Texas county issues disaster declaration ahead of April total solar eclipse

Edwin Remsberg/Getty Images

(KILLEEN, Texas) -- A small county in Texas is bracing for a state of emergency when hundreds of thousands of skywatchers are expected to flock to the South for the total solar eclipse in April.

Bell County Judge David Blackburn issued a local disaster declaration this week, ahead of the April 8 natural phenomenon, saying the county's population of 400,000 residents is expected to double in tourists.

The declaration allows Bell County to coordinate with the state's Department of Emergency Management if needed on eclipse day.

"In order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of both residents and visitors, Bell County has determined that extraordinary measures must be taken in the form of a local disaster declaration," the county said in a press release Wednesday.

Bell County is expecting the influx of eclipse viewers in the area to cause traffic congestion, shortages of food and fuel and cellular network congestion, according to the release.

The declaration also requires property owners planning to host events with over 50 attendees to register with the county to ensure proper "life safety and critical infrastructure" is in place.

"Registering information will provide public safety officials and first responders with important information that will aid them during this period when roads and highways may be stressed, and responders may be impeded by population conditions," the release notes.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth and, for a short time, completely blocks the face of the sun, according to NASA.

In the U.S., the path of totality begins in Texas and will travel through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Small parts of Tennessee and Michigan will also experience the total solar eclipse, the agency reports.

April's total solar eclipse will be the last of its kind to occur in North America for 20 years and is expected to be the largest mass travel event in 2024, Michael Zeiler, expert solar eclipse cartographer, told ABC News.

Zeiler compared eclipse day travel to "50 simultaneous Super Bowls across the nation," saying 4 million people are estimated to travel to view the eclipse.

"When you look at the number of people expected to come to the path of totality for the solar eclipse, we estimate those numbers are roughly the equivalent of 50 simultaneous Super Bowls across the nation, from Texas to Maine," he said.

Zeiler said Texas is a prime place for eclipse chasers to head to because it is located in the path of totality and has the best chances for clear skies on eclipse day.

"You want to be in the center of the path for the longest duration," Zeiler explained. "If you have a friend or relative in the path in Texas, and there are 12 million Texans inside the path, that's the spot to go because that's where the best weather prospects are."

Zeiler explained how eclipse travel should be celebrated, despite the hazard of heavy tourism, "All of us are united in pursuing the unimaginable beauty of a total solar eclipse."

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Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg slams Arizona prosecutor who won't extradite murder suspect: 'Political games'

Surprise Police Department

(NEW YORK) -- Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg criticized his Maricopa County, Arizona, counterpart who doesn't want to extradite a New York City murder suspect, saying she's playing "political games in a murder case."

Raad Almansoori, 26, is in custody in Arizona, where he is charged in two stabbings. He is also the suspect in the death of Denisse Oleas-Arancibia, 38, who was found beaten and strangled at New York's SoHo 54 Hotel earlier this month.

Bragg said he learned from Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell's Wednesday news conference that Mitchell would not extradite Almansoori.

"Her reasoning?" Bragg said at a news conference Thursday. "Not because that's what the law dictates. Not because that's what advances justice. Not because of a concern for victims. Not at the request of the NYPD. But rather, plain and simple, old-fashioned grandstanding and politics."

"That should have no place in our profession," Bragg said. "It is deeply disturbing to me that a member of my profession ... would choose to play political games in a murder case."

Mitchell said at her news conference Wednesday that she would not agree to send Almansoori to New York.

"Having observed the treatment of violent criminals in the New York area by the Manhattan DA there, Alvin Bragg," Mitchell said, "I think it's safer to keep him here and keep him in custody, so that he cannot be doing this to individuals either in our state or county, or anywhere in the United States."

Mitchell "professes concern that a murder suspect in Manhattan would be released?" Bragg responded at his news conference. "I do not know what they do in Arizona, but I know that here in this county, New York County, we routinely seek and get remand ... in our murder cases."

Bragg said shootings in Manhattan decreased by 38% and homicides have dropped 24% during his two years as DA.

He stressed that New York City's murder rate is less than half Phoenix's rate.

Almansoori is facing charges of attempted homicide, theft of means and aggravated assault in Surprise, Arizona, and robbery, assault, theft and criminal damage in Phoenix, police said. He is being held without bond.

The Arizona and New York crimes are both important, Bragg said, but he slammed Mitchell for not calling him to speak about the cases and instead holding a news conference.

Moving forward, Bragg said he hopes to have "regular, professional conversations" about Almansoori's extradition.

If Almansoori agrees to be extradited to New York, "it's a moot issue," Bragg said, but if he does not agree to be extradited, Bragg said his office would likely prepare an extradition package.

Bragg said that extradition package would be reviewed by the governor, not a local prosecutor.

"This is not the Maricopa County attorney's decision, and I'm hoping that facts, law, justice and reason will prevail," he said.

