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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

NASA is ready to launch a new rocket to orbit the moon.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If the countdown gets to zero as planned, a rocket launches today from the Kennedy Space Center. It will carry a spacecraft called Orion. It doesn't carry people this time, but it's designed to. Orion is the follow-up to the famous Apollo space capsules that first carried people to the moon in 1969. Several Apollo missions followed, the last of which was 50 years ago in 1972.

FADEL: Brendan Byrne of member station WMFE is at the Kennedy Space Center and joins us now. Good morning, Brendan.

BRENDAN BYRNE, BYLINE: Good morning. Happy launch day.

FADEL: Happy launch day. So tell us what it's like there. Is there a lot of excitement?

BYRNE: There is a lot of excitement in this mission that NASA's calling Artemis 1. So officials here in Brevard County estimate some 200,000 people are visiting the Space Coast for the launch. Hotels have sold out. People began camping out for a good spot to view the launch over the weekend. And in a sense, the anticipation for this began building back in 1972. That's the last time people stepped foot on the lunar surface. Since the end of the Apollo program, NASA has always wanted to go back to the moon, and NASA administrator, Bill Nelson, says that time has finally come.

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BILL NELSON: And to all of us that gaze up at the moon, dreaming of the day humankind returns to the lunar surface - folks, we're here. We are going back. And that journey, our journey, begins with Artemis 1.

BYRNE: And there are lots of VIPs here for that journey, including a handful of NASA astronauts, and also, Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to be here today.

FADEL: Now, this mission isn't carrying any astronauts, though. So where does this flight fit into NASA's new moon program?

BYRNE: So this essentially is a test flight. So NASA built a brand-new rocket called SLS, the most powerful the agency has ever created. And now, the team did conduct a simulated launch countdown back in June, which did have some problems. This rocket has yet to fly. So another critical test will come with the Orion capsule. Its job is to get astronauts to lunar orbit and keep them alive and then safely return them back to Earth. So NASA's going to be stress testing this capsule to the max. It's going to spend some six weeks in space orbiting the moon. Now, onboard will be some mannequins that will measure the stresses on future astronauts, including how much radiation they'll be exposed to. And NASA's also testing key systems like communication, navigation and the spacecraft's heat shield.

I spoke with Doug Hurley about testing like this. He was the final space shuttle pilot and then commanded the first human mission from the U.S. after shuttle on SpaceX's Crew Dragon. He now works for Northrop Grumman. That's the company that builds the two solid rocket boosters on SLS.

DOUG HURLEY: You want to see the ground team, of course, the contractor team, integration team, all those teams - mission control - coming together and kind of hitting their stride. And I think we're ready for that now, and this is that next test is the uncrewed test flight.

FADEL: OK, so, Brendan, assuming all goes well with this test, what's ahead for NASA's Artemis program?

BYRNE: Well, the next mission is Artemis 2, which will take a crew of astronauts on a trip around the moon and back. Artemis 3 is when astronauts will take a lander to the surface and step foot on the moon once more, maybe in three years. But there's a lot more than just this test flight that needs to go right. NASA's working with private company SpaceX to build that first lander, which is still under development. The agency also needs new spacesuits for lunar exploration. And NASA has a lot to prove with these missions. The program is long delayed, way over budget, something like $90 billion, before astronauts even step foot on the moon. So there's a huge cost to this mission and a lot riding on its success.

FADEL: WMFE's Brendan Byrne is at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida covering NASA's Artemis 1 launch. Brendan, thanks for joining us.

BYRNE: Anytime.

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FADEL: Monsoon rains are a normal part of life in South Asia, but the monsoon rains of recent days have not been normal at all.

INSKEEP: A changing climate means changing storm patterns, and in Pakistan, the monsoon that normally brings life has taken it away. Widespread flooding has killed more than 1,000 people, many of them children.

FADEL: On the line to tell us more is NPR's international correspondent Diaa Hadid, who lives in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Good morning, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, Diaa, you've been reporting that Pakistan is facing its heaviest rains in decades. These images we're seeing, because of the flooding, they're just so devastating. Can you describe what's going on on the ground?

HADID: Yeah, so there's multiple crises happening at once. In the north, there's gushing rivers, and they're washing away dams and threatening to flood whole areas. They've already swept away bridges, homes, hotels and even people. There's devastating footage of men stranded on a rocky outcrop, and residents are shouting for help for them to be saved. But one by one, the water just takes them away. In the south, there's around 2 million acres of cropland that are now under water, and so are homes. People are sheltering on roads, railway tracks, in mosques and schools. And Pakistani aid workers who I speak to, like, they're pretty used to dealing with disasters, but even they say they're shocked.

Yeah, so, look - I spoke to a woman called Zoone Hasan, and she and her husband run an aid group called Thali. Have a listen.

ZOONE HASAN: I haven't seen this in the 20 years that I've been running this charity. I've never seen this sort of calamity. And I've spoken to so many mothers who are actually crying because either they've lost their sons or their grandchildren.

