What does your dream vacation look like? Are you relaxing on a beach? Nestled in the mountains? It’s 2017. It just might be time to think bigger. We’re talking a room with a view—a view of Earth. That’s right. Getting “away from it all” is taking on a whole new meaning as companies work to create a travel experience that’s literally out of this world. So pack your bags and hold on tight, here are few space hotels you may be heading to someday.
If you’ve got $250,000, Virgin Galactic will take you and five of your closest friends on a journey to suborbital space. It may sound simple, but it has taken 700 engineers working around the clock for over a year to put this SpaceShipTwo project into motion. And although it’s not quite ready yet, there’s already a line of people waiting to climb aboard. Stephen Hawking’s first up, with a free ticket to ride, courtesy of Sir Richard Branson.
Commercial Space Station
Created by a Russian firm, Orbital Technologies, this space hotel floats 250 miles above Earth and can house up to seven people at a time. But you’ll have to do more than packing to prepare for this trip—tourists who want in will have to train for up to three months before blast-off. The prospect of day-trips to the moon may make it worth your while though. And don’t worry, you won’t have to say goodbye to Snap Chat while you’re up there. Word has it there will be Internet access. Showers, on the other hand? Not so much.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM)
Last year, BEAM was the first inflatable pod to attach to the International Space Station. Made by Bigelow Aerospace, it will remain in space for another year undergoing testing to make sure it can withstand drastic temperatures, debris and cosmic radiation. Scientists and engineers hope at some point to join many pods together to create what essentially could be the first space colonies—perhaps on Mars or the Moon! Because of it’s compact, inflatable form, it’s relatively light and easy to transport to space, and once up there the pod expands to 12 feet by 10.5 feet. The catch? This one doesn’t have power yet though—astronauts need flashlights to make repairs!—so it might not be for you if you’re not the camping kind. Also, it currently costs a pretty penny—$28.7 million for 30 days of habitation.
Would you check into one of these space hotels? Are you over the moon about the idea or do you prefer a more down to earth approach to vacation?
Vote and tell us what you think — you can even submit video comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will feature the results of the poll and some of your comments on the show!
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The family of a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran a decade ago on an unauthorized CIA assignment has filed a lawsuit against the Islamic Republic, accusing it of using “cold, cynical and false denials” to torture his loved ones.
The lawsuit by Robert Levinson’s family in U.S. federal court comes years after the last hostage photos and video of the 69-year-old investigator surfaced in emails they say were sent by Iran so the country “would not be held responsible for his ultimate fate.” The lawsuit also describes in detail offers by Iran to “arrange” for his release in exchange for a series of concessions, including the return of a Revolutionary Guard general who defected to the West.
“Iran has, for many years, established a pattern of seizing and holding hostages in order to extract concessions from the hostage’s home country,” the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington reads. “That Robert Levinson’s seizure is a part of that pattern is reflected in Iran’s multiple attempts to use Robert Levinson’s imprisonment to extort concessions from the United States.”
The family’s lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages from Iran.
Iran’s mission at the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment Sunday, amid Iran’s long celebration of the annual Nowruz holiday that marks the Persian New Year and the arrival of spring. Iranian media previously carried international reports on the lawsuit, without elaborating.
Levinson disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island on March 9, 2007. For years, U.S. officials would only say that Levinson, a meticulous FBI investigator credited with busting Russian and Italian mobsters, was working for a private firm on his trip.
In December 2013, The Associated Press revealed Levinson in fact had been on a mission for CIA analysts who had no authority to run spy operations. Levinson’s family had received a $2.5 million annuity from the CIA in order to stop a lawsuit revealing details of his work, while the agency forced out three veteran analysts and disciplined seven others.
The lawsuit said emails to Levinson’s family and friends began in August 2007, though the only photos and video of Levinson emerged in 2010 and 2011. The video message included a demand for $3 million and the release of “certain named individuals,” the lawsuit said.
Iranian authorities also used a meeting with an American religious organization to ask for the release of a report on its nuclear program to be delayed in exchange for Levinson, the lawsuit said. At another time, Iran asked for the exchange of the defecting general, while Levinson remained held all the while, it said.
“For the past 10 years the Iranian government has held Robert Levinson captive while at the same time denying any knowledge or involvement in the circumstances of his capture,” the lawsuit said. “In order to maintain its false story, Iran has held Robert Levinson incommunicado.”
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — CJ McCollum scored 32 points and the Portland Trail Blazers continued their push for the playoffs with a 112-100 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night.
Damian Lillard added 21 points for the Blazers, who have won 10 of their last 13 games. Portland has seven of its last 10 games at home.
The Blazers pulled within a game of the Denver Nuggets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Andrew Wiggins had 20 points for Minnesota, which lost its sixth consecutive game overall and seventh straight on the road. The Timberwolves, who trailed by as many as 24 points in the second half, are six games behind Portland in the West.
Both teams sat most of their starters in the final minutes.
It was the first of three games the Blazers will play against the Timberwolves over the next two weeks. The Blazers will play at Minnesota on April 3, a game that was originally scheduled for March 6 but was postponed because of condensation on the court at the Target Center. It was caused by the ice under the court for a hockey tournament and an ice show.
