SpaceX launches 4 amateurs on private Earth-circling trip

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — SpaceX’s first private flight streaked into orbit Wednesday night with two contest winners, a health care worker and their rich sponsor, the most ambitious leap yet in space tourism. It was the first time a spacecraft circled Earth with an all-amateur crew and no professional astronauts. “Punch it, SpaceX!” the flight's billionaire leader, Jared Isaacman, urged moments before liftoff. The Dragon capsule’s two men and two women are looking to spend three days going round and round the planet from an unusually high orbit — 100 miles (160 kilometers) higher than the International Space Station — before splashing down off the Florida coast this weekend.

Biles: FBI turned 'blind eye' to reports of gymnasts' abuse

WASHINGTON (AP) — Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles told Congress in forceful testimony Wednesday that federal law enforcement and gymnastics officials turned a “blind eye” to USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of her and hundreds of other women. Biles told the Senate Judiciary Committee that “enough is enough” as she and three other U.S. gymnasts spoke in stark emotional terms about the lasting toll Nassar’s crimes have taken on their lives. In response, FBI Director Christopher Wray said he was “deeply and profoundly sorry” for delays in Nassar’s prosecution and the pain it caused. The four-time Olympic gold medalist and five-time world champion — widely considered to be the greatest gymnast of all time — said she “can imagine no place that I would be less comfortable right now than sitting here in front of you." She declared herself a survivor of sexual abuse.

France says head of Islamic State in Sahara has been killed

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — France's president announced the death of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara's leader late Wednesday, calling Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi's killing “a major success” for the French military after more than eight years fighting extremists in the Sahel. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that al-Sahrawi “was neutralized by French forces” but gave no further details. It was not announced where al-Sahrawi was killed, though the Islamic State group is active along the border between Mali and Niger. “The nation is thinking tonight of all its heroes who died for France in the Sahel in the Serval and Barkhane operations, of the bereaved families, of all of its wounded," Macron tweeted.

Democrats could change 'weaponized' California recall system

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Hours after California Gov. Gavin Newsom beat back a recall election that could have cost him his job, his fellow Democrats in the state Legislature said Wednesday that they will push for changes to make it more difficult to challenge a sitting governor. That could include increasing the number of signatures needed to force a recall election, raising the standard to require wrongdoing on the part of the officeholder and changing the process that could permit someone with a small percentage of votes to replace the state's top elected official. “I think the recall process has been weaponized,” Newsom said a day after his decisive victory.

Afghan killed by drone praised by co-workers in US aid group

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan man who was killed in a U.S. drone strike last month was an enthusiastic and beloved longtime employee at an American humanitarian organization, his colleagues say, painting a stark contrast to the Pentagon’s claims that he was an Islamic State group militant about to carry out an attack on American troops. Signs have been mounting that the U.S. military may have targeted the wrong man in the Aug. 29 strike in Kabul, with devastating consequences, killing seven children and two other adults from his family. The Pentagon says it is further investigating the strike, but it has no way to do so on the ground in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover, severely limiting its ability to gather evidence.

Biden announces Indo-Pacific alliance with UK, Australia

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that the United States is forming a new Indo-Pacific security alliance with Britain and Australia that will allow for greater sharing of defense capabilities — including helping equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. It's a move that could deepen a growing chasm in U.S.-China relations. Biden made the announcement alongside British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who joined him by video to unveil the new alliance, which will be called AUKUS (pronounced AWK-us). The three announced they would quickly turn their attention to developing nuclear-powered submarines for Australia.

FDA strikes cautious tone ahead of vaccine booster meeting

WASHINGTON (AP) — Influential government advisers will debate Friday if there's enough proof that a booster dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective — the first step toward deciding which Americans need one and when. The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday posted much of the evidence its advisory panel will consider. The agency struck a decidedly neutral tone on the rationale for boosters — an unusual and careful approach that's all the more striking after President Joe Biden and his top health advisers trumpeted a booster campaign they hoped to begin next week. Pfizer’s argument: While protection against severe disease is holding strong in the U.S., immunity against milder infection wanes somewhere around six to eight months after the second dose.

Chauvin to be arraigned for alleged civil rights violation

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murder in the death of George Floy d is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday for allegedly violating the civil rights of a teenager in a separate case that involved a restraint similar to the one used on Floyd. Derek Chauvin was convicted earlier this year on state charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd's 2020 death. He was sentenced to 22 1/2 years. He's also charged in federal court with violating Floyd's civil rights when he knelt on the Black man's neck for about 9 1/2 minutes as Floyd was face-down on the pavement, not resisting and pleading for air.

Southwest China earthquake collapses homes, kills at least 2

BEIJING (AP) — An earthquake collapsed homes, killed at least two people and injured dozens Thursday in southwest China's Sichuan province, state media reported. Rescue work was underway following the magnitude-6.0 earthquake. It struck at 4:33 a.m. in Luxian county at a depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles), the official Xinhua News Agency said. State broadcaster CCTV said that 60 people were injured, three seriously, and 35 houses had collapsed. The epicenter was about 200 kilometers (120 miles) southeast of Chengdu, the provincial capital. Western China is regularly hit by earthquakes. A magnitude-7.9 quake in May 2008 left nearly 90,000 people dead in Sichuan, many of them in collapsed schools and other poorly constructed buildings.

Milley defends calls to Chinese as effort to avoid conflict

WASHINGTON (AP) — The top U.S. military officer on Wednesday defended the phone calls he made to his Chinese counterpart in the turbulent final months of Donald Trump's presidency, saying the conversations were intended to convey “reassurance” to the Chinese military and were in line with his responsibilities as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Some in Congress accused Gen. Mark Milley of having overstepped his authority and urged President Joe Biden to fire him, but Biden indicated Wednesday he stands behind Milley. “I have great confidence in Gen. Milley,” Biden said when asked by a reporter whether Milley had done the right thing.