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SpaceX(NEW YORK) — With SpaceX being awarded a commercial crew contract from NASA, the space agency is moving forward with its plan to charter its own flights to the International Space Station — saving money and ending reliance on Russia’s Soyuz.

While Boeing received its first order for sending a crewed flight to space in May, NASA awarded the second contract on Friday to Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The commercial space company also has a contract for cargo resupply missions to the ISS, however has been temporarily sidelined following the loss of its Dragon cargo vessel in June.

“It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan,” Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said in a statement.

While it’s unknown which company will be the first to ferry astronauts into space, here’s a look at what we know about the plan to use commercial spacecraft.


NASA is aiming for the first commercial crew mission to blast off in late 2017.

The Spacecraft

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner can hold up to seven crew members and stands out for its weld-less design and LED sky lighting. SpaceX showed off the safety capabilities of its Crew Dragon during a launch abort test in May. The vessels has four windows that will provide stunning views of Earth, the moon and beyond as astronauts travel to the ISS.

Why This Is a Big Deal for NASA

NASA will no longer have to pay the Russian Federal Space Agency for seats on board the Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station. Utilizing commercial crew missions will allow NASA to save money while also ending a reliance on Russia’s space program.

“Commercial crew launches are really important for helping us meet the demand for research on the space station because it allows us to increase the crew to seven,” Julie Robinson, chief scientist for ISS, said in a statement. “Over the long term, it also sets the foundation for scientific access to future commercial research platforms in low-Earth orbit.”

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LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images(PARIS) — An item “that looks like an explosive vest” was found in the Parisian suburb of Montrouge, the Paris Police Prefecture said Monday, and investigators are at the scene to determine if it can be linked to the Paris attacks.

A cellphone signal for Salah Abdeslam, a fugitive wanted in connection to the Paris attacks, was also located in Montrouge on the night of the Nov. 13 massacre, the Paris Police Prefecture added.

Meanwhile, in Belgium, the city of Brussels will remain on the highest level terror alert through next Monday, the Belgian Prime Minister said today, repeating that officials believe the terror threat there is serious and imminent. The schools and subway are currently closed, but set to reopen Wednesday.

The U.S. European Command has also issued travel and work restrictions for U.S. military and defense civilian personnel in Brussels, asking U.S. military personnel to remain indoors until further notice.

The rest of Belgium will stay at a threat level of 3 out of 4, the prime minister said.

Overnight, police carried out a series of raids across Belgium and detained 21 people, but failed to capture Abdeslam, whose whereabouts remain unknown, authorities said.

Of the 21 people detained, one was formally charged with participating in the Paris terrorist attacks, the prosecutor’s office in Belgium said today. This was the fourth person charged in Belgium since the attacks on Nov 13.

Of the 21 detained, 17 were released without charges and three remain in custody for questioning, the prosecutor’s office said.

The Belgian prosecutor’s office told ABC News today that the overnight raids revealed to authorities that Abdeslam is not alone and authorities will continue to look for Abdelslam and work to identify and arrest those around him.

Officials are working to arrest those involved in the Paris attacks as well as stop those who may be plotting new attacks, the Belgian prosecutor’s office said. Officials said they have reason to believe that since some attackers were from the Brussels area, an attack is most likely in Brussels, the Belgian prosecutor’s office added.

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — There will be no rest for serious Black Friday shoppers.

Just as the turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie feasts begin to settle, some stores will open their doors on Thanksgiving, marking the start of the 2015 holiday shopping season.

Here’s a look at when some of the country’s biggest retailers are opening their doors — along with some of the best deals they have to offer. (Note that the times listed are for most locations. Be sure to check your local store’s hours.)

Walmart kicks off the holiday shopping season on Thanksgiving when its doors open at 6 p.m. Some of the standout deals advertised include $27 for popular games, including FIFA 16 and Madden 16, along with kids bikes starting as low as $39.

