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Photo courtesy of NASA

A TV documentary crew has just made a startling discovery linked to one of the American space program's greatest tragedies, one that deeply resonated in Texas. Divers off the east coast of Florida have found an artifact underwater that NASA confirms is debris from the space shuttle Challenger.

While searching for wreckage of a World War II-era aircraft, documentary divers noticed a large object covered partially by sand on the seafloor, one that was clearly crafted by humans. The team contacted NASA after analyzing the proximity to the Florida Space Coast, the item’s modern construction, and presence of 8-inch square tiles, according to the space agency.

Upon viewing the TV crew's footage, NASA leaders confirmed the object is indeed part of the Challenger, which exploded during launch on January 28, 1986, killing all seven crew members on board — all of whom trained in Houston.

A History Channel documentary depicting the discovery of the Challenger artifact is scheduled to air Tuesday, November 22. While the episode will screen as part of a series about the Bermuda Triangle, the artifact was found well northwest of the area popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle, researchers note.

NASA, meanwhile, is currently considering what additional actions it may take regarding the artifact that will properly honor the legacy of Challenger’s fallen astronauts and their families, the agency notes.

The Challenger disaster is now counted as one of American history's "where were you?" moments. The mission, dubbed STS-51L, was commanded by Francis R. “Dick” Scobee and piloted by Michael J. Smith. The other crew members on board were mission specialists Ronald E. McNair; Ellison S. Onizuka, and Judith A. Resnik; payload specialist Gregory B. Jarvis; and teacher S. Christa McAuliffe.

Space Shuttle Challenger crew 1986 The Challenger crew poses ahead of the mission in January, 1986.Photo courtesy of NASA

McAuliffe, a charismatic civilian with a bright smile, became an international celebrity, bringing everyman accessibility to the space program. She was beloved by fans young and old, and quickly became the face of the doomed mission.

Celebrating NASA's 25th shuttle mission, the spacecraft waited overnight on Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A sudden coastal cold front brought freezing temperatures, causing ice to form on the shuttle. Launch managers cleared the mission for launch at 11:38 am on January 28, despite concerns raised by some shuttle program employees.

A mere 73 seconds after liftoff, major malfunction caused the explosion that killed the seven crew members, a moment captured on live TV and watched by millions.

Later, a NASA investigation revealed that the unexpectedly cold temperatures affected the integrity of O-ring seals in the solid rocket booster segment joints, sparking the explosion.

Challenger's loss, and later Columbia with its seven astronauts – which broke up on reentry in February 2003 over the western United States – greatly influenced NASA’s culture regarding safety. The agency went on to create an Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, developed new risk assessment procedures, and established an environment in which everyone can raise safety concerns.

NASA also created the Apollo Challenger Columbia Lessons Learned Program to share these lessons within the agency and with other government, public, commercial, and international audiences.

“While it has been nearly 37 years since seven daring and brave explorers lost their lives aboard Challenger, this tragedy will forever be seared in the collective memory of our country,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement. “For millions around the globe, myself included, January 28, 1986, still feels like yesterday. This discovery gives us an opportunity to pause once again, to uplift the legacies of the seven pioneers we lost, and to reflect on how this tragedy changed us. At NASA, the core value of safety is – and must forever remain – our top priority, especially as our missions explore more of the cosmos than ever before.”

By law, all space shuttle artifacts are the property of the U.S. government. Members of the public who believe they have encountered any space shuttle artifacts should contact NASA at ksc-public-inquiries@mail.nasa.gov to arrange for return of the items.

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Early voting begins October 24 for November 8 election in Texas

Civic news

Election day is November 8, 2022, but early voting starts Monday, October 24 and runs through November 4.

Texans will be voting for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, agricultural commissioner, and land commissioner, among other slots.

In the race for Governor between incumbent Greg Abbott and challenger Beto O'Rourke, Abbott has so far led in polls, but an October poll by Beacon Research shows the gap narrowing to 2 percent.

O'Rourke has received endorsements from top Texas newspapers like the Houston Chronicle, as well as Willie Nelson, Kacey Musgraves, and Harry Styles. Abbott received an endorsement from bottom Texas newspaper Dallas Morning News.

In the Lieutenant Governor race, candidate Mike Collier, running as a Democrat against incumbent Dan Patrick, has earned a number of high-profile endorsements from Republicans including State Rep. Lyle Larson and former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff. Collier is a former Republican who ran against Patrick in 2018.

