Geoff Brumfiel

Updated at 6:55 p.m. ET

NASA astronauts are heading to space from U.S. soil for the first time in nine years, aboard SpaceX's Dragon capsule, the maiden crewed flight of the innovative spacecraft.

The mission, which is sending Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station, is a bold new venture for the space agency's plan to allow commercial companies to take its astronauts into low-Earth orbit.

Updated at 5:40 p.m. ET

NASA and SpaceX were ready to launch a pair of astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time in nearly nine years on Wednesday, but the weather had other ideas.

If you want to visit the Great Pyramids or the Great Wall or the Taj Mahal, forget it.

Egypt, China and India are just a few of the dozens of countries that have imposed strict travel restrictions to keep visitors, and the coronavirus, out. An analysis by NPR based on data from the International Air Transport Association found that more than three-quarters of the world's nations and territories have suspended travel from at least one other place.

Virus researchers say there is virtually no chance that the new coronavirus was released as result of a laboratory accident in China or anywhere else.

The assessment, made by more than half-a-dozen scientists familiar with lab accidents and how research on coronaviruses is conducted, casts doubt on recent claims that a mistake may have unleashed the coronavirus on the world.

Updated at 10 a.m. ET

It's a strange and tragic pattern in some cases of COVID-19: The patient struggles through the first week of illness, and perhaps even begins to feel a little better.

Then suddenly they crash.

North Korea appears to be expanding a key rocket launch facility it once pledged to dismantle, according to new satellite imagery shared exclusively with NPR.

The imagery, taken by commercial company Planet and shared via the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, shows new roads under construction at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station.

Stay inside, don't meet with friends, don't go to work — these are the messages coming from public health officials at every level of government. But increasingly, experts say they believe those stark warnings must be augmented with another message:

If you think you might be sick, even a little sick, get tested for coronavirus.

People infected with the coronavirus can spread it easily, even if they're not yet experiencing severe symptoms of the disease, according to virologists watching the pandemic unfold in Europe.

The fragile peace deal taking shape in Afghanistan could spell the end of an era of for the U.S. military, one marked by efforts at nation-building and winning hearts and minds.

It appears that the Pentagon is also intent on ending a research program from that era — to fund social science for the military.

Acclaimed physicist Freeman Dyson, who pondered the origins of life, interstellar travel and many other topics, died Friday at the age of 96.

His daughter Mia Dyson told NPR that her father died after a short illness.

Freeman Dyson was known for groundbreaking work in physics and mathematics but his curiosity ranged far beyond those fields.

The U.S. has begun deploying a new type of low-yield nuclear warhead aboard some ballistic missile submarines, according to a report by an independent monitor.

When the USS Tennessee, an Ohio-class submarine, went on patrol in the final weeks of 2019, it carried "one or two" of the new weapons, according to a post by the Federation of American Scientists.

A rocket from the commercial company SpaceX lifted off on Wednesday morning with some 60 satellites aboard. Once they reached low Earth orbit, the satellites were released and began to fan out like a deck of cards.

They follow predictable paths around the Earth, but along the way those paths can cross with other things in orbit — satellites from other companies, old rocket stages, loose bits of metal — and cause a catastrophic collision.

New imagery from commercial satellites that was shared with NPR suggests Iran is making repairs and preparing for a space launch, following a recent string of failed attempts.

The imagery, taken Sunday by the commercial firm Planet and shared via the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, shows vehicles parked at a building used to assemble Iran's space rockets at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in northern Iran. A second group of vehicles is visible at a circular launch pad that was heavily damaged during failed launch preparations last year.

On the same night that Iran launched a ballistic missile strike against bases used by U.S. troops in Iraq, a Ukrainian jetliner crashed near Tehran, killing all 176 people onboard. Iranian authorities have said the plane suffered a mechanical failure, but the U.S. and other Western governments believe it was shot down, possibly by mistake.

"The evidence indicates the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a news conference Thursday. "This may well have been unintentional."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

As Franco just mentioned, the president said he wanted to try and persuade remaining partners of the Iran nuclear deal to abandon it. So how far is Iran from actually developing such a weapon? Joining me to parse that out is NPR's Geoff Brumfiel.

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