The retailer is urging shoppers to plan ahead by downloading the a store map on Walmart.com or through the Walmart app.

Doors open 6 p.m. Thursday at Target. Among the doorbusters luring shoppers to the retailer are 25 percent off all Apple TV boxes and a $100 gift card with the purchase of an Apple Watch. Parrot Drones, one of the hottest holiday items, are being offered for $69.99 (a $30 savings) while supplies last.

Doors open Thursday at 7 p.m. with the first 100 shoppers receiving a free mystery goody bag. Doorbusters include Star Wars figurines for $9.99 ( a 50 percent savings), select kids denim for $6 and 50 percent off all holiday string lights.

Best Buy
Best Buy opens at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Doors close Friday at 1 a.m. and stores re-open Friday at 8 a.m. Among the doorbusters are a 4K 60-inch Samsung TV for $799.99 (regular price $1,4999.99). A Toshiba 49-inch HDTV is being offering for $149.99 (regular price $429.99).

Staples is closed on Thanksgiving but will open on Black Friday at 6 a.m. Some of the top deals being offered include a Toshiba i3 notebook with Windows 10 for $299 (regular price $499). Some drones regularly priced between $39.99 and $99.99 are being sold at a 15 percent discount.

Opening at 9 a.m. Friday, Costco is offering $40 off a Kitchen Aid 4.5 quart Tilt-head Stand Mixer and $50 off an Xbox One console.

Don’t forget to pick up the AA batteries for all of those holiday toy purchases. Costco is offering a 30 pack of Duracell Quantum AA batteries for $5 off.

Sam’s Club
Sam’s Club opens its doors at 7 a.m. on Friday. The Walmart-owned retailer is planning some big deals including $150 off the iPad Air 2 and a 14-piece stainless steal cookware set by KitchenAid for $109.98 (a $50 savings).

Sears opens at 6 p.m on Thursday and is offering family athletic shoes for buy one, get one free. Early bird shoppers will also enjoy a 30 percent off coupon found in the Sears circular that can be used on clothing purchases of $50 or more.

After its famous New York City parade has wrapped up, Macy’s will open its doors at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, kicking off the holiday season with some insane door busters, including 60 percent off Samsonite luggage and 30 percent off all diamond engagement rings.

Kohl’s kicks off the savings at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Doorbusters include 50 percent off toys from top brands including Fisher-Price, Payskool, Barbie and Hot Wheels. Kohl’s is also offering $15 Kohl’s cash for every $50 spent until Nov. 29. The certificates will be redeemable between Nov. 30 and Dec. 6.

Doors open at most JCPenney stores on Thursday at 3 p.m. Deals include a 13-piece cookware set for $29.99 (after a $20 mail-in rebate) and various kitchen appliances for $9.99 (after a $10 mail-in rebate) including blenders, toasters, waffle irons and hand mixers.

Home Depot
Home Depot opens at 6 a.m. on Black Friday and promises shoppers up to 40 percent off some major appliances.

Toys R Us
Stores open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Mini 12-volt Cadillac Escalades are being offered for $299.99 (a $150 savings) while LEGO Ultra Agents construction sets are being offered at a doorbusting discount of 30 percent.

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(DEARBORN, Mich.) — Ford Motor Company announed a big recall on Monday of 2010 and 2011 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan sedans. The concern is pressure inside the fuel tank could cause it to crack and leak feul. The leak could then cause a fire.

Around 450,000 vehicles are included in the recall.

All were manufactured a Ford plant in Mexico.

Ford says dealers will update software on affected vehicles, inspect the fuel tanks, and replace them for free if needed.

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iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — You already know your boss wants to help you lose weight and improve your vital signs, through one of the workplace wellness programs that more than 90 percent of big employers now offer. Now are you ready for the new kind of wellness in the workplace?

