Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Forty-five years ago, the world watched as astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” becoming the first humans to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.

The historic Apollo 11 landing established the United States as the leader in the Space Race against the Soviet Union, a key victory at the height of the Cold War. Today, in contrast, with the retirement of the Space Shuttle program, NASA has to pay for space aboard Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Political tensions between the two countries threaten this arrangement. The U.S. has taken an increasingly hard stance against Russia’s activity in the Ukraine by imposing sanctions against various Russian companies and individuals. Russian officials have in turn indicated that they will not offer assistance in U.S. space endeavors.

“We’re in a hostage situation,” former NASA administrator Michael Griffin told ABC News. “Russia can decide that no more U.S. astronauts will launch to the International Space Station and that’s not a position that I want our nation to be in.”

But there is a new sort of space race happening now to help reestablish U.S. autonomy. Three private companies — Boeing, Space-Ex and Sierra Nevada — are currently competing for billions of dollars in NASA funding to build the next ride to space for American astronauts.

NASA hopes to announce the winner of the competition this summer and to launch the craft based on the winning design by 2017. This is encouraging news to Aldrin, who would like to see Americans return to the moon and go beyond it.

“We don’t have to repeat what we did 45 years ago, but we don’t ignore the moon. It’s very important for technology, commerce, science,” said Aldrin.

Aldrin’s historic mission inspired other astronauts to explore the cosmos. Astronaut Catherine Coleman is one of them.

“Forty-five years ago, humanity’s first steps on the moon taught us what we as a society can accomplish for all mankind when we focus on a common goal,” Coleman said. “Living on the space station, landing on an asteroid, eventually sending humans to Mars. We are meant to explore our universe.”

Discussion of space flight has focused recently on private industry — the potential for tourism and mining, for example, as opposed to manned space exploration for its own sake. Astronauts like Coleman feel such exploration is a worthwhile expense, and a noble national goal.

“It’s time for our next ‘great leap,'” she said.

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Jeff Overs/BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images(JERUSALEM) — Sunday on This Week, PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi lashed out at Israel over what she described as their “war crimes” and “deliberate massacre” of Palestinian civilians during Israel’s current ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.

“This morning, it’s nothing short of a massacre, a deliberate massacre. War crimes committed daily. But now there is a deliberate shelling and bombing and destruction of whole areas, of residential areas,” Ashrawi said on This Week.

“These are war crimes being committed before the world, before the eyes of the whole world and I just can’t understand how people sit back and say [it's] self-defense. I just can’t take the language, I can’t take the propaganda, I can’t take the mantra that Israel has a right to defend itself. Against whom? Against innocent civilians? More than 80 children have been torn to bits. Is this self-defense?” Ashrawi added in her extended interview with ABC’s Hamish Macdonald reporting from Ramallah Sunday.

As of Sunday morning, more than 400 Palestinians have been killed – including at least 60 on Sunday alone – and over 35,000 Gaza residents have been displaced since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8, in response to Hamas rocket fire into Israel. Eighteen Israeli Defense Forces troops have been killed in the latest ground offensive into Gaza, now in its fourth day.

“Look there, there is no human being who cannot be affected by this. Unless you lose the last restores of humanity, you cannot allow this to go on. It has to stop,” Ashrawi said of the latest violence in Gaza. “And Mr. Obama, and the Congress, and everybody has to know that these are human beings. Think of your children. I’m a mother, I’m a grandmother. I cannot tolerate to see torn limbs. I cannot see grown men break down and sob. I cannot see people – a whole nation in a state of trauma.”

Israel maintains that the goal of this latest incursion is to destroy Hamas’ infrastructure and terrorist tunnels leading into Israel, and says they give neighborhoods ample warning to evacuate. Ashrawi said the numbers of innocent victims are disproportionate because they are trapped.

“These are all human beings and they’re being abstracted and they’re being anonymously shelled by the strongest army in the region and they are defenseless,” Ashrawi said. “They are hemmed in by land, by air, by sea and then if they try to dig tunnels as a way out – what do you expect?”

As Israel intensified its ground operation in Gaza Sunday, Ashrawi said the blame is being misplaced on the civilian population.

“If they respond in any way, they are not only labeled as terror targets, they are dehumanized, they are terrorized, and they’re being killed. It’s not just adding insult to injury, it’s just double and multiple murder. You’re maligning a whole nation, and you are giving Israel the time and the means to continue with these massacres and these war crimes. One day they will be held accountable.”

When Macdonald asked Ashrawi if Palestinians plan to apply to join the International Criminal Court to bring war crime charges against Israel, she said they plan to take that step, but she’d like to see the situation addressed by the international community before a legal case is prepared.