Almansoori was arrested in Arizona on Feb. 18 after he allegedly stabbed a woman and stole a car, authorities said. While in custody, Almansoori allegedly indicated to police that he was involved in another stabbing in Arizona, a deadly attack in New York City and an attack in Florida, authorities said.

ABC News' Aaron Katersky and Alex Stone contributed to this report.

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Foul play suspected after woman who went for a run on university campus found dead: School

Douglas Sacha/Getty Images

(ATHENS, Ga.) -- Foul play is suspected after a woman who went for a run on the University of Georgia's Athens campus was found dead Thursday, school officials said.

A friend reported the woman missing shortly after noon after she failed to return home from a run at the school's intramural fields earlier that morning, the university said.

University police officers subsequently found her in a wooded area behind a lake near the fields "unconscious and not breathing" with "visible injuries," the university said. Officers attempted to provide medical aid but she was pronounced dead at the scene.

The name of the woman has not been released. The university did not say whether she was a student.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Athens-Clarke County Police Department are assisting in an investigation into the death, the university said.

"We have been fully briefed on this terrible situation," the university said in a statement. "We want to assure you that the safety and welfare of our campus community is our top concern."

The incident follows the "sudden death" of a student in the campus' Brumby Hall Wednesday night, the school said. A cause of death has not been released.

Classes have been canceled Thursday evening and Friday and will resume on Monday, the school said, calling the past 24 hours a "traumatic time" for the university.

University officials recommended that students travel in groups when possible and download the school's safety app.

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2 more Alabama clinics pause IVF fertility treatment after court ruling

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(MOBILE, Ala.) -- Two Alabama fertility clinics announced they will stop providing in vitro fertilization treatment days after the state's Supreme Court issued a decision that said frozen embryos are considered children in the state.

Alabama Fertility Specialists and the Center for Reproductive Medicine in Mobile, Alabama, have each decided to pause treatments, they announced Thursday.

"We have made the impossibly difficult decision to hold new IVF treatments due to the legal risk to our clinic and our embryologists," Alabama Fertility Specialists said in a statement. "We are contacting patients that will be affected today to find solutions for them and we are working as hard as we can to alert our legislators as to the far reaching negative impact of this ruling on the women of Alabama."

Alabama Fertility Specialists vowed not to close its doors and said it will "continue to fight for our patients and the families of Alabama."

"At a time when we feel so powerless, advocacy and awareness is our strongest tools. Check back in later today for links to advocacy opportunities," the group said in a statement.

Dr. Mamie McLean, an infertility specialist at Alabama Fertility Specialists in Birmingham, Alabama, told "Good Morning America" earlier this week that the court's historic ruling could impact the future of in vitro fertilization treatments for those trying to access fertility treatments, adding that for her, the ruling left more open questions than answers.

"We're concerned that this ruling has far-reaching consequences for what we feel is safe to freeze and safe to discard," McLean said.

The Center for Reproductive Medicine said they had "no choice but to pause IVF treatments for patients."

"We understand the burden this places on deserving families who want to bring babies into this world and who have no alternative options for conceiving," Mark Nix, president and chief executive officer of Infirmary Health, said in a statement.

The court ruling opened the door to individuals being held civilly -- and potentially criminally -- liable for the destruction of embryos.

The decision stemmed from a lawsuit brought by couples who alleged that a patient managed to "wander" into a fertility clinic through an unsecured door, removing several embryos and dropping them to the floor.

The couples whose embryos were destroyed tried to bring a wrongful death suit against the facility but a lower court threw out the lawsuits. The Alabama state Supreme Court then reversed the lower court decision and deemed frozen embryos are children.

Alabama Fertility Specialists and Center for Reproductive Medicine in Mobile, Alabama, join the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, which paused IVF treatment earlier this week.

"We must evaluate the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for IVF treatments. We want to reiterate that it is IVF treatment that is paused. Everything through egg retrieval remains in place. Egg fertilization and embryo development is paused," the University of Alabama at Birmingham said in a statement.

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'Disgusting': MLK monument vandalized in Denver park during Black History Month


(DENVER) -- A monument honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., created by the nation's first African American NASA astronaut candidate, was vandalized in a Denver park this week by perpetrators who pried off a large bronze plaque and other pieces from the statue's pedestal, authorities said.

The damage to the "I Have a Dream" monument in City Park occurred in the middle of Black History Month and was discovered Wednesday morning by a concerned citizen, according to Vern Howard, chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission.

Howard, who was the project manager on the monument, told ABC News Thursday he suspects the vandalism and theft was a "coordinated effort," saying the largest piece taken from the monument was too heavy to have been carried off by a single individual.

He said that while some people he has spoken to about the incident believe the parts were taken to be sold on the black market, he suspects the crime was racially motivated.

"I believe that it was more sinister than what may meet the eye," said Howard.

Howard said Denver is full of bronze art, including five other bronze statues in City Park that would have been easier to steal.