Bank of America, Capital One, J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo are among the big banks looking into offering various levels of workplace financial education. All of these financial firms appear to be responding to demand. According to a recent Harris poll, 86 percent of employees surveyed said it was “important for employers to offer financial wellness programs.” And 93 percent of big employers want to do more to help their employees understand their finances, according to an Aon Hewitt study.

Perhaps no company has banked — pardon the pun — on this concept more than McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union of New York. The credit union started offering what it calls “Financial Wellness in the Workplace” sessions at a medium-sized company in the New York/New Jersey area earlier this year. The program goes beyond just offering information about the company 401k; it delves into credit, debt, home-buying, budgeting and so on.

“Folks are clamoring for this and they just don’t know where to find it,” said Shawn Gilfedder, president and CEO of McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union. “We do think the niche here is the workplace environment. If you ask the employees if they’d pay a sum of money to have that opportunity individually, they would say no. But if it’s offered in the workplace, they’re happy to participate.”

In a report for the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, the educational arm of FINRA that regulates financial advisers, Professor Robert Clark of North Carolina State University examined financial wellness programs offered by nine different employers and found that they made an effort to offer useful information that was not biased or commercial. Better yet, he found that “workers who participate in the retirement planning seminars significantly increase their level of financial literacy and…many workers alter their retirement plans.” Many did things like delay their retirement after realizing they didn’t have enough money saved.

In the McGraw-Hill Credit Union program, employees first participate in “lunch and learn” sessions on topics like protecting your identity, understanding your credit score and better budgeting. About 300 employees attend in person, others remotely. McGraw-Hill Credit Union facilitators have watched in amazement as coworkers share and commiserate about financial topics that are normally private, or even taboo.

Still, studies show, only about 10 percent of people who participate in brief financial seminars will act upon what they learn. In an effort to address this, the McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union Program offers people “Lifecycle Labs.” These are colorful touch screen computers that help participants create a visual timeline with goals like throwing a wedding, buying a car or a home, paying for their children’s college tuition and then their own eventual retirement.

“It’s a way to get them to vest in the process,” Gilfedder said. The final, most personalized, layer of the McGraw Hill Credit Union program gives employees a chance to meet with the credit union’s certified financial planner. And it’s all paid for by their boss.

So why would a company do it? First, it’s not necessarily expensive for employers to offer these programs. According to a report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it costs private employers only about $144 per worker annually. Other studies have shown employers benefit from their investment, because their workers feel valued and are less financially stressed.

Gilfedder of McGraw Hill Federal Credit Union puts it this way: “Financial stress is still at the top of people’s worry list. And I can tell you, 90 percent of the time, people are addressing that stress at work. Guess what? They’re sitting at their desk to do their banking while they’re at the office. Reducing that stress helps them be more productive and should make them a better employee.”

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EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images(BRUSSELS) — After a maximum terror threat level was issued in Brussels and the surrounding region Saturday, many city streets were suddenly deserted, other than the presence of increased law enforcement.

But one couple didn’t let the empty streets stop them from celebrating their wedding.

This photo, by Joris Marseille, shows the bride and groom posing — with an armed guard on each side — as the bride clutched a bouquet and the groom held an umbrella over their heads. Marseille wrote, “This will definitely be a day to remember.”

Trouwen in #Brussel op 21 november 2015. Dat is zéker een dag om nooit te vergeten. pic.twitter.com/632jACQ5Wo

— Joris Marseille (@JorisMarseille) November 21, 2015

The heavy police presence is ongoing in Brussels, as police carry out raids, including some in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, where officials say some of the suspects in the Paris attacks lived. But Salah Abdeslam — the fugitive police are seeking in connection with the Paris attacks — remains at-large.

On Saturday, Belgian Vice Prime Minister Didier Reynders said Belgian authorities were looking for individuals with weapons and explosives.

“The threat is imminent, precise,” Reynders said on Belgian television network RTL. “We’re talking about possible attacks by several individuals, heavily armed, so obviously in parallel we are looking for one and more individuals with weapons, explosives.”

