send humans back to Moon and then Mars. The launch may also set the table for private space tourism for people with the means.

The astronauts gave a thumbs up before the successful liftoff and Mr. Trump applauded from his viewing position.

“With this launch, the decades of lost years and little action are officially over,” Mr. Trump said at a post-launch pep rally. “A new age of American ambition has now begun.”He said the spacecraft had reached low-Earth orbit safely.

Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, monitored the mission from the company’s launch control center and celebrated with NASA employees, Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence afterward.

Saturday’s launch was the second try, after poor weather scrubbed Wednesday’s attempt. Mr. Trump traveled to Florida for both.

Vice President Mike Pence said the rocket launch could help the U.S. find the “unity of purpose” the Apollo missions provided in the 1960s, as protests rock U.S. cities after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“In America, every life matters and there’s no tolerance for racism or violence in the streets,” Mr. Pence said. “We will honor the life of George Floyd. We will have law and order in our streets and we will heal our land. And we will prove again that even in the most challenging times, Americans rise above. We always move forward.”

NASA hasn’t sent astronauts into space from U.S. territory since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. It’s been forced to rely on Russian launches to get to the space station since then, but the use of Mr. Musk’s venture marked a pivot to the U.S. private sector.

“I would say [Wednesday’s event] is extremely important for the United States because it marks the first time that we’re going to have commercial launch systems and we’re also going to have a diversity of launch systems,” said Phil Metzger, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida who worked at NASA for three decades.

Relying on a single, government-run system has its pitfalls. For instance, the shuttle program was grounded at the start of the 1990s due to hydrogen leaks.

Saturday’s launch ends another frustrating gap in U.S. space exploration, due in part to lackluster funding from Congress, according to Mr. Metzger.

“I was not supposed to be a nine-year gap. Now we are finally ending the gap,” he said.

Having a diversity of programs will be critical to meeting America’s ambitions in space, from lunar mining to space tourism, he added, foreseeing a scenario in which people are able to buy tickets to the moon within two decades.

Mr. Trump said moving forward, NASA will leverage private-sector ingenuity and rebuild the country’s stature in the great beyond.

“You can’t be number one on Earth if you are number two in space,” Mr. Trump said. “We are not going to be number two anywhere.”

Earlier this week, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Mr. Musk’s company showed the ability to adapt quickly after test accidents on the ground.

“SpaceX can do things that NASA historically has not done,” he said. “They test, they fail, they fix, they fly, until the point where we are today, where not only is SpaceX comfortable, but NASA is comfortable.”

He relished the success of the mission three days later. “Go NASA. Go SpaceX. Go America,” Mr. Bridenstine told cheering employees at his agency.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who is poised to take on Mr. Trump in November, took partial credit for the launch Saturday, saying the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus effort bolstered the aerospace sector in Florida.

“I congratulate NASA, SpaceX, and all the hardworking women and men who made today a victory for American innovation and persistence,” Mr. Biden said. “This mission represents the culmination of work begun years ago, and which President Obama and I fought hard to ensure would become a reality.”

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Body of John Lewis makes final journey over Selma bridge |NationalTribune.com

The late United States Representative John Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the final time on Sunday as remembrances continue for the civil rights legend.  A crowd began gathering near the bridge that became a landmark in the fight for racial justice when Lewis and other civil rights marchers were beaten…

Body of John Lewis makes final journey over Selma bridge |NationalTribune.com

The late United States Representative John Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the final time on Sunday as remembrances continue for the civil rights legend. 
A crowd began gathering near the bridge that became a landmark in the fight for racial justice when Lewis and other civil rights marchers were beaten there 55 years ago on “Bloody Sunday,” a key event in the fight for voting rights for Black Americans. 
A horse-drawn hearse retraced the route through Selma from Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where the 1965 march began.
As the wagon approached the bridge, members of the crowd shouted “Thank you, John Lewis!” and “Good trouble” – the phrase Lewis used to describe his tangles with white authorities during the civil rights movement.

John Lewis had his skull cracked during a March in Selma for equal voting rights in 1965 [Brynn Anderson/Reuters]

Some crowd members sang the gospel song Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Stayed on Jesus. Later, some onlookers sang the civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome and similar tunes.
The hearse paused atop the bridge over the Alabama River as the cicadas sang in the summer heat.
On the south side of the bridge, where Lewis was beaten by Alabama state troopers in 1965, family members placed roses that the carriage rolled over, marking the spot where Lewis spilt his blood and suffered a severe head injury.
As a military honour guard lifted Lewis’s coffin from the wagon into an automobile hearse, state troopers saluted Lewis. 
A native of Pike County, Alabama, Lewis became involved in the civil rights movement as a young man.
In 1965, he and other marchers, calling for equal rights for all voters regardless of race, were beaten in Selma as segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace ordered a crackdown.
The news coverage of the event help galvanise support for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Amid current national anti-racism protests and a movement to abolish Confederate monuments and symbols, calls have grown to rename the bridge in honour of Lewis.
It is currently named after Edmund Winston Pettus, a former Confederate brigadier general and leader of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan.
Week of memorials
Lewis’s body will later be brought to the Alabama Capitol in the afternoon to lie in repose.
A series of events began on Saturday in Lewis’s hometown of Troy, Alabama, to pay tribute to the late congressman and his legacy. He will lie in state at the US Capitol next week before his private funeral on Thursday at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr once led.
Frank and Ellen Hill drove for more than four hours from Monroe, Louisiana, to watch the procession. 