FADEL: Wow. Either they've lost their sons or their grandchildren. And experts and officials are calling this a climate change disaster. It's being called a monster monsoon. If you could just lay out for us how different this is from regular heavy rains.

HADID: Yeah. So to understand how myself, I spoke to Ali Tauqeer Sheikh. He's an expert on the impacts of climate change in Pakistan, and this is what he had to say.

ALI TAUQEER SHEIKH: In the recorded history that we have since 1918, we have never had this much of torrential rain.

HADID: So he's saying it's the heaviest rains in a century. But it's not just the rain that's the problem. There's a few disasters happening at once. So in Pakistan's far north, where the Himalayas are, there's a lot of glaciers, and they're melting faster than ever because of climate change, and that's swelling up the rivers, and there's been unseasonably heavy rains up there, too. And then further down in southern Pakistan, as you noted, like, the monsoon patterns have changed, and the rain is coming in places where it doesn't normally go. And so there was no preparedness this year, and there was also flash flooding. It's come in devastating quantities.

And this rain might keep going till mid-September. The southern areas are already underwater, and now they're bracing for these swollen rivers to cascade down and hit them in a few days' time. Sheikh describes it like this.

SHEIKH: It's like fighting five wars at the same time. So this is very, very unprecedented. And this is for the first time that a person like me can attribute them with a fair degree to climate change.

FADEL: So can Pakistan handle this alone? I mean, millions of people displaced, hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed, so many people lost.

HADID: Yeah. Well, the Pakistani government says that it needs help, and there's a sense that they want rich Western countries to pay for climate change-induced disasters. I mean, Pakistan is one of the world's most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change, which Pakistanis have done very little to contribute to. Aid is coming in, but tomorrow, Pakistan will launch an appeal with the U.N., which they hope will accelerate donations.

FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid. Thank you so much for your reporting on this.

HADID: You're welcome.

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FADEL: Some news about documents recovered from former President Trump calls for explanation.

INSKEEP: You will recall the FBI searched Trump's residence at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, and according to a property receipt, numerous documents that the FBI found were marked classified or top secret. A redacted affidavit released on Friday asserts that some of those documents compromise some of the most sensitive U.S. intelligence information. Former acting CIA Director Michael Morell talked about two types of secrets the Justice Department identified. He spoke with CBS.

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MICHAEL MORELL: HUMINT Control System means information from CIA spies, and special intelligence means information from technical operations of the National Security Agency. This is the most sensitive material of the United States intelligence community.

INSKEEP: And intelligence officials are taking stock of the potential damage to national security.

FADEL: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us now with the latest. Good morning, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So a lot of classified materials were found at Mar-a-Lago, and now it sounds like the U.S. intelligence agencies are going to look into what damage the removal of these documents might have caused, right?

LUCAS: That's right. Our colleague Deirdre Walsh obtained a letter sent to Congress by the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, and in that letter, Haines says that her office is going to lead an intelligence community assessment of the potential risk to national security from the possible disclosure of the materials found at Mar-a-Lago. Now, she doesn't give a timeline, but she says the assessment is going to be done in a way that does not interfere with the Justice Department's ongoing criminal investigation.

FADEL: So how much classified material are we talking about here?

LUCAS: Well, we know from the redacted affidavit that was released on Friday that the National Archives recovered 184 classified documents from the 15 boxes it collected from Mar-a-Lago in January. Ninety-two of those were classified at the secret level. Twenty-five of them were top secret. And while we don't know exactly what was in those documents, we do know from the affidavit that some of them are related to CIA spies and others to how the U.S. spies on foreign communications. And as we heard at the top there in that clip from Mike Morell, that sort of information is some of the most sensitive stuff for American intelligence agencies.

We also know that the FBI recovered more highly classified documents when it searched Mar-a-Lago three weeks ago. And as the affidavit says, there isn't any place at Mar-a-Lago that's authorized to store classified materials.

FADEL: Now, Trump has asked for an independent third party known as a special master to review the material that was seized. A federal court weighed in over the weekend. What happened?

LUCAS: Well, Judge Aileen Cannon issued a two-page order in which she says it is her preliminary intent to appoint a special master, as Trump has requested. Now, a special master would be a neutral person, as you said, usually an attorney or former judge, to review the materials taken by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago and identify any that might be protected by executive privilege. This was not a final decision from Judge Cannon on this question, but it indicates that she's certainly leaning in that direction. First, though, she scheduled a hearing for Thursday to talk it all over. She also ordered the Justice Department to provide her, under seal, with a more detailed list of what the FBI collected in its search and to let her know how far along the FBI is in its own review of those materials.

FADEL: Will this impact the investigation?

LUCAS: Well, the request for a special master came pretty late in the game. Normally, you would ask for one right after a search. Here, Trump's attorneys waited two weeks. Former prosecutors tell me the FBI would have started reviewing the materials as soon as they got them. So this request is an odd move at this point. Experts think it could slow things down a bit, but we'll see.

FADEL: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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