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said Saturday that there was a threat “of attacks with arms and explosives that could be launched in several locations at the same time.” Michel added the decision to raise the alert level was made based on “rather precise” information.

Michel said the suspected possible targets included malls, shopping centers and public transportation.

On Sunday, police cordoned off several streets around the Grand Place square in Brussels and tense cops and soldiers hurried to set up roadblocks and barriers and to move people off the streets and sidewalks.

Some frantic police pointed guns and shouted as they tried to keep the streets clear.

The area that was cordoned off includes hotels and a police station. Guests of some hotels were advised, but not required, to stay inside.

Outside the cordoned off areas, people were able to move freely, but very few people were on the streets.

Sunday’s significant lockdown lasted for about three to four hours before it was scaled back. While the heavy police and military presence remained, a few of the major streets were reopened to limited traffic and some side streets were reopened to foot traffic.

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Courtesy Department of Defense(YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea) — Two U.S. Army helicopter pilots died Monday after their AH-64 Apache helicopter crashed during a routine training mission in South Korea.

The helicopter crashed at about 6:30 p.m. local time, nearly 50 miles east of Camp Humphreys, according to the Eighth Army Public Affairs Office.

The pilots were part of the 2nd Infantry Division, Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Division. Their identities will not be released until the next of kin are notified.

“We offer our heartfelt prayers and condolences to the families of the Soldiers involved in this tragic incident,” Lt. Col. Mark Gillespie, the deputy commander of 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, said. “Our first priority is to provide their families with the support they need during this difficult time.”

Authorities there believe the chopper may have hit high-voltage power lines or a “steel tower,” according to South Korean news agency Yonhap, perhaps referring to an electricity pylon.

A power line was tangled up among the wreckage and the top part of the tower was damaged, the news agency reported.

The crash caused no additional casualties on the ground or property damage, Yonhap reported.

The U.S. Army said the cause of the accident is under investigation.

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Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Obama hosts French President Francois Hollande at the White House Tuesday, and the two leaders will discuss how to ramp up the international coalition against ISIS extremists after the deadly attacks in Paris.

Hollande may leave Washington empty-handed, or at least, without the kind of pledges he is seeking, as Obama and his top advisers have indicated they will not dramatically shift course in Iraq and Syria.

“The strategy that we are putting forward is the strategy that ultimately is going to work,” Obama told reporters in Turkey on Nov. 16, just three days after Paris sustained a terrorist attack that killed 130 people.

That same day, Hollande said he would meet with leaders in both the U.S. and Russia to “join our forces.” Hollande heads to Moscow on Thursday, just after his White House meeting, to better coordinate military action with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But the United States has been skeptical about coordinating counterattacks against ISIS with Russia.

“The question at this point is whether [Russia] can make the strategic adjustment that allows them to be effective partners with us,” Obama said during a press conference in Malaysia Sunday. “And we don’t know that yet.”

Hollande has said he was also seeking a “union of all who can fight this terrorist army in a single coalition.” He’s already gotten a commitment from British Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced Monday that he’d seek parliamentary approval this week for Britain to start bombing ISIS targets in Syria.

But it’s not clear what else the United States would be willing to do in order to further Hollande’s vision.

“For more than a year, the United States has built and led a broad coalition against ISIL of some 65 nations,” Obama said Sunday.

The “deliverables” from the Obama-Hollande meeting will more likely include stepped-up intelligence sharing between the two nations, which Obama alluded to last week at the Turkey press conference.

“We’re streamlining the process by which we share intelligence and operational military information with France. This will allow our personnel to pass threat information, including on ISIL, to our French partners even more quickly and more often,” Obama said.

Another aspect of the anti-ISIS fight that Obama will likely underscore with Hollande is the influx of Syrian refugees that are seeking resettlement in both leaders’ nations.

American politicians have been urging the U.S. to pause its Syrian refugee program until the administration can confirm that it’s airtight against possible terrorist infiltration. Obama wants to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country.

