These are tense times for scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. Late Sunday night Pacific Time, they'll learn if nearly a decade of hard work will result in a priceless scientific laboratory landing safely on Mars or if the rover known as Curiosity will turn into a useless pile of junk. Everything depends on what happens during the seven minutes of terror, the time it takes the probe to go from the top of the Martian atmosphere to the planet's surface.
You find out so much about a country, you know, when it's hosting the Olympics. It's almost as if the games lay bare a nation's soul. NPR's Philip Reeves says that is what's happening in Britain. He's finding the experience unnerving, as he explains, in this letter from the Olympics.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Susan Stamberg in for Scott Simon. In an encouraging sign for the U.S. economy, the Labor Department told us yesterday that the country gained 163,000 jobs in July. That was better than expected but not all signs are pointing up. In a separate government survey, the unemployment rate increased slightly to 8.3 percent. NPR's Chris Arnold is at a gathering of economists in northern Maine. He sent this report.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Susan Stamberg. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on a seven-country trip through Africa, talking about strengthening democracies, building economic growth. Yesterday, she dropped in South Sudan - that's the world's newest country - to encourage the infant nation. But she warned of so many challenges ahead. NPR's John Burnett was in South Sudan when the secretary was, and he joins us now on the line from Nairobi. Hi, John.
A homeowner in the town of Varney, Ontario found herself in what you might call a sticky situation not long ago when she discovered honey dripping from her kitchen ceiling. Turns out, there were some 80,000 bees nesting between floors. Loretta Yates called a pest control company to help her out. They told her they couldn't really take care of it, so they called in an expert. Dave Schuit is the beekeeper and co-owner of Saugeen Country Honey. He's on the line with us. Now, Mr. Schuit, tell us about this distress call that you got.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Susan Stamberg in for Scott Simon. Congress wrapped up its summer session this week and members headed back to their home district. But with public approval ratings of Congress wallowing in the teens and constant headlines about gridlock, a lot of people might be wondering what exactly did the Congress accomplish anyway? For some answers about congressional actions and what is still unfinished, we are joined by NPR's David Welna. Hiya, David.
Viola da gamba players are a special breed — a tiny subset in the already small world of early classical music. They rarely meet their own kind, but once a year they come together for a week in July at an annual jam session they call a conclave. Wendy Gillespie, who just finished her term as president of the Viola da Gamba Society of America, says attending the event is the highlight of her year.
A male koala visits the female enclosure at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, Australia. Koalas are dwindling in number as their habitat along Australia's east coast gives way to urban growth.
Credit Stuart Cohen for NPR
Two blind koalas are in permanent care at Friends of the Koala in Lismore, Australia.
Credit Stuart Cohen / For NPR
The biggest threat to Australia's koalas is loss of habitat, says Friends of the Koala President Lorraine Vass.
Earlier this year, the Australian government added the koala to the country's list of endangered species. By some counts, only about 100,000 remain in the wild in a country that once boasted a population in the millions. But many conservationists say the listing doesn't go far enough.
Paul O'Donnell is one of the many volunteers at Friends of the Koala in the northern New South Wales town of Lismore.
"We go out every day for about an hour or so collecting leaf; usually we get about one bin per koala," O'Donnell says.
That New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte is even being considered as Mitt Romney's running mate is somewhat remarkable. After all, New Hampshire has just four electoral votes, and Ayotte has been a U.S. senator — her first elected office — for less than two years.
But if any senator could be said to possess a refreshing charm, it might be Ayotte, 44, a mother of two young children, who still lives in her hometown of Nashua and is married to a former combat pilot.
This week, the world's largest democracy experienced the world's largest power outage. Nearly 700 million — that's more than half a billion — Indians were said to have been without power Tuesday. No air conditioning. No traffic lights. No metro system.
Most of the power is back now, but the outage had resonance for me from the long-ago years when I lived in New Delhi and experienced power failures almost as regularly as I did steaming cups of dark, sweet Indian tea.
The Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet has been serenading audiences in its native Washington, D.C., across the country and even as far as France for more than two decades. But its members are finding ways to bring something new to their performances. Bandleader and co-founder Ginny Carr says she wrote the words and music to all 10 songs on the quartet's new album, Hustlin' for a Gig — a relative rarity in a jazz world defined by time-tested standards.
Mitt Romney is set to depart from London Saturday, after three days of photo ops and closed meetings. But his assessment of London's handling of the games drew a rebuke from Prime Minister David Cameron. Host Scott Simon chats with Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman about the visit and the perceptions formed by Romney's hosts.
Throughout this week, NPR's Kelly McEvers has been bringing us stories from parts of Syria controlled by the rebels who are fighting to oust the regime of Bashar Assad. She talks with host Scott Simon about her reporting.
Our marathon man of trivia is A.J. Jacobs, who once read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica to learn more and get a book contract. Why didn't he just write 50 Shades of Knowledge? A.J. joins us now to talk about Olympic facts, some of which may actually be true.
A.J., thanks for being with us.
A.J. JACOBS: And thank you for having me.
SIMON: Let's start with the marathon, A.J. Apparently, one of your favorite athletes in history was Spiridon Louis, who was the winner of the first modern marathon back in 1896.
The 2012 Olympic Games opened Friday, with a ceremony that included James Bond and Queen Elizabeth parachuting into the stadium, flyovers, rippling Union Jacks, Shakespeare, sheep and fireworks. Host Scott Simon talks to Simon Hoggart, political sketch writer for The Guardian about the opening ceremony.
Detroit singer Sixto Rodriguez's sweet voice and socially conscious lyrics made him a legend in apartheid-era South Africa. This photo appears on the cover of his second album, Coming from Reality (1971).
Credit Sony Pictures Classics
Rodriguez carries his guitar through Detroit, Mich., his hometown.
Late July is peak tomato season in much of the country, so for some fresh and inventive twists on the fruit — and yes, it is botanically a fruit, no matter what the Supreme Court says — we're heading to Home Wine Kitchen in Maplewood, Mo.
On a sweltering day in July, Cairo temperatures top 100 degrees and the humidity is an oppressive 83 percent. There hasn't been a single day this month with a high of less than 90 — in a country where access to air conditioning is much more limited than in the United States.
Add to that the fact that much of the country is fasting for Ramadan and it gives a new dimension to what the Egyptian Meteorological Association calls a "humid heat wave."
Early in 1944, Southern England bristled with 150,000 American, British and Canadian soldiers gathered for an invasion the Allies hoped would end World War II.
The soldiers, pilots, sailors and Marines knew they were there to be launched into Nazi-occupied Europe. But surely the Germans knew also. It's hard to hide the largest invasion force in history. LIFE Magazine even ran photos of GIs in Piccadilly.
There's another dimension to that unfolding LIBOR scandal which cost Barclays, the British bank, its CEO and $450 million in fines after it was revealed that the bank had been manipulating international lending rates. Attention has shifted to why U.S. financial regulators, who knew about the rate rigging, didn't move to stop it more swiftly.
We're going to put that question to Robert Smith, correspondent for NPR's Planet Money. He joins us from New York. Robert, thanks for being with us.
The phrase "theater number 9" may soon be one of those added to our collective memory. That is where the shootings in Aurora, Colo., took place. It has some movie goers wondering about their safety in cities across the country.