"The Dr. King monument is lit at night, the lights are on. And the Dr. King monument is also on the main thoroughfare as you go through the park," Howard said. "Well, guess what? There are other monuments in City Park that are not lit. They are literally in the dark. So, it's a heck of a lot more daring and challenging to go after the Dr. King monument."

The Denver Police Department Bias Motivated Crime Unit has launched an investigation and police are asking for the public's help in catching the culprits.

The city of Denver commissioned sculptor Ed Dwight, the first African American NASA astronaut candidate, to create the monument, which also features bronze statues of Frederick Douglass, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth.

"Obviously, I'm extremely disappointed. But it was sitting there waiting to be vandalized," the 90-year-old Dwight told ABC News on Thursday, citing the lack of security cameras or other means to protect the monument.

Dwight estimated the large bronze plaque stolen from the monument weighs more than 200 pounds. The plaque depicts African Americans who served in the United States military from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War.

Two smaller bronze pieces pried off and taken from the monument were of a unity torch and choir lady.

"It's one of my big successes in my body of work," said Dwight, who lives in Denver. "It attracts people from all over the world that come here just to see this memorial. So for somebody to come and vandalize it is just disgusting to tell you the truth."

Dwight said the stolen bronze plaque is curved at the same radius as the pedestal and will be difficult to replace because the molds he used to create it no longer exist.

Howard said the entire monument is valued at $3 million and that the swiped plaque is worth about $75,000.

"This will not deter us. We will continue to march. We will continue to seek justice. We will continue to seek love," Howard said.

In late January, a bronze statue of Jackie Robinson, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers player who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947, was stolen from a park in Wichita, Kansas. The Robinson statue, which had been cut off at the ankles, was later found dismantled and burned in a trash can. A 45-year-old man was arrested and charged with felony theft valued at more than $25,000, aggravated criminal damage to property, identity theft and making false information, according to the Wichita Police Department.

Police said they are "very confident" that the theft of the Robinson statue was not a race-related crime, but that it was stolen for the potential financial value of the metal. Investigators are still trying to identify other individuals involved in the theft.

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Odysseus moon landing updates: What to know about 1st commercial moon landing

Intuitive Machines

(HOUSTON) -- A Houston-based company is attempting to make the first-ever commercial moon landing on Thursday, and the first by a U.S.-built spacecraft in more than 50 years.

Intuitive Machines' lander, named Odysseus, launched last week from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and entered lunar orbit on Wednesday.

It will orbit the moon for about one day before beginning its descent and will attempt to soft-land near the south pole at 6:24 p.m. ET, according to NASA. However, video of the landing will be delayed reaching Earth by at least 45 minutes.

The lander is carrying five NASA instruments, including a radio beacon meant to transmit precise geolocation and cameras that capture how the surface of the moon changes from interactions with the engine plume of the spacecraft, as well as commercial cargo.

If the landing is successful, Odysseus -- nicknamed "Odie" by employees -- will have seven days before darkness descends on the landing site, which will prevent the spacecraft's solar panels from gathering energy from sunlight and bringing freezing temperatures.

Intuitive Machines was one of several companies approved by NASA under Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts to build private lunar landers that the federal space agency, among others, would use to send instruments into space.

Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines, said the company's employees' names are engraved into the footer to permanently stamp their names on the lunar surface.

"I had everyone's name etched on the bottom of the landing gear so that their names will be indelibly printed on the moon when we touch down softly," he told ABC News.

This is the third attempt to land on the moon this year. In early January, the Peregrine lunar lander, built by Astrobotic, developed a critical fuel leak, forcing it to return to Earth and burn upon re-entry.

Meanwhile, Japan launched a rocket to the moon in September 2023 and landed on Jan. 19, becoming the fifth country to do so. However, the lunar lander landed upside down and could not deploy its solar arrays.

"There's reduced gravity There's very little atmosphere, lot of dust, and so the engineers have to speculate how a spacecraft would behave in that type of environment, right? And it doesn't exist here on Earth," Regina Blue, NASA's CLPS deputy program manager, told ABC News, explaining why it's so difficult to land on the moon.

"So they have to spend lots of hours testing and testing and doing more testing and even that, getting into that environment there is a good amount of unpredictability, so that makes it very, very hard," she continued.

These robotic missions are important to explore the moon as NASA and the Canadian Space Agency prepare to send four astronauts to fly around the moon in the upcoming Artemis II mission next year. If the mission is successful, Artemis III -- a moon landing -- is scheduled for 2026.

The Artemis team will be made up of three Americans -- Victor Glover, Christina Hammock Koch, and Reid Wiseman -- and one Canadian, Jeremy Hansen.

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AT&T outage prompts urgent investigation into possible cyberattack: Sources

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(NEW YORK) -- A network disruption affected AT&T customers in the U.S. Thursday, prompting federal agencies to investigate whether the outage was caused by a cyberattack.

In a statement to ABC News, the company confirmed the outage and advised customers to make calls over Wi-Fi.