The teams will return to Portland for another game on April 6.
Portland was coming off a 110-95 victory over the Knicks. The Blazers turn around and visit the Lakers on Sunday night.
Portland built a 23-15 lead in the first quarter and stretched it to 60-46 at the break. McCollum led all scorers with the first half with 21 points, his fourth game against Minnesota with 20-plus points.
Jusuf Nurkic’s layup off a pass from Lillard stretched Portland’s lead to 69-51 in the third quarter. Lillard’s 3-pointer extended it to 94-72 before the quarter was over and Minnesota was never able to mount much of a rally.
Minnesota was coming off a 130-119 overtime loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles the night before.
Timberwolves: The Timberwolves fell 95-89 at the Target Center in the first meeting this season. McCollum had a career-high 43 in that one. … It was Wiggins’ sixth straight game with 20 or more points.
Trail Blazers: One of the loudest cheers of the night came when the final seconds of Oregon’s Elite Eight victory over Kansas was played on the video scoreboard. … Allen Crabbe has at least one 3-pointer in 14 straight games.
Timberwolves: Minnesota plays at Indiana on Tuesday.
Trail Blazers: Portland visits the Lakers at the Staples Center on Sunday night.
This story has been corrected to fix spelling of McCollum in short headline.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Former CIA Director James Woolsey has accused the Trump administration’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, of participating in a discussion with Turkish officials about possibly subverting the U.S. extradition process to remove a Turkish cleric from the United States.
The Wall Street Journal first reported Woolsey’s comments and posted a video interview with him late Friday . A Flynn spokesman said Friday that Woolsey’s claims are “false” and that “no such discussion occurred.”
In the Journal interview, Woolsey says he walked into the middle of a discussion between Turkish officials and members of Flynn’s firm, Flynn Intel Group, late in the evening of Sept. 19 at Essex House hotel in New York City.
Woolsey said the discussion generally involved removing cleric Fethullah Gulen from the U.S. without going through the lengthy extradition process, though he said it stopped short of outlining a specific plan to sweep the cleric out of the country. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought Gulen’s extradition from the U.S. after accusing the cleric of directing a failed coup last summer. The U.S. government has rebuffed that request, and Gulen, who has a green card and lives in Pennsylvania, has denied involvement.
Woolsey described the discussion as “brainstorming, but it was brainstorming about a very serious matter that would pretty clearly be a violation of law.” Though, Woolsey noted that the discussion “did not rise to the level of being a specific plan to undertake a felonious act.”
Flynn spokesman Price Floyd told The Associated Press that Flynn Intel Group’s work never involved discussing removing Gulen from the United States by any means other than the extradition process. He confirmed that Woolsey attended the meeting but denied that it involved subverting the legal process.
“The claim made by Mr. Woolsey that General Flynn or anyone else in attendance discussed physical removal of Mr. Gulen from the United States during a meeting with Turkish officials in New York is false,” Floyd said. “No such discussion occurred, nor did Mr. Woolsey ever inform General Flynn that he had any concerns whatsoever regarding the meeting, either before he chose to attend and afterward.”
The meeting was part of lobbying work Flynn’s firm was conducting on behalf of a company, Inovo BV, which is owned by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin.
Earlier this month, Flynn and his firm registered with the Justice Department as foreign agents for the work for Alptekin, saying that it could have benefited the Turkish government. Flynn’s firm was paid $530,000 over the course of the contract, which ran from August through November while Flynn was a top Trump campaign adviser. Alptekin has told the AP that Flynn’s firm registered as a foreign agent under pressure from the Justice Department.
As the AP reported earlier this month , Flynn’s attorneys twice disclosed to advisers to President Donald Trump after the election that it was likely Flynn would need to register as a foreign agent for the work. The first discussion was with the Trump transition team while Flynn was being considered for the top national security post. After Flynn joined the Trump administration, his attorneys then informed the White House counsel’s office that Flynn’s foreign agent registration was imminent. The White House has confirmed both contacts.
In the video interview, Woolsey said he didn’t know if he missed a caveat to the discussion because he arrived late to the September meeting. In addition to Woolsey and Flynn, others present included Alptekin, Flynn’s business partner, Bijan Rafiekian, and two Turkish officials: Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, who is Erdogan’s son-in-law. Alptekin has told the AP that he arranged the meeting.
Woolsey said he doesn’t remember if Flynn actively participated in the discussion. “I don’t recall who said what,” Woolsey said in the Journal interview. Though in an interview with CNN, he said there “was at least some strong suggestion by one or more of the Americans present at the meeting to the Turks” that the U.S. would be able to get ahold of Gulen.
“It was suspicious. It was concerning, and I felt I needed to say something about it to someone, but was it a clear plot that they were going to seize him? No,” Woolsey said during the CNN interview .
Woolsey has said he informed then-Vice President Joe Biden about the meeting through a mutual friend. Representatives for Biden declined to comment.
Woolsey, who served as CIA director under President Bill Clinton and briefly was a member of the Trump transition team, said he served on an advisory board for Flynn Intel Group but never did any work for the firm or received any payment from it.
Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, was fired by Trump last month after Trump said Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.
Flynn’s ties to Russia have been scrutinized by the FBI and are part of House and Senate committee investigations into contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russians.
Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Senior Minister Meg Barnhouse knows she’ll need beds, a dresser, chairs and a mirror to make the classroom at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin feel more like a home for a mother and her young daughter who are still deciding whether they will become the latest immigrants seeking sanctuary from deportation by moving into a church.
It would be the second time Barnhouse’s congregation had offered sanctuary. She was hesitant in 2015 because of the unknown legal and insurance risks, but this time she agreed immediately.
There is growing fear in the city’s immigrant community as President Donald Trump’s immigration and executive orders go into effect. And as more than 50 Austin area residents were detained in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation raids last month, a growing number of churches in the Austin Sanctuary Network are volunteering to offer physical shelter or support to churches that do.
The Austin Sanctuary Network has broadened in the last year from a handful of churches and advocates to more than two dozen congregations and religious groups, three labor unions, several nonprofit groups and dozens of individual volunteers. This mirrors the loosely organized national sanctuary movement that has grown to more than 800 churches and congregations, with a good portion of those joining since Trump was elected.
“It’s bewildering for people at this point. It’s like trying to repair furniture when the house is on fire,” said Pastor Jim Rigby, whose congregation at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin has provided sanctuary to Guatemalan immigrant Hilda Ramirez and her 10-year-old son, Ivan, for more than a year . “Opening our arms to our neighbors goes without question.”
Pastor Laura Walter’s small Presbyterian congregation in Bee Cave, 12 miles west of Austin, hopes her church can expand the network to reach immigrant communities outside city limits. They are still discussing whether the small church has room to offer shelter or whether they could get a permit to build a temporary shower.
“Our faith calls us to live this out,” Walters said. “In the near future we’ll be at the very least helping support refugees and asylum seekers.”
The churches are relying on a 2011 ICE policy directive telling agents to avoid “sensitive areas” such as churches, hospitals and schools when conducting deportation actions under most circumstances. Federal immigration officials said that policy is still in effect, but recent immigration arrests around the U.S., including inside courthouses, are increasing fears.
Austin, a liberal enclave in a conservative state, has had a strong base of immigration activists for years in opposition to a previous sheriff, who cooperated with ICE requests to hold inmates for possible deportation. During the city’s involvement in the Secure Communities Program 7/87/8— a federal-local partnership on deportation ended in 2014 by the Obama administration — an average of 19 people were deported from Travis County each week. Trump has revived the program.
Sheriff Sally Hernandez, who took office in January, has decreased cooperation with immigration officials by not automatically granting requests to hold immigrants for possible deportation. Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has withheld nearly $1.5 million in state grant funds from Travis County in response.
A Department of Homeland Security report this week singled out Travis County and a handful of other counties for denying immigrant detention requests, although local officials pushed back against some of the information in the report.
Many of the pastors say they are teaching civil disobedience when necessary, but because the immigrants are openly declaring sanctuary and letting immigration officials know where they are, they don’t believe they are violating the law. U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials declined to discuss the legality of sanctuary, but pointed to the sensitive areas policy.
The increased membership in the Austin network has meant more resources for outreach, including seminars on preparing deportation defense packets that designate who should take custody of children if a parent is detained for deportation proceedings.
The network has also partnered with local and national activists to teach more than 250 volunteers tactics called Sanctuary in the Streets designed to bring a church service to areas where deportation raids are happening to create a barrier between agents and immigrants. The volunteers also go with immigrants fearing deportation to court visits or immigration appointments.
Volunteers often go with Ramirez to appointments as she makes her case for asylum. For eight months, she never left the church grounds. The congregation built a green plastic barrier around a small outdoor space so she and Ivan could go outside without worrying about immigration officials.
Ramirez was granted a deportation deferment through October, meaning she can go to the store or do her own laundry, but she told pastors that with the aggressive immigration enforcement actions in recent months, she wants to stay.
The pastors have said the pair is welcome for as long as they want. At the Unitarian Church, Barnhouse and her congregation are also prepared to offer sanctuary for as long as the mother and daughter may need. Network volunteers declined to offer details about the mother until she makes her decision.
“It’s very grounding and exciting for a church to be able to live out its mission this tangibly,” Barnhouse said. “We gather in community to nourish souls, transform lives and do justice. That is our mission. … This feels like all of it.”
For a related video go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5LCtjK2Tbg
LAKEWOOD, Fla. (AP) — Authorities say they’ve charged a Florida man recorded on video sitting in the street eating pancakes.
A Lakeland police news release says Kiaron Thomas was charged Thursday with placing an obstruction in the roadway and disrupting the free flow of traffic. He was not arrested but issued an April 25 court date.
Police first received a call Tuesday morning about a man sitting in the crosswalk of a busy intersection. The caller said the man had a small TV tray in front of him and was eating what appeared to be pancakes. Officers responded, but the man had already left.
A video of the incident was later posted on Facebook and shared in a message to police. Several people tagged the video to Thomas, who police say admitted pulling the prank.