John Lewis was the youngest of the so-called Big Six activists who helped organise the march on Washington where Reverend Martin Luther King Jr gave his infamous I Have a Dream speech [File: Yuri Gripas/Reuters]

Frank Hill, 60, said he remembers, as an African American child, watching news footage of Lewis and other civil rights marchers being beaten by law enforcement officers.
“I had to come back and see John Lewis cross the bridge for the last time,” said Hill. It’s funny to see the state troopers here to honour and respect him rather than beat the crap out of him,” Hill told The Associated Press. 
Lewis, 80, died on July 17, several months after he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.
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Biden

Biden makes 1st in-person appearance in more than 2 months

NEW CASTLE, Del. (AP) – Joe Biden made his first in-person appearance in more than two months on Monday as he marked Memorial Day by laying a wreath at a veterans park near his Delaware home. Since abruptly canceling a March 10 rally in Cleveland at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the presumptive Democratic…

Biden makes 1st in-person appearance in more than 2 months

NEW CASTLE, Del. (AP) – Joe Biden made his first in-person appearance in more than two months on Monday as he marked Memorial Day by laying a wreath at a veterans park near his Delaware home.

Since abruptly canceling a March 10 rally in Cleveland at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has waged much of his campaign from his home in Wilmington. When Biden emerged on Monday, he wore a face mask, in contrast to President Donald Trump, who has refused to cover his face in public as health officials suggest.

Biden and his wife, Jill, laid a wreath of white flowers tied with a white bow, and bowed their heads in silence at the park.

The appearance was a milestone in a presidential campaign that has largely been frozen by the coronavirus outbreak. While the feasibility of traditional events such as rallies and the presidential conventions are in doubt, Biden’s emergence suggests he won’t spend the nearly five months that remain until the election entirely at home.

The coronavirus has upended virtually all aspects of American life and changed the terms of the election. Trump’s argument that he deserves another term in office because of the strong economy has evaporated as unemployment rises to levels not seen since the Great Depression.

As a longtime senator and former vice president, Biden is trying to position himself as someone with the experience and empathy to lead the country out of a crisis.

Biden has adjusted to the coronavirus era by building a television studio in his home, which he’s used to make appearances on news programs, late-night shows and virtual campaign events. Some of those efforts have been marred by technical glitches and other awkward moments.

Some Democratic strategists have openly worried that Biden is ceding too much ground to Trump by staying home. The president himself has knocked Biden for essentially campaigning from his basement.

Biden’s advisers say they plan to return to normal campaign activities at some point, including travel to battleground states But they’re in no hurry, preferring to defer to the advice of health experts and authorities’ stay-at-home and social distancing recommendations.

At 77, Biden is among the nation’s senior population thought to be especially vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus – though so is Trump, who turns 74 next month.

“We will never make any choices that put our staff or voters in harm’s way,” Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said recently, adding that the campaign would resume more traditional activities “when safety allows, and we will not do that a day sooner.”

Trump has not resumed the large rallies that were the hallmark of his 2016 campaign and presidency but has begun traveling outside Washington in recent weeks. He visited a facility producing face masks in Arizona and a Ford plant in Michigan that has been converted to produce medical and protective equipment.

Trump even played golf at his club in Virginia on the weekend, hoping that others will follow his lead and return to some semblance of normal life and gradually help revive an economy in free fall.

It was the president’s first trip to one of his money-making properties since March 8, when he visited his private golf club in West Palm Beach. The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11, and Trump followed with the national emergency declaration two days later.

Biden’s campaign wasted little time producing an online video offering blurry, faraway footage of Trump on the golf course, imposed over images evoking the virus ravaging the nation as the number of Americans dead from the pandemic approached 100,000. The video concluded by proclaiming: “The death toll is still rising. The president is playing golf.”

Trump was spending Memorial Day visiting Arlington National Cemetery and the Fort McHenry national monument in Baltimore, to be followed by a trip to Florida’s coast on Wednesday to watch to U.S. astronauts blast into orbit.

___

Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”

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Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.

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Lanka

Sri Lanka makes cremations compulsory for coronavirus deaths

Sri Lankan authorities have cremated the bodies of seven people who died from coronavirus in the country [Al Jazeera] Sri Lanka has made cremations compulsory for coronavirus victims, ignoring protests from the country’s Muslim population which says the rule goes against Islamic tradition. Three Muslims are among the seven people who have so far died…

Sri Lanka makes cremations compulsory for coronavirus deaths

Sri Lankan authorities have cremated the bodies of seven people who died from coronavirus in the country [Al Jazeera]
Sri Lanka has made cremations compulsory for coronavirus victims, ignoring protests from the country’s Muslim population which says the rule goes against Islamic tradition.
Three Muslims are among the seven people who have so far died from the infectious disease in the country. Their bodies were cremated by the authorities despite protests from relatives.
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Anguish as Sri Lanka forces Muslims to cremate COVID-19 victims

“The corpse of a person who has died or is suspected to have died, of … COVID-19 shall be cremated,” Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi said on Sunday.
The decision has also been criticised by rights groups.
“At this difficult time, the authorities should be bringing communities together and not deepening divisions,” Amnesty’s South Asia Director Biraj Patnaik said earlier this month.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said people dying from coronavirus “can be buried or cremated”.
More than 200 people have tested positive for coronavirus so far in Sri Lanka, where an indefinite, nationwide curfew has been imposed.
The country’s main political party that represents Muslims, which make up 10 percent of the 21 million-strong national population, has accused the government of “callous disregard” for religious rituals and the families’ wishes.

USCIRF is concerned with reports of forced cremation of Muslims who died from #coronavirus under new govt guidance in #SriLanka; a violation of Islamic burial practice which forbids cremation. Under @WHO guidelines, both burial and cremation are permitted.https://t.co/JM0Fg4FZMB
— USCIRF (@USCIRF) April 7, 2020

SOURCE:
AFP news agency

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