“Some of our customers are experiencing wireless service interruptions this morning. We are working urgently to restore service to them. We encourage the use of Wi-Fi calling until service is restored," an AT&T spokesperson said.

Later Thursday afternoon, AT&T issued an update saying that its network had been fully restored.

"We have restored wireless service to all our affected customers. We sincerely apologize to them. Keeping our customers connected remains our top priority, and we are taking steps to ensure our customers do not experience this again in the future," the company said in a message on its website.

Two sources briefed on the situation told ABC News that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS), among other agencies, are now urgently investigating to determine whether the AT&T outages are the result of a cyberattack or a hack, or simply some sort of technical malfunction.

As of 5:00 a.m. ET, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) reported, according to a confidential memo obtained by ABC News, that “the cause of the outage is unknown and there are no indications of malicious activity.” CISA is an agency within DHS tasked with monitoring cyber threats.

The FCC has been in touch with AT&T and conversations are ongoing to figure out what’s causing today’s outages, according to National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby.

This afternoon, Kirby told reporters that DHS and the FBI are looking into the outages as well, and are working with the tech industry and network providers to see what can be done “from a federal perspective to enhance their investigative efforts to figure out what happened here.”

“The bottom line is we don't have all the answers,” he said. “We're working very hard to see if we can get to the ground truth of exactly what happened.”

Several police departments and municipalities warned local residents of what they described as a nationwide outage. In turn, officials urged callers to contact emergency services by alternative means.

"There is a nationwide AT&T outage that is preventing wireless customers from making and receiving any phone calls (including to 9-1-1)," the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, which serves the Charlotte, North Carolina area, said in a post on X.

The county government in Fairfax, Virginia released a similar warning.

"There is a nationwide AT&T outage that is preventing wireless customers from making and receiving any phone calls (including to 9-1-1)," the Fairfax County Government said on X. "Try calling from a landline or ask a friend or family member to call 9-1-1 on your behalf."

In response to an earlier request from ABC News, CISA said they had no comment on the outages.

AT&T serves more than 100 million customers across mobile and broadband services, according to the the company's website.

Verizon and T-Mobile both told ABC News that their respective networks are not experiencing outages but customers may experience difficulty when contacting individuals affected by outages at other providers.

"Verizon's network is operating normally. Some customers experienced issues this morning when calling or texting with customers served by another carrier. We are continuing to monitor the situation," a Verizon spokesperson said.

T-Mobile similarly told ABC News, "We did not experience an outage. Our network is operating normally. Down Detector is likely reflecting challenges our customers were having attempting to connect to users on other networks."

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Judge denies Trump's request to delay enforcement of $355M fraud case penalties

Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a Fox News town hall at the Greenville Convention Center on Feb. 20, 2024 in Greenville, South Carolina. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) -- The judge in former President Donald Trump's civil fraud case has rejected a request from the defense to delay the enforcement of the penalties in the case.

The defendants had asked Judge Arthur Engoron to delay the enforcement of the penalties by 30 days to allow for an "orderly post-judgment process."

"You have failed to explain, much less justify, any basis for a stay," Engoron wrote in an email posted Thursday to the court docket. "I am confident that the Appellate Division will protect your appellate rights.

Trump last week was ordered to pay a $354.8 million fine plus interest and was barred from leading New York companies for three years.

The defense's request for a delay in the penalties stemmed from a dispute about the case's judgment order, the court document that, at the end of a trial, starts the clock for the penalties in a case. Lawyers for New York Attorney General Letitia James submitted a draft judgment on Tuesday, prompting criticism from Trump's defense lawyer Clifford Robert.

"To deprive Defendants of the opportunity to submit a proposed counter-judgment would be contrary to fundamental fairness and due process," Robert wrote in a letter to the court Wednesday morning.

Later that morning, Engoron requested that Robert submit a written response articulating what would make the defense's judgment different from the proposed order. Robert replied Wednesday afternoon by arguing that the attorney general's judgment broke with standard practice and included at least two errors.

"The Attorney General has not filed any motion on notice, nor moved to settle the proposed Judgment," Robert said in the filing. "Her unseemly rush to memorialize a 'judgment' violates all accepted practice in New York state court."

Citing the "magnitude" of the penalties in the case, Robert requested a stay of penalties by 30 days if Engoron opts to sign the attorney general's proposed judgment.

"Given that the court-appointed monitor continues to be in place, there is no prejudice to the Attorney General in briefly staying enforcement to allow for an orderly post-judgment process, particularly given the magnitude of Judgment," Robert wrote.

In a short letter to Engoron Thursday, state attorney Andrew Amer opposed the request, arguing that Robert failed to justify why an additional delay of 30 days would be necessary and writing that Engoron's decision in the case left "no room for further debate" about the judgment.

"Nor do Defendants provide any basis for staying enforcement of the judgment; indeed, they requested such relief in their post-trial brief, which the Court declined to grant," Amer wrote.