In the Attorney General race, Democratic challenger Rochelle Garza is running against incumbent Ken Paxton.

Paxton was most recently in the news for fleeing his home to avoid a subpoena in a lawsuit from nonprofits that want to help Texans pay for abortions out of state. KVUE in Austin has a list of all of Paxton's various legal woes over the years including charges of bribery, intimidation, extramarital affairs, and his involvement in the January 6 insurrection.

Information on early voting can be found at votetexas.gov.

Registered voters can go to any polling location in the county. A list of early voting locations is available on the county website. Registered voters should bring one acceptable form of photo identification to the polls such as Texas Driver License, Texas Election ID card, Military ID card, U.S. Citizenship Certificate, or U.S. Passport.

Registered voters without a photo ID can sign a Reasonable Impediment Declaration and present a supporting form of ID such as a voter registration certificate, a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, or a birth certificate.

Photo by Miguel Angel

Texas Medal of Arts Awards returns with star-studded affair in 2023

Championing the Arts

One of the Lone Star State's premier arts events, the biannual Texas Medal of the Arts Awards, is making its post-pandemic return in 2023.

The nonprofit Texas Cultural Trust's signature event will take place at venues across Austin on Tuesday and Wednesday, February 21 and 22, 2023. Honorees will be announced at Fort Worth's Kimbell Art Museum on September 14.

Celebrating the creative contributions of Texans across multiple disciplines, the 2023 event will reflect and look ahead to the role the arts play in our lives and communities, according to a release. Texas Culture Trust 2019 TMAA honoree Brandon Maxwell will chair the event, along with TXCT immediate past board of directors chair Linda LaMantia, and TXCT board of directors executive committee member Judy Robison.

Together with leadership, the chairs convened a statewide group of experts to select the 2023 TMAA honorees across a wide variety of creative disciplines.

“The state of Texas is fortunate to have been the birthplace of a vast number of incredibly creative and talented artists in every medium,” says Robison. “It is my great pleasure to co-chair this amazing event to showcase the many accomplishments of Texas artists. After a three-year delay, we are ready to present the best Texas Medal of the Arts show ever!”

Since 2001, the TMAA has celebrated 118 Texas leaders and luminaries for their creative talents, excellence, and generosity. The star-studded celebration spotlights the power of the arts to not only improve children’s education, stimulate the economy, and improve health and well-being, but also to keep us connected, engaged, and inspired. The two-day event also aims to preserve the unique and proud culture of Texas.

"The arts add vibrancy to our lives and give us the space to engage and connect with others,” says TXCT CEO Heidi Marquez Smith in the release. “This spectacular event provides an opportunity to highlight the creative genius that has been cultivated in Texas and reminds us why we need to continue to invest in the arts. The Texas Medal of Arts Awards is not only meaningful, but entertaining and inspiring."

Each ceremony recognizes nominees from the following categories: architecture, arts education, arts patron (individual and corporate), dance, design, film, lifetime achievement, fashion design, literary arts, media/multimedia, music (performance and songwriter), television, theater arts, and visual arts.

Past honorees include actors Jamie Foxx, Matthew McConaughey, Tommy Lee Jones, and Eva Longoria; musicians ZZ Top, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, and Ray Benson; Texas-born businesses Neiman Marcus, H-E-B, Exxon Mobil, and Texas Monthly; director Robert Rodriguez; media personalities Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite; writer Lawrence Wright; and many more.

The 2023 event will take place in iconic Austin venues, including the Commodore Perry and The Long Center for the Performing Arts.

Courtesy rendering

New Fort Worth City Hall at Pier 1 to include food hall and community art

City Hall News

Big changes are underway at the Pier 1 building at 100 Energy Way, slated to become the new City Hall for Fort Worth.

According to a release, project managers are busy on a suite of upgrades including a bustling new customer service center and that trendiest of dining options, a food hall.

Fort Worth purchased the Pier 1 building in 2020 as part of a goal to transform the way city services are delivered. The move will bring functions from 22 departments from 14 buildings into the site.

There were already plans to build a new City Hall next to the current one, but the city determined that buying the Pier 1 building would save tens of millions of dollars. Pier 1 declared bankruptcy in May 2020.