“I don’t believe the world has to wait until we do these things and until we prepare these cases,” Ashrawi said. “There has to be immediate intervention to provide the Palestinians with protecting, to curb the Israeli violations and to hold Israel accountable.”

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Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images(JERUSALEM) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he is sorry for civilian casualties in Gaza, but he lashed out at Hamas, asserting the Islamic group that controls the Gaza Strip is purposefully putting civilians in harm’s way while also attacking innocent Israelis with rockets.

“We regret any civilian deaths but those lay entirely at Hamas’ door,” Netanyahu told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos on This Week Sunday. “Hamas is deliberately targeting our civilians; they’ve fired 2,000 rockets, 2,000 rockets at Israel cities. Seventy-five percent of our population has to be in bomb shelter alert of 60 seconds or 90 seconds. They’re digging these terror tunnels from Gaza, from homes in Gaza to penetrate and infiltrate Israeli territory. They emerged and killed Israelis and run back or try and run back into their territory, so we’ve had to take actions.”

“What Hamas is doing very cynically is embedding its rocketeers, its rocket cashes, its tunnels — these terror tunnels in homes, in hospitals, in schools, and when we take action, as targeted as we can, they then use their civilians as human shields,” Netanyahu added. “So Hamas is both targeting civilians and Hamas is hiding behind civilians. That’s a double war crime, and therefore all civilian deaths as regrettable as they are fall on their shoulders.”

Israel began an incursion into Gaza Thursday evening and the resulting operation has left scores of Palestinians dead, including 60 killed on Sunday alone. The growing number of Palestinian civilian deaths has sparked international outrage, but Netanyahu told ABC News that Israel strives to avoid civilian deaths while placing the blame squarely on Hamas.

“Hamas wants to kill civilians on the Israeli side and the amazing grotesque and gruesome fact is they want to have as many civilians killed on the Palestinian side, because it gets you to ask me these questions. And of course our goal is not to hurt a single individual, not to hurt a single civilian,” the Israeli prime minister said.
“What they are doing is a double war crime and should be condemned with the most forceful action because these people are like ISIS, they’re like al Qaeda, they’re like Hezbollah and the other Iranian proxies. They don’t give a wit about the Palestinians and all they want is more and more civilian deaths,” he said.

When asked whether Israeli forces would re-occupy Gaza, Netanyahu outlined his goal for the current military operation.

“I think our goal is to restore a sustainable quiet,” Netanyahu said. “And I think if we get that we’ll have to use that quiet to recruit the international community to demilitarize Gaza.”

Near the end of the interview on This Week, Netanyahu said that “mad Islamists” are the real challenge facing the Middle East.

“There is a problem in the Middle East. The problem is that we have these mad Islamists. I say the last thing we want to do is have them have missiles, drones, chemical weapons or in the case of Iran, nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said. “That would really change history.”

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State Department photo/ Public Domain(KIEV, Ukraine) — Evidence indicates Russia was involved with the separatists accused of shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 over Eastern Ukraine, said Secretary of State John Kerry, who urged Russian president Vladimir Putin to do more to avoid future tragedies like Thursday’s crash.

“There are an enormous array of facts that point at Russia’s support for and involvement in this effort,” Kerry told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, noting that many of the separatists in the region are actually Russian, not Ukrainian, and that the United States has strong intelligence that Russia has been arming and training them.

Kerry said Putin should publicly call out the separatists and encourage them to begin a political reconciliation process with the central government in Ukraine, and stop additional weapons from landing in the hands of the separatists.

Kerry also condemned the rebels’ handling of the debris field, as they have been seen tampering with the wreckage and bodies there, as well as blocking the access of international monitors.

“Drunken separatists are stacking bodies into the back of trucks, removing materials from the site,” Kerry said. “This is an insult to everybody. It’s really a moment of truth for Russia to step up and be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Kerry also discussed the violence in the Middle East, expressing frustration that Hamas, the political and military group that controls Gaza and which the U.S. and Israel view as a terrorist organization, have not worked harder to reach a ceasefire with the Israelis.

“It’s ugly. War is ugly,” Kerry said. “But [Hamas] needs to recognize their own responsibility.”

He added that the U.S. has been working with leaders in the region to reach a mutual ceasefire, and from there negotiate the underlying issues that have been dogging leaders from both Israel and Gaza since well before this latest round of violence began.

Kerry underscored that Hamas would have to accept a ceasefire deal without additional concessions from Israel, like the release of prisoners, before it is allowed a chance to discuss those types of issues at the table with Israel.

“We can’t reward this terrorism with a bunch of preconditions up front,” Kerry said.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Obama administration is reopening the Eastern Seaboard to offshore oil and gas exploration.