Amer also objected to a change proposed by Robert to move the address of six of Trump's businesses -- which are defendants in the case -- from New York to Florida.

"Finally, the Court should reject Defendants' attempt to change the business address of six entity Defendants to Florida as the record establishes those entities are located in Trump Tower at 725 5th Avenue in New York, the office building in which the executives who carry out the business activities of those entities work," Amer wrote.

Trump was fined $354.8 million plus approximately $100 million in pre-judgment interest last week after Engoron determined that he inflated his net worth to get more favorable loan terms.

The former president has denied all wrongdoing and has said he will appeal.

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Missing Virginia Tech student remains a mystery nearly 1 week on: 'This is making sense to no one,' his mom says

Montgomery County Sheriff's Office

(BLACKSBURG, Va.) -- Nearly one week after Virginia Tech student Johnny Roop mysteriously vanished, his mother is desperate for answers, noting that the 20-year-old disappearing "is totally out of his nature."

Authorities believe Roop left the Virginia Tech area on Feb. 16 on his own, and said there's no information leading them to believe he's in immediate danger.

"Our concern now is there's something that we're just not aware of, that mentally may have snapped. And I have no idea what that might be," Roop's mom, Veronica Widener, told ABC News on Thursday. "We just want to locate him and make sure that he's OK."

Widener described her son as a self-motivated, straight-A student. He has an "even-keeled" temperament and is passionate about his Christian faith, she said.

Roop, a senior at Virginia Tech's business school, is set to graduate this May. He completed college in three years and is looking to pursue a career in financial planning, his mom said.

Roop has been friends with his college roommates since childhood. They all grew up in Abingdon, Virginia, about 100 miles away from Virginia Tech, and Widener said her son drove home to visit every few weekends.

Widener said her last communication with Roop was via text on Feb. 14 when they exchanged "Happy Valentine's Day" messages.

She said the night of Feb. 15 was the last time someone physically saw Roop, when he went to a birthday dinner for his roommate with the roommate's parents, and his behavior appeared normal.

That night, the roommates talked about an online exam that was due the next night, and Roop mentioned that he was probably going to drive home on Feb. 16 to complete the exam from Abingdon, Widener said.

The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office said investigators believe Roop left the county on his own on the afternoon of Feb. 16, and most likely traveled southwest toward Abingdon.

Surveillance video showed him in the Christiansburg area, which is just a few miles south of his apartment, until about 3:30 p.m., the sheriff's office said.

The university said that at 4:26 p.m., Roop's phone pinged near the New River Valley Mall, which is also near his apartment.

"Based on interviews with friends and family (in addition to video surveillance) it was noted that Mr. Roop's behavior on Friday was not consistent with his normal patterns of behavior; however, information received seems to indicate that he was alone," the sheriff's office said in a statement Tuesday. "We have received no information leading us to believe that he is in immediate danger; however, due to the fact that Mr. Roop appears to be acting outside of his normal behavior we would like to make contact with him to confirm that he is indeed ok."

"This is making sense to no one -- the measures that he's, you know, taken to just, kind of, seemingly disappear," Widener said. "Our concern at this point is whether he would be a danger to himself."

Roop drives a black 2018 Toyota Camry with a sticker of the Virginia Tech flag on the back window, the university said. The car has Virginia license plate number TXW6643.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office at 540-382-4343.

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NASA seeks volunteers for a paid, yearlong simulated Mars mission

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(HOUSTON) -- The future of Mars exploration is on the horizon and NASA is recruiting citizen volunteers to help make that future a reality.

NASA is recruiting qualified individuals to participate in a yearlong mission on a simulated version of the Red Planet, the agency announced this week.

The volunteers will live and work at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, inside Mars Dune Alpha, a 1,700-square-foot, 3D-printed habitat.

"For the explorers, the adventurers, the people who love science, this is a really unique and incredible opportunity to be able to contribute to science," Suzanne Bell, lead for NASA's Behavioral Health and Performance Laboratory at Johnson Space Center, told ABC News.

The mission, which is the second installment of three planned programs from the Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA), will last 378 days and is set to begin in Spring 2025.

"We mimic what we expect for a Mars habitat surface mission," Bell said. "We collect all sorts of data so we can learn how humans can survive and thrive in that circumstance."

The simulated Mars habitat will replicate the challenges of a mission in space. NASA says "resource limitations, equipment failures, communication delays, and other environmental stressors" will be a part of the mission.

Members of the four-person team can expect "simulated spacewalks, robotic operations, habitat maintenance, exercise, and crop growth," according to the agency.

"Applicants should have a strong desire for unique, rewarding adventures and interest in contributing to NASA's work to prepare for the first human journey to Mars," the agency said in a press release Friday.

The current CHAPEA mission is on its 242nd day out of 378, according to Bell, who notes, "We are learning from this crew and collecting data every day."

Bell says the three missions are designed to eliminate the "anomaly of a particular crew or individuals."

