Cover Story: When the NASA Love Is Lost

Categories: Cover Story

Illustration by Jesse Lenz
SpaceX completed another successful mission toting cargo to the International Space Station on Sunday. The launch was livestreamed from Cape Canaveral, but it was all focused in Florida and Johnson Space Center was never mentioned. There was a time this would have been unthinkable.

Check out our cover story: Houston's Space Problem: Johnson Space Center Has Lost Its Identity and Purpose

When JSC first opened in Houston it was the place to be. The people working there were going to send an astronaut from the Earth to the moon. They were going to find a way to send people to Mars. It all seemed possible because it had never been tried before. But that was then. Today JSC has been sidelined while the government funds commercial spaceflight companies and announces plans for manned missions to an asteroid in the 2020s and to Mars in the 2030s. People don't think about traveling in space the way they used to. "The romance of spaceflight has lost its glamour," Chris Kraft, the first director of Johnson Space Center, said.

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Merril Hoge Hates Everybody Including Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney

Categories: Game Time, Sports

Photo from
Let's see if Hoge is as right about Texans' potential first picks as he is about adjusting his tie.
I do a couple hours of radio each week with John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, who is about as dialed in as any beat reporter is for their local NFL team.

McClain is highly informed and not afraid to openly discuss what he knows, and his on-air and in-writing speculation of late have said that the Texans will take either South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Clowney and Manziel obviously are two very different players serving very different needs, and both (like every player in this draft) have their warts, but I think it's hard to find anybody who thinks the Texans' draft would be a failure at the top by picking one of these two.

Well, we found someone who thinks that. Say hello to ESPN's Merril Hoge, kids.

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If Google Elected Athletes to Office, the President Would Be...

Photo by Keith Allison
Bro hugs, it's what sports is all about.
Before computers ruled our lives, before the internet connected everyone to everything, relevance was a far more subjective attainment. Stardom was a feel, degrees of which were debatable.

Nowadays, with our ability to measure the relative joy in/admiration for/tolerance of almost anything thanks to Internet analytics, we have measures for relevance. Things like web hits, Twitter trending topics, Facebook "Likes." Self esteem used to have no statistical measurement. Now, it has Twitter followers.

These measurements have become incredibly handy in sports (especially in the content driven part like radio and blogs), as we can truly see in numerical form which athletes/personalities are moving the needle.

To that end, how about this latest bit of data?

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Ted Cruz Writes a Thank You Note to Obama. Seriously.

Screengrab from CNN via Youtube
Just when we were sure we'd seen it all, Ted Cruz hits the brakes and surprises us again. How so? He wrote a letter of appreciation to President Barack Obama.

Yep, that's it. The Texas senator who has made opposing everything the folks across the aisle come up with (as well as his own party) found it in him to say something nice. In an essay published in Politico, Cruz committed to paper more than 600 words of thanks to the president for signing Senate Bill 2195 into law last week.

Thanks to President Obama for joining a unanimous Congress and signing S 2195 into law. This bill gives the president the authority to deny visas to United Nations ambassadors who are known terrorists, such as Iran's recent nominee Hamid Aboutalebi, who was a participant in the 1979 hostage crisis. The government of the United States has thereby sent an unequivocal, bipartisan message that we will not tolerate the ongoing campaign of insult and antagonism from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
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Hucksters and Texas Tent Revival Politics

Photo by J E Theriot
No keeping religious talk out of Texas politics.
Religious liberty is at the very heart of what it means to be an American, yet Texas conservatives and our state's activist pastors have conveniently forgotten that.

Lately, it feels as if Texas is waging some sort of religious war on a number of different fronts.

Throughout history, politicians have embedded a few religious references in their speeches, but nothing close to what we're seeing lately. Beginning in earnest with Ronald Reagan's nomination in 1980 and continued by Bill Clinton, "Religispeak" has evolved into a must-have tool for every conservative's campaign rhetoric and policy effort.

In the same way that sex sells in the media, politicians discovered that religion does also.

It was last fall when Tom Delay's conviction was overturned and an article in the Dallas Morning News quoted him as saying God is calling him to lead a constitutional revival. He referred to his legal battle and sentencing as his "time in the wilderness."