Renovations will emphasize the "shared daylight" principle, looking to maximize the use of natural light into the space and provide lines of sight to windows for all workers on the floor.

They've already begun to replace sections of the roof and are updating security systems.

They're creating a new one-stop-shop customer service center in the tower, housing many of the major customer-facing functions in one area, reducing trips around town and bringing together critical functions that currently operate in different buildings.

The lobby is getting an update to provide an efficient and equitable City Hall experience with features such as intuitive way-finding, alternative areas to work while in the building, and a pre-council lobby area to better serve members of the community on council days.

The terrace level, including the cafeteria, is also being updated. Eventually, it will host a food hall concept, providing meal options to those in the tower and from the surrounding neighborhood.

There's a plan to incorporate art from the community, including a potential rotating art program and partnerships with local art communities.

Updates are being made to better serve residents who require ADA accommodations.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Texas-born WNBA star Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years in Russian prison

crime news

Texas-born basketball star Brittney Griner has been convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison for drug possession and smuggling in Russia.

Jailed in Russia since February, the WNBA star tearfully begged a judge for leniency on August 4 in Khimki, Russia. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling, that it doesn’t end my life here,” Griner said to the judge on August 4, according to Reuters. “My parents taught me two important things: one, take ownership of your responsibilities and two, work hard for everything that you have. That’s why I pled guilty to my charges.”

The court, however, said it believed that the 31-year-old Griner deliberately brought cannabis-infused vape cartridges into Russia, which is illegal there.

Immediately after the sentencing, U.S. President Joe Biden released the following statement:

Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.

How the conviction affects a proposed U.S.-Russia prisoner swap remains to be seen. The Biden administration has offered to send convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who is currently in the U.S. serving a 25-year prison sentence, in exchange for Griner and fellow detained American Paul Whelan.

Biden was said to support the proposed trade, which overrules the current Department of Justice stance that is decidedly anti-prison swap.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced July 27 that the Biden administration approached Moscow with the prisoner deal. Blinken called the arrangement a “substantial proposal” for Whelan and Griner, who are officially classified as wrongfully detained.

Griner entered a guilty plea in Russian court on Thursday, July 7 for bringing hashish oil into the country in her luggage in February. In the country to play for team BC UMMC Ekaterinburg of the Russian Premier League during the WNBA’s offseason, she was immediately detained and jailed by Russian Customs.

After worldwide scrutiny, her trial began on July 1.

Griner told the Russian judge that she had “inadvertently” brought the hashish oil into the country — where it is illegal to do so — and asked the court for mercy, ESPN reports. She could face up to 10 years in prison.

During her detainment, calls came from across the globe for her release, especially to Biden, whose administration was criticized for being slow to act. “I’m terrified I might be here forever,” she wrote to Biden in a handwritten letter.

Officially, the White House said it would employ “every tool” to release Griner, stating that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine complicated negotiations. Russia’s demand for a prisoner swap led to the belief among many that Griner, a woman of color and gay, was targeted and made to be a political pawn, as the New York Times notes, between two adversarial global superpowers.

Her wife, Cherelle Griner, made a recent publicity tour, where she made passionate pleas for her wife’s release and shared that she was disappointed to not hear from the White House personally, prompting phone calls from President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Born in Houston, the six-foot-nine Griner was the top-ranked female basketball player in the nation and chose to stay in state and play for the Baylor Lady Bears, where she became one of college basketball’s biggest stars. Famed for her unstoppable post presence, defensive skills, shot blocking, and offensive dominance, she was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury professional franchise. She later led Team USA to Olympic gold in the Rio and Tokyo games.

Griner is one of only 11 women to win an NCAA championship, WNBA championship, Olympic gold medal, and an FIBA World Cup gold medal.

Courtesy photo

Authorities charge man with arson for grass fires in northwest Fort Worth

Arson News

A man was arrested on Thursday, July 28 for setting multiple fires in Fort Worth.

Julio Frausto, 32, was charged with one count of second-degree felony Arson, one count of second-degree felony Fraudulent Use or Possession of Identifying Information, and one count of misdemeanor Evading Arrest or Detention.

Fort Worth has been besieged by multiple grass fires in the northwest part of town.

On July 28, investigators from Fort Worth Fire Department's Arson Unit responded to a grass fire in the vicinity of Buck Sansom Park in northwest Fort Worth.