"We're seeing how we can best support people in the circumstances for their human health. We're starting to see trends that we could interpret to best support people of the future," Bell explained.

To qualify for the mission, you must be a healthy, nonsmoking U.S. citizen or a permanent resident between the ages of 30 and 55 years old and proficient in English.

The agency says applicants must have a master's degree with STEM qualifications and experience in the field, or a minimum of 1,000 hours piloting an aircraft or the requisite military experience. A bachelor of science degree in a STEM field also may be considered, NASA said.

"What we are looking for in this call is everyday civilians who are very astronaut-like to be research participants for us," Bell said.

Compensation for participating in the mission is available, according to NASA, but an exact salary will be provided during the candidate screening process.

The deadline to apply is April 2 on NASA's CHAPEA website.

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School punishment for Black student's hair is legal in CROWN Act lawsuit, judge rules

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NEW YORK) -- A judge ruled Thursday that the punishment faced by a Black high school student in Texas for refusing to change his hairstyle does not violate the state's CROWN Act, which prohibits race-based hair discrimination, according to ABC owned KTRK.

Darryl George, 18, has been banned by BHISD from attending regular classes at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu. He has been directed to in-school suspension and an off-site disciplinary program since Aug. 31, 2023, according to his mother Darresha George.

The school claimed that the length of his dreadlocks violated their dress and grooming code. Darryl George's dreadlocks are braided and wrapped up on top of his head.

The CROWN Act, which stands for "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair," was passed with a bipartisan vote in the Texas legislature and signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last May.

"… being an American requires conformity with the positive benefit of unity, and being a part of something bigger than yourself," Greg Poole, the superintendent of Barbers Hill ISD, said through a full-page, paid ad in the Houston Chronicle on Jan. 14.

Poole told ABC News in a statement in January that Barbers Hill dress code was not in violation of the CROWN Act which Texas enacted last September.

"The CROWN Act was meant to allow braids, locs or twists, which the district has always allowed. The law was never intended to allow unlimited student expression," Poole said in a statement.

Candice Matthews, a local activist close to the family, criticized Poole for his stance.

"This is very dangerous and he [BHISD Superintendent Greg Poole] has no business having any type of oversight of children and their educational journey," Matthews told ABC News in part through a statement in January.

The school district told ABC News in a statement in September they filed the lawsuit through the judicial system of Texas to help them clarify the terms of the CROWN Act and whether the length of hair is a factor in the law.

"Any student dress or grooming policy adopted by a school district, including a student dress or grooming policy for any extracurricular activity, may not discriminate against a hair texture or protective hairstyle commonly or historically associated with race," according to the CROWN Act. "'Protective hairstyle' includes braids, locks and twists.'"

Darryl George's family filed a federal lawsuit in September against Abbott and the state's Attorney General Ken Paxton for allegedly not enforcing the state's CROWN Act.

The family alleges in the complaint that Darryl George has been subjected to "improper discipline and abrogation of both his Constitutional and state rights," as a result of the governor's and the AG's failure to provide equal protection and due process under the law for the plaintiffs; ensuring school districts and schools refrain from discrimination based on race and sex and from using the CROWN Act of Texas to cause outright race and discrimination, according to a copy of the lawsuit ABC News obtained.

Abbott and Paxton did not respond to ABC News' request for comment at the time of the lawsuit.

ABC News' Kiara Alfonseca contributed to this report.

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Man arrested for grisly murder of aspiring model in Los Angeles: Police

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(LOS ANGELES) -- A suspect has been arrested in the death of Maleesa Mooney, an aspiring model who was found dead in her Los Angeles apartment last year, according to police.

The 31-year-old's body was discovered at her apartment on Sept. 12 after a welfare check had been requested for her residence, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Mooney was murdered inside her apartment, police said. Her body was found stuffed in a refrigerator with her arms and legs tied, according to a coroner's report cited by Los Angeles ABC station KABC.

The suspect, 41-year-old Magnus Daniel Humphrey, was arrested in Minnesota on an unrelated federal warrant, Los Angeles police said. He was already on federal probation for narcotics offenses.

After his arrest, he was identified as a suspect in Mooney's death, according to police.

Murder charges have been filed against Humphrey and he will be transported back to Los Angeles to face the charges, according to police.

Police would not share a possible motive and are unaware if the suspect and victim knew each other.

"She's so kind, she's so genuine, she's so loving," Mooney's sister, Jourdin Pauline, told KABC at a rally after Maleesa's death. "To have someone do what they did to my sister, to that caliber, is sick. It's demented."

ABC News' Deena Zaru contributed to this report.


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Yale reintroduces standardized test requirement, but expands list of test options

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(NEW YORK) -- Yale University has announced a new "test-flexible" standardized testing policy set to go into effect for the 2024-25 admissions cycle, following fellow Ivy League school Dartmouth College in adjusting its COVID-era policies.

