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January 23, 2019

President Trump may get easily bored by former House Speaker Paul Ryan, but he apparently never tires of space travel. NASA is currently shuttered in the 32-day-old government shutdown, but in April 2017, Trump was willing to give the space agency unlimited funding if it spent the money getting astronauts to Mars while he was still in office, according to former Trump aide Cliff Sims' new memoir, Team of Vipers.

Anyone who watched Trump's public April 24 video chat with astronauts on the International Space Station heard him say he wanted to speed up the manned mission to Mars by a decade, New York's Olivia Nuzzi notes. And according Sims, Trump was dead serious. About three minutes before the video chat, Trump abruptly asked acting NASA chief Robert Lightfoot Jr. about the plan for Mars, Nuzzi recaps:

Lightfoot explained to the president — who, again, had recently signed a bill containing a plan for Mars — that NASA planned to send a rover to Mars in 2020 and, by the 2030s, would attempt a manned spaceflight. "Trump bristled," according to Sims. He asked, "But is there any way we could do it by the end of my first term?" Sims described the uncomfortable exchange that followed the question, with Lightfoot shifting and placing his hand on his chin, hesitating politely and attempting to let Trump down easily. ...

"But what if I gave you all the money you could ever need to do it?" Trump asked. "What if we sent NASA's budget through the roof, but focused entirely on that instead of whatever else you're doing now. Could it work then?" Lightfoot told him he was sorry, but he didn't think it was possible. This left Trump "visibly disappointed," Sims wrote. [New York]

With about 30 seconds until chat time, Trump took a detour to "his white-marbled bathroom for one final check in the mirror," Sims writes. "In the bathroom mirror, Trump smirked and said to himself, 'Space Station, this is your president.'" Read more at New York. Peter Weber

2:45 p.m.

This year's flu season is shaping up to be record-breaking in duration, despite a sharp decrease in the number of flu-related deaths from last year, reports The Associated Press.

A surprise second wave has drawn this year's season out to 21 weeks and counting, making it the longest in a decade and one of the longest seasons since the government started tracking seasons 20 years ago.

Despite the longer season, the number of deaths has significantly dipped from last year. An estimated 35,000-50,000 Americans have died from issues related to the disease in 2018-19, compared to 80,000 in 2017-18, per AP. Last year's season lasted 19 weeks and was the deadliest in 40 years.

Although an unpredictable virus, representative for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Lynnette Brammer says this year's flu season should be nearing its end, per AP. Marianne Dodson

2:01 p.m.

A federal judge ruled on Friday that residents of Flint, Michigan, can move forward with a lawsuit against the federal government regarding the city's lack of clean drinking water, reports The Associated Press.

The government is not immune from legal action, ruled Judge Linda Parker of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. She didn't rule that the government was negligent in 2014 when Flint's drinking water first became contaminated with lead, but said the Environmental Protection Agency could be sued by residents who have criticized the slow response to the crisis.

EPA employees knew lead was leaching from old pipes, said Parker, per The Hill, and the "lies went on for months while the people of Flint continued to be poisoned." Summer Meza

1:59 p.m.

Academy-award winning actress Emma Thompson joined climate change activists in London on Friday to cap off a week full of protests against British inaction on climate change, reports Reuters.

Thompson joined the group Extinction Rebellion, which has been leading protests throughout the week, resulting in traffic disruptions and the arrest of more than 570 people, per Reuters.

The group has called for nonviolent civil disobedience in an attempt to persuade lawmakers to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, reports Reuters.

The actress said she was inspired to partake in the protests after seeing activists across the country this week. Thompson took time at the protest to read poetry celebrating the beauty of the earth.

"This is the most pressing and urgent problem of our time, in the history of the human race," Thompson said. "I have seen the evidence for myself and I really care about my children and grandchildren enough to want to be here today to stand with the next generation." Marianne Dodson

1:22 p.m.

Aspiring instagram influencers — maybe don't quit your day job just yet.

Instagram has considered doing away with publicly showing the number of likes on photos, reports The Verge. The feature, which is not currently being tested publicly, is part of an exploratory effort by the company to focus more on what is being shared versus how many likes are received.

The potential change is also an attempt to remove some distress that comes with Instagram.

Concerns over both mental and physical health have arisen due to the pervasiveness of social media platforms like Instagram. A recent proposal in the U.K. has suggested placing limits on letting users under 18 "like" posts on Facebook and Instagram or hold "streaks" on Snapchat, reports the BBC.

Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom said in 2016 that one of the reasons for the creation of Instagram Stories was to alleviate the pressure of receiving likes, reports Fast Company.

The potential shift in likes, which was uncovered by researcher Jane Manchun Wong, is currently only being tested internally, per Fast Company. Marianne Dodson

11:53 a.m.

The three beehives that inhabit Notre Dame remain abuzz after this week's devastating fire that sent much of the famous cathedral up in flames.

The hives were untouched by the blaze, CNN reports, since they are located nearly 30 meters below the roof where the fire spread. Each hive houses around 60,000 bees.

Had the beehives been closer to the fire and reached higher temperatures, the bees would likely have died due to melting wax, beekeeper Nicolas Geant told CNN. But because bees don't have human-like lungs, the smoke itself was not enough to cause them to perish, says Geant.

Geant told CNN he couldn't confirm with absolute certainty if all the bees had survived, but he's optimistic since the hives themselves did not burn and bees have been seen flying in and out.

"I was incredibly sad about Notre Dame because it's such a beautiful building, and as a Catholic it means a lot to me. But to hear there is life when it comes to the bees, that's just wonderful. I was overjoyed," Geant said. "Thank goodness the flames didn't touch them. It's a miracle!" Marianne Dodson

10:47 a.m.

Today in wild misinterpretations: Russia is somehow claiming that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report — specifically intended to outline the evidence regarding Russia's interference in the 2016 election — didn't uncover "a single piece of evidence" pointing to illegal meddling.

Mueller, of course, bolstered U.S. intelligence conclusions by stating Russia interfered in the 2016 election in a "sweeping and systematic fashion." Mueller determined that President Trump's campaign did not criminally coordinate to aid in the interference, but the report plainly lays out that interference occurred. Reuters reports that Russia’s foreign ministry dismissed the findings on Friday, breezing past the evidence that showed the Kremlin working to find Hillary Clinton's "missing" emails, the Russian troll farm that waged a social media disinformation campaign, and the contact between Russian operatives and Trump campaign officials that sought to push Russian influence in 2016.

"The report confirms the absence of any arguments to the effect Russia allegedly intervened in the U.S. election," claimed Georgy Borisenko, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s North America Department in Russia's news outlet TASS. "Not a single piece of evidence is there. The authors of the report have in fact confessed they have nothing to report." Mueller may have something (like a couple hundred pages) to say about that. Summer Meza

10:15 a.m.

House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) issued a subpoena on Friday to obtain the full, unredacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian election interference and the Trump campaign's conduct surrounding the meddling, reports The New York Times.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the subpoena earlier this month, anticipating a desire for an unredacted report and Mueller's underlying documentation. The subpoena has now been fired off, demanding to see Mueller's evidence and summaries of key witness interviews by May 1.

If Attorney General William Barr ignores it, the Judiciary Committee could hold him in contempt, setting up a potentially lengthy court battle.

Nadler said the report was troubling and "it now falls to Congress to determine the full scope of that alleged misconduct." In addition to requesting "the full version of the report and the underlying evidence," House Democrats have called on Mueller to testify publicly to clarify some of his findings. Read more at The New York Times. Summer Meza

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