Meanwhile, France has said it will accept 30,000 more refugees over two years.

Obama slammed the notion of suspending the program, calling it “un-American.”

“There’s a difference between smart applications of law enforcement and military and intelligence, and succumbing to the kind of fear that leads us to abandon our values, to abandon how we live, to abandon — or change how we treat each other,” he said in Malaysia.

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Walmart(NEW YORK) — Remember when Black Friday and Cyber Monday actually began on their respective days of the week?

The battle for holiday shoppers is shaping up to be bigger than ever this year. While plenty of retailers have already announced their Black Friday deals, Walmart said it is also going after Cyber Monday shoppers a few hours early.

The retailer will began offering Cyber Monday online deals Sunday, Nov. 29, starting at 8 p.m. ET. The retailer is hoping to snag some shoppers looking for online deals before they head back to work on Monday.

“It can be exhausting for working parents and millennials to stay up past midnight to shop online, only to wake up early the next day to get ready for work,” Fernando Madeira, president and CEO of Walmart.com, said in a statement. “By starting ‘Cyber Monday’ hours earlier on Sunday evening and quadrupling the number of Cyber Monday specials, we’re making it easier for customers to get ahead of the busiest online shopping day of the year and save on the best gifts.”

Promising thousands of deals, Walmart teased some of its specials on the most sought-after items this holiday season.

Among the top items are an LG 65-inch 4K television for $799 (coming at a $500 savings).

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, a tablet-laptop hybrid that was released last year, is being sold for $599 (a $200 savings). Microsoft recently released the Surface Pro 4, but the savings on last year’s model, which can work with some new Surface Pro 4 accessories, makes it a steal.

An Air Hogs Video Drone is being offered for $75 (a $34 savings) — an ideal price point for purchasing an entry-level drone.

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Pool/Iranian Supreme Leader Press Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Image(MOSCOW) — Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Iran for the first time in eight years, meeting with that country’s leaders to discuss the conflict in Syria, as world powers press for a renewed effort to end the war there following the deadly terror attacks in Paris this month.

Putin has met with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, in Tehran and is set to have talks with President Hassan Rouhani.

The formal reason for Putin’s visit is the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, where the heads of other major energy exporting countries are gathering, but it’s also an opportunity for Russia and Iran to demonstrate the warmth of their relationship as the two decisive allies of Bashar al-Assad’s embattled government in Syria.

The refugee crisis in Europe and the intensified threat of Islamic State terror attacks there have recently forced the United States and Europe to accept the need to involve Russia and Iran in ending the Syrian civil war.

Photos of the meeting with Khamenei released by the Kremlin showed the two leaders sitting jovially, with an animated Putin smiling broadly.

Iran is a crucial ally of Assad, and its troops— and those of its client, Hezbollah — have been essential in propping up the Syrian government’s military as it has been squeezed by rebel groups. Iranian ground forces have become more heavily involved in Syria, at the same time as Russia has launched its intensive air campaign in support of Assad in the past two months.

Both countries insist that Assad is Syria’s legitimate ruler and that his fall will lead to rise of a terrorist state.

This is Putin’s first visit to Iran since 2007 and it also reflects how the nuclear deal reached in July with the Obama administration has untied Russia’s hands to develop its relations with Tehran more publicly. Although Russia has long been a backer of Iran, building the country’s only nuclear power station, in recent years it has bowed to international pressure and kept Tehran more at arms-length.

Since the deal’s announcement, however, Russia has wasted no time in re-energizing relations, declaring immediately that it would unfreeze a contract to supply Iran with advanced anti-aircraft missiles, which the United States fears could prevent a military strike against Iran’s nuclear sites.

Before flying to Tehran Monday morning, Putin signed a decree lifting a ban preventing Russian companies from exporting enriched uranium from Iran in exchange for natural uranium.

Iran insists that all its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes, a claim that Russia says it believes.

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