The university will require standardized test scores for all applicants but is expanding the list of tests that fulfill the requirement to include Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams as well as the ACT and SAT tests.

"Our new policy is designed to help applicants put their best foot forward, and to help admission officers respond to well-prepared students from all contexts," read the announcement from Yale's dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid Jeremiah Quinlan.

Quinlan cites research from Harvard University-based research group Opportunity Insights, which found that standardized test scores predict future grades better than any other available datapoint. However, Quinlan stated, standardized tests are "imperfect and incomplete."

"No single exam can demonstrate every student's college readiness or perfectly predict future performance," said Quinlan.

He added, "A test can, however, highlight an applicant's areas of academic strength, reinforce high school grades, fill in gaps in a transcript stemming from extenuating circumstances, and—most importantly—identify students whose performance stands out in their school context."

Yale is one of hundreds of colleges and universities that stopped requiring SAT or ACT scores amid the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning in 2020.

As nationwide school shutdowns and social distancing forced students and faculty out of congregate settings, standardized tests were rescheduled and later canceled. The logistic difficulties in getting students to take the tests forced schools to change their admissions testing policies.

This became one of several adjustments to admissions policies that schools chose to implement, including extensions on application deadlines. These changes in admissions policies led to a surge in applications for some schools.

However, test-optional policies for higher education admissions applications are nothing new. Hundreds of schools have made standardized testing optional for applicants since the early 2000s, according to education advocacy group FairTest.

Standardized testing scores are optional for applicants at roughly 1,900 schools, according to FairTest.

Supporters of standardized testing say these scores can indicate student's more likely to get better grades and can indicate potential for post-college success. They argue these scores can identify students from underrepresented backgrounds who might be missed by a test-optional application.

"For example, a 1400 SAT score from an applicant whose high school has an SAT mean of 1000 gives us valuable information about that applicant's ability to excel in their environment," said Dartmouth President Sian Leah Beilock. Dartmouth recently reinstated SAT/ACT test requirements.

Critics of standardized testing say that students may not apply to some colleges because of test scores, despite potentially being otherwise good applicants for the school. While test scores predict future grades, some argue that does not predict other aspect's of a student's success.

"One of the trends that we've noticed in the four years that we've been test-optional is there hasn't been a significant shift in terms of students academic achievement without having submitted standardized test scores to get admitted," said Steve Robinson, senior associate vice president for enrollment management at the University of Utah, according to local news outlet KSL.

Research has found that standardized tests also put less wealthy students at a disadvantage, inherently favoring richer, white and Asian students. However, College Board, which administers the SAT and AP exams, told the New York Times that the test simply mirrors the inequities in education impacting these groups and is not at fault for the disparity.

Research from Harvard University and the National Bureau of Economic Research states the college admissions process also play a major role in favoring richer populations.

It found that students from families in the top 1% are twice as likely to be admitted to and attend an Ivy-Plus college than students from a middle-class family with comparable standardized test scores. The study cites legacy admissions, athlete recruitment, and non-academic ratings as benefitting high-income applicants.

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Why extreme rain pouring into Southwest US hasn't fully eliminated the region's megadrought

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(LOS ANGELES) -- The record-breaking rain soaking the Southwest U.S. in recent weeks still won't be enough to eliminate the megadrought status in the notoriously arid region completely, according to researchers.

The extra precipitation fueled by several rounds of atmospheric rivers and an El Niño event has improved parched conditions in the Southwest, which was previously suffering from a decadeslong megadrought. The U.S. Drought Monitor is currently indicating no drought throughout the state of California.

At Death Valley National Park, one of the driest places on earth, a temporary lake still remains in Badwater Basin -- a salt flat that once held up to 700 feet of water during the Ice Age. The water, which appeared in August following Hurricane Hilary, has not evaporated due to steady rounds of heavy rain ever since, according to the National Park Service.

However, drought conditions are still persisting in parts of the Southwest, according to maps released by the Drought Monitor.

In addition, the rain has not been enough to increase water availability in the Southwest, especially for major cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix, according to experts.

Before the recent years of heavy moisture, the Southwest was experiencing a precipitation deficit of about two decades long, Matthew Lachniet, a professor of geoscience at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, told ABC News. Therefore, getting back to "normal" would require many more years of above-average rainfall, Lachniet said.

The last truly wet period occurred around 1998 when major reservoirs in the region were close to overflowing, following a very wet decade in the 1980s, Lachniet said.

"Maybe, just maybe, if we had another decade like the 1980s we might get something back to normal," he said.

The bigger problem in the Southwest is how water is distributed and where it comes from. In Los Angeles, most of the rainwater has been washing right to the ocean, which does little to ensure the region's water supply, Alex Hall, director of the Center for Climate Science at the University of California, Los Angeles, told ABC News.

"About 80% of the precipitation falling on the Los Angeles region goes directly to the ocean without being used for human purposes," Hall said.

A large portion of the water that serves Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix comes from snowmelt that trickles down the Colorado River Basin, which is still partially in drought, data shows.