And then...he remarked how glad he would be to get his concealed carry license back.

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West, Texas Explosion: One Year Later, Nothing Has Changed

Categories: Environment

Photo by Shane Torgerson
An overhead view of the West, Texas, fertilizer plant.
In the wake of the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion, it's probably not surprising to learn that the disaster -- which killed at least 14, injured hundreds and gave the little North Texas town the look of a postapocalyptic war zone -- could have been avoided. That's what the U.S. Chemical Safety Board report, released Tuesday, has found.

"The fire and explosion at West Fertilizer was preventable," Chemical Safety Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso stated. "It should never have occurred. It resulted from the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it."

The CSB is a non-regulatory federal agency charged with only one agency superpower -- the right to investigate incidents like the fertilizer plant explosion. Still, CSB investigators had a hard time actually doing that last year. The Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had a larger team and took control of the explosion site along with the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office. The CSB investigators were kept out of the site for more than a month, but they still managed to investigate. What they found was less than encouraging.

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Houston Kids Rapping Shows Why We Shouldn't Be Closing Schools, or Cutting Arts

Categories: Spaced City

Worldstar Army
When the Houston Independent School District goes about cutting arts programs and shutting schools, we hope they take into account the following video.

Presumably created somewhere in Houston's Third Ward, the video shows your average grade school-age kids--- probably no more than 6 or 7 years old---practicing the art of freestyle rapping in a profanity laced display of wordplay.

Freestyling, off-the-dome rhyming as they call it, is one of the first things you must master as a rapper. We wouldn't know from experience, since we don't rap, but from the looks of this video that recently hit YouTube, thanks to progenitor of violent and shocking "hood" videos World Star Hiphop, we have a good idea.

Winsto, the kid on the intro, who spells out his name does have a hearfelt moment here: "This is for the mothers all over the world, trying to make a living just trying to live right. Trying to feed their children just one more night. Trying to make a living in this ghetto life."

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Getting Gluttonous With 100 Peeps In Two Minutes

Categories: Game Time, Sports

Photo by Christopher
So, this gorging on Peeps thing is a national pastime.
YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. The Mount Rushmore of viral fame-spawning mechanisms.

Never has "getting one's 15 minutes" been easier, never has notoriety been more accessible, and never has the bar been lower for what qualifies as "newsworthy." Making news doesn't require greatness, just an iron stomach.

Just ask Matt Stonie.

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Crush Video Couple: Ashley Richards Expected to Testify Against Brent Justice (UPDATE)

Categories: Courts

Ashley Richards may testify against Brent Justice.
One half of a couple charged with torturing and killing animals as part of a "crush video" business is expected to testify against her alleged partner.

Ashley Nicole Richards, 23, has pleaded guilty to three of five counts of animal cruelty and has agreed to testify against Brent Justice, the man who allegedly helped Richards record the mutilation of cats and dogs with a knife, hatchet, and other sharp instruments, and selling the videos. No trial date has been set for Justice, 53, who was appointed a new public defender in March. Both Richards and Justice remain in Harris County Jail, in lieu of $50,000 bond each.

Justice's latest public defender, Allen Isbell, said he could not comment on his client's case because he hasn't yet had time to familiarize himself. But court records show that Justice is taking an active role in his own defense, having asked for and received additional time each week to visit the law library.

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Potential Taxi War Could Get Serious After Ruling

Ride share services like Uber are working against city ordinance, but that could change soon.
What's going on in Houston's livery scene (and in several major cities across the country -- no, the world) has the makings for a cable television reality show. Let's call it Houston Taxi Wars, wherein the traditional style of transporting people around a city for a cash or credit card fee is challenged to its core by a couple of young start-ups that use smartphones to pay for and hail rides.

It's not an original concept, but one that's freshly playing out here in the Bayou City. And things are moving along faster than you can say "pink moustache grille."
After a full-court press at last week's city council meeting that included testimony from Lyft executive Jim Black as well as a half dozen or so young leaders from the city's business community, it looks as if mobile app ride share services Uber and Lyft are moving ever closer toward an official green light.

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