The approval of seismic surveys will enable the usage of sonic cannons that can locate where energy can be found beneath the ocean flood.

The initiative could create thousands of jobs for coastal states, but environmentalists and coastal residents are worried about the potential risks that come with offshore oil.

Susan Glickman of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says she is worried about the “hundreds of thousands of animals that could be hurt in the process of doing the testing to find out where the oil is.”

But South Carolina State Senator Paul Campbell promises that safety is a priority.

“Safety is a paramount in what we do offshore,” Campbell said. “I think the work that would be done could be done such that prudence can prevail and that there would be no oil spills off the east coast.”

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Obama administration is reopening the Eastern Seaboard to offshore oil and gas exploration.

The approval of seismic surveys will enable the usage of sonic cannons that can locate where energy can be found beneath the ocean flood.

The initiative could create thousands of jobs for coastal states, but environmentalists and coastal residents are worried about the potential risks that come with offshore oil.

Susan Glickman of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says she is worried about the “hundreds of thousands of animals that could be hurt in the process of doing the testing to find out where the oil is.”

But South Carolina State Senator Paul Campbell promises that safety is a priority.

“Safety is a paramount in what we do offshore,” Campbell said. “I think the work that would be done could be done such that prudence can prevail and that there would be no oil spills off the east coast.”

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Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — Want to drive the president crazy? Just show him a bowl of guacamole he can’t eat.

Obama “lose[s] his mind” over chips and guac, he told guests at the annual Kids’ State Dinner Friday.

The dinner (technically a lunch, Obama pointed out) honors the 54 kid winners of the first lady’s “Healthy Lunchtime Challenge” recipe contest.

But the rather than focusing on nutrition, a particularly chipper Obama went a little off-script, instead divulging the first family’s junk food soft spots.

“One thing – maybe I shouldn’t say this – but it’s not like our family, including me, don’t have, you know, some snacks once in a while that may not be, you know, on the perfect nutrition chart,” the president said.

Sixteen-year-old Malia’s weakness is ice cream, and 13-year-old Sasha’s is sushi (and pie), he said.

“The first lady? French fries,” the president revealed — prompting her to publicly swear off fries.

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Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — In his weekly address, President Obama highlighted the value of equipping workers with the skills that their employers need now, as well as skills that will benefit both employers and employees in the future.

Obama notes the 10 million new jobs created in the last 52 months, and points to the lowest unemployment rate since 2008 as evidence of the progress his administration has effected. “None of this is an accident,” Obama said, “It’s thanks to your resilience, resolve and hard work that America has recovered faster and come farther than almost any other advanced country on Earth.”

Obama also said he wants to work with Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle to continue to improve the employment situation.

Read the full transcript of the president’s address:

Hi, everybody. Over the past 52 months, our businesses have created nearly 10 million new jobs. The unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest point since 2008. Across lots of areas – energy, manufacturing, technology – our businesses and workers are leading again. In fact, for the first time in over a decade, business leaders worldwide have declared that China is no longer the world’s best place to invest – America is.

None of this is an accident. It’s thanks to your resilience, resolve, and hard work that America has recovered faster and come farther than almost any other advanced country on Earth.

Now we have the opportunity to ensure that this growth is broadly shared. Our economy grows best not from the top-down, but from the middle-out. We do better when the middle class does better. So we have to make sure that we’re not just creating more jobs, but raising middle-class wages and incomes. We have to make sure our economy works for every working American.

My opportunity agenda does that. It’s built on creating more jobs, training more workers, educating all our kids, and making sure your hard work pays off with higher wages and better benefits.

On Thursday, I traveled to Delaware to highlight how we’re trying to create more good, middle-class jobs rebuilding America: rebuilding roads and bridges, ports and airports, high-speed rail and internet.

This week, Vice President Biden will release a report he’s been working on to reform our job training system into a job-driven training system. And I’ll visit a community college in L.A. that’s retraining workers for careers in the fast-growing health care sector. Because every worker deserves to know that if you lose your job, your country will help you train for an even better one.

In recent days, both parties in Congress have taken some good steps in these areas. But we can do so much more for the middle class, and for folks working to join the middle class. We should raise the minimum wage so that no one who works full-time has to live in poverty. We should fight for fair pay and paid family leave. We should pass commonsense immigration reform that strengthens our borders and our businesses, and includes a chance for long-time residents to earn their citizenship.

I want to work with Democrats and Republicans on all of these priorities. But I will do whatever I can, whenever I can, to help families like yours. Because nothing’s more important to me than you – your hopes, your concerns, and making sure this country remains the place where everyone who works hard can make it if you try. Thanks so much, and have a great weekend.