However, not all of the water from the Colorado River makes its way to these major cities and the surrounding areas. Instead, much of it is rerouted to irrigate agricultural fields.

In California, about 60% of the state's share of water from the Colorado River is allocated for agriculture in the Imperial Valley, Hall said.

Currently, the combined water from Lake Powell and Lake Mead -- the largest reservoirs in the country -- is only about 35% full, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. An upcoming forecast calls for snowmelt runoff to deliver only 70% of normal water to the reservoirs in the coming months, Paul Miller, service coordination hydrologist for the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, told ABC News.

In order to completely fill up many of the reservoirs in the West, it would take another six years of normal precipitation combined with a total break from using water from the Colorado River Basin, Miller said.

But not using water from the Colorado River would be impossible for much of the Southwest, which relies heavily on the watershed.

When combining long-term forecasts with a changing climate, the outlook appears grim for the Southwest, which is predicted to get even drier.

Further action and coordination will be needed in the future to continue to supply the region with the water it needs for years to come, the experts said.

ABC News' Stephanie Ebbs, Daniel Peck and Ginger Zee contributed to this report.

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New survey captures national divide on teaching race, LGBTQ issues in classrooms Images

(NEW YORK) -- Schools nationwide have been at the center of the country's culture wars. Restrictions on education and programs relating to race, gender, and sexual orientation have been implemented in several states, while schools and libraries are facing increasing waves of book-banning attempts.

In a new survey, the Pew Research Center asked public K-12 teachers, teens, and the American public about the ongoing scrutiny placed on classroom curricula, mainly regarding race and LGBTQ identities.

Here's what teachers, teens and the American public said, according to the Pew survey:

What teachers say

Pew found that 41% of teachers say these debates have had a negative impact on their ability to do their job. Only 4% say the debates have had a positive impact.

Most public K-12 teachers -- 60% -- say parents should not be able to opt their children out of learning about racism or racial inequality in school, even if the topics are taught in a way that conflicts with a parent's beliefs. A quarter of teachers surveyed say the opposite, Pew found.

Of the Americans surveyed by Pew, 34% of them said they believe parents should be able to opt their children out of learning about racism and racial inequality.

Most surveyed teachers, 64%, say students should learn that the legacy of slavery still affects the position of Black people in American society today.

Regarding slavery's legacy, 23% of teachers surveyed believe that students should learn that slavery is part of American history but no longer affects the position of Black people in American society. Only 8% say students shouldn't learn about this topic in school at all.

When it comes to sexual orientation or gender identity, about 33% of teachers say parents should not be able to opt their children out of learning about these topics. 48% say the opposite, Pew found. Of the Americans surveyed by Pew, 54% of them said they believe parents should be able to opt their children out of learning about sexual orientation and gender identity, while 34% said they should not be able to opt out.

Half of public school teachers say students shouldn't learn about whether a person's gender can be different from or is determined by their sex assigned at birth, according to the Pew survey. Among teachers, one-third believe students should learn that someone can be a boy or a girl even if that is different from the sex they were assigned at birth, Pew found. About 14% of teachers said they should learn that their gender is determined by their sex assigned at birth.

Pew found that a majority of teachers, 71%, say they don't have enough influence over what's taught in public schools in their area. A smaller majority of teachers, 58%, say their state government has too much influence, while 35% say it has about the right amount of influence, with the remainder saying state government doesn't have enough influence.

What teens say

Students across the country have been vocal about the impact that restrictions on teaching and programs relating to race, gender, and sexual orientation restrictions have had on their education. Pew surveyed teens between the ages 13 to 17 who are not homeschooled to gauge their opinions.

Those teens who say topics concerning race and LGBTQ identities have come up in their classes, also say they are more comfortable than uncomfortable learning about racism and racial inequality.

Regarding racism or racial inequality, the Pew survey found Black teens are nearly twice as likely than white teens, 33% to 19%, to feel uncomfortable when the subjects come up in class, and about twice as likely than their Hispanic classmates, 33% to 17%.

When teens were asked how they would prefer to learn in school about the legacy of slavery, Pew found that 48% overall say they'd rather learn that it still affects the position of Black people in American society today. Another 40% said they would rather learn that slavery is part of American history but no longer affects the position of Black people in American society today. Just 11% said slavery's legacy shouldn't be a subject in school at all.

Teens were also asked about being taught about gender identity in school. Pew found that 48% of teens surveyed say they should not learn about gender identity in school. Of those who feel otherwise, a quarter of teens say they would prefer to learn that someone can have a gender that does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. A similar share, 26%, say they would prefer to learn that gender is determined by the that's sex assigned at birth.

On the subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity, Pew found that 29% of teens surveyed said they feel very or somewhat comfortable when the subjects come up in class, while 33% said they feel very or somewhat uncomfortable when the subjects arise. The majority, 37%, said they feel neither comfortable nor uncomfortable.

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