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US House of Representatives(WASHINGTON) — In this week’s Republican Address, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, discussed the importance of bipartisan jobs bills, blaming Congressional Democrats for blocking “bill after bill.”

Such bills which would “expand energy production, would lower gas prices, and create jobs,” Scalise says, could create thousands of jobs. In fact, there are “nearly 300 House-passed bills,” that the Democratically-controlled Senate has not passed, according to the Republican.

Scalise concluded by urging President Obama to “put down the pen,” referring to Obama’s claim that he can bring about changes through executive order, and instead “pick up the phone and call on Senate Democrats to get to work passing those good bipartisan jobs bills.”

Read the full transcript of the Republican address:

Good morning, I’m Steve Scalise, representative of Louisiana’s First Congressional District and incoming House Majority Whip.

I’m speaking to you from the Old House Chamber, the same room where Abraham Lincoln once served as a member of Congress.

And I’m just steps from where House Republicans are working to build a stronger economy and a better future.

This is certainly a long way from Jefferson, Louisiana — a town on the banks of the Mississippi where my wife Jennifer and I are raising our two young children.

I’d like to talk to you today about something near and dear to me, and that’s hard work.

Only in America, can a boy born in a single-room cabin in rural Kentucky work hard and become the 16th President of the United States.

And only in America, can the great-grandson of an Italian immigrant who came to the United States as an indentured servant, work hard and be elected by his colleagues to serve as the Majority Whip of the House of Representatives.

Because of my great-grandparents’ sacrifices, I was born into a middle-class family in New Orleans.
Growing up, I was taught the value of hard work.

I worked at Home Depot to help pay my way through LSU, where I became the first in my family to graduate college.

From an early age, I was taught that this is just what you do – work hard, play by the rules and never give up.

It’s what’s made America the greatest country on Earth.

That’s a lesson Democrats in Washington don’t seem to understand.

They think every problem can be solved by raising taxes and borrowing money we don’t have to grow an already bloated federal government.

And where has this gotten us?

On the president’s watch, the number of Americans age 16 and over who are not working has jumped to a record 92 million.

That’s about 10 million more Americans not working than when President Obama took the oath of office.

Hard-working taxpayers know we can do better.

Because when Americans work hard, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.

Here’s an example.

If you look at the regions in the country with the lowest unemployment rates, many have energy-based economies.

I’m proud to represent one of them — the Houma-Thibodaux area, which boasts a 3.7 percent unemployment rate.

In Southeast Louisiana, someone can graduate high-school and get an entry-level job making over $60,000 a year producing American energy.

American energy brings billions into our economy, increases our nation’s energy security, and helps lower gas prices at the pump.

The American people know energy is the best way to jumpstart our economy.

But Democrats running Washington don’t seem to get it.

They block bill after bill that would expand energy production, would lower gas prices, and create jobs.
As a matter of fact, there are nearly 300 House-passed bills collecting dust in the Senate today – more than 40 of them specifically focused on creating jobs.

These include popular bipartisan projects like the Keystone XL pipeline – something the president’s own administration says will create 40,000 jobs.

Washington Democrats have said no to legislation to rein in the size of government, no to fixing our broken tax code, and no to lower health care costs…

Every time they say no – every time they pick their interests over yours – they hold our economy hostage, and with it, our chance to make sure our kids will have that same shot at the American Dream.

The president likes to say he can makes things happen with a pen and a phone.

Well, what will it be, Mr. President?

Will you put down the pen and stop trying to rewrite laws you don’t like, and instead pick up the phone and call on Senate Democrats to get to work passing those good bipartisan jobs bills?

Will you help us make real progress, or will you sit by and encourage more gridlock and more politics as usual?

It’s your call.

We stand ready to work with you to solve our nation’s problems.

In the meantime, we’ll be here in the House continuing to work hard for the American people.

Thank you for listening.

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ABC/Ida Mae Astute(WASHINGTON) — A new Gallup poll found that four contenders for the GOP nomination in the 2016 presidential election stand well above the rest.

According to the latest polling data, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are each “familiar” to more than 60 percent of Republican voters and Republican-leaning independents. They also each have favorability ratings of +40 or better.

Candidates such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are about as familiar to voters as the above four, however, they each have below average favorability scores.

Other candidates considered in the Gallup poll included Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose favorability is countered by a lack of familiarity to nearly half of voters polled. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker were also considered, but received low ratings among voters in both favorability and familiarity.

Democratic voters gave former Bush the lowest favorability rating, while coming closest to showing approval for Jindal, who received unfavorable ratings from just 12 percent more Democratic voters than favorable ratings.

While the election remains over two years away, the Gallup poll indicates that while Hillary Clinton holds the position of front-runner for the Democratic nomination, no such position exists on the Republican side.

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