This was the twentieth grass fire reported in the area in the last seven days. Two of those fires escalated to multiple alarm responses.

Investigators saw a male matching the description of a person of interest who was leaving the location of the fire.

They caught him in the 2800 block of Prospect Avenue, and he subsequently confessed to starting that fire, along with multiple others in the area.

According to a release, this is still an open and active investigation. FWFD arson investigators are thankful for the public's help that led to developing a suspect description which aided in Thursday's apprehension.

Due to the critical fire conditions in the area, they're urging citizens to remain vigilant around heat and flames, and to report anything that is perceived as suspicious activity.

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New Camp Margaritaville beach club-RV resort makes waves near Galveston coast

happy campers

Beach lovers, campers, and Texans getting away from it all now have a chill new option to waste away. Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Crystal Beach is officially open, following an ongoing renovation and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Formerly known as Bolivar Beach Club & RV Resort, the 150-acre beachfront location on the Bolivar Peninsula boasts a resort-style camping experience with unique amenities that make the RV resort a memorable vacation spot.

RV drivers/users can rest easy knowing that electric, water and sewer hookups, complimentary Wi-Fi, dog parks, a gym, and facilities for showering and doing laundry await at the site.

Fun includes a beachside concert venue, a Texas-sized pool with a swim-up bar and 50 private poolside cabanas, and large turf playing field. Renovations will continue into next year, promising the Fins Bar & Grill Restaurant, sand volleyball courts, pickleball courts, a bar called License to Chill, and more.

Another huge draw: The resort offers close access to 27 miles of beaches along the peninsula. (Ahh.)

Crystal Beach is the fourth location within the Camp Margaritaville brand, and joins the company's existing Margaritaville Lake Resort, Lake Conroe. The lake resort, which rebranded and opened in the summer of 2020, includes 335 suites, an 18-hole golf course, a three-acre waterpark with a lazy river and outdoor pools.

"We’ve seen incredible success and excitement around our existing Camp Margaritaville RV Resort locations and are thrilled to expand our presence in the state of Texas,” says Margaritaville COO Brad Schwaeble in a statement. “As more and more people are finding new ways to travel and explore, Camp Margaritaville Crystal Beach will provide everything needed for a getaway for all ages.”

Those interested in camping out can book stays, get updates, and more information at the official site, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Crystal Beach

The pool is a major draw for the resort.

Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Crystal Beach/Facebook

These are the 7 best food and drink events in Fort Worth this week

This week in gluttony

This week is all about tasty education, from learning how to decorate cookies and create holiday appetizers to making homemade pasta and smoking the perfect brisket. Take a class and use your newfound skills to entertain and impress this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 6

Caymus Wine Dinner at Carrabba’s Italian Grill
A decadent four-course meal features pairings with wines from award-winning Caymus. Courses include Stuffed Mushrooms with Shrimp, Rigatoni Al Forno with Chicken, Filet & Scallop Spiedino with Mashed Potatoes, and Crème Brulée, paired with Caymus wines including Cabernet Sauvignon and Conundrum Red Blend. The dinner is $75 starts at 6:30 pm. For the Hurst location, reserve here.

Wednesday, December 7

Wine + Cookie Decorating at Wine Haus
Here’s a Christmas cookie decorating class just for grown-ups. The South Fort Worth neighborhood wine bar will provide six cookies to decorate and a flight of three wines to enjoy while doing so. The class is $30 and the session will run from 7-9 pm.

Thursday, December 8

Holiday Spirits Around the World at Hotel Vin
Sample an array of global spirits during this tasting experience at Grapevine’s Hotel Vin. Spirits to be served include Montenegro Italian liqueur, The Dalmore Scottish whiskey, Komo tequila, and Horse Soldier bourbon. Each spirit will be paired with globally-inspired bites. The tasting is $50 and will begin at 7 pm.

Friday, December 9

The Art of Holiday Entertaining with The Elevated Elixir
Combine cooking with mixology during this hands-on class that will lead participants through creating festive party fare, appetizers, and in The Elevated Elixir fashion – non-alcoholic cocktails. Held at Indulge FW inside Third Street Market, the class will featured a five-part menu: holiday spiced nuts paired with a fig and honey Spritz, samosa pinwheels paired with spiced pear and cranberry cider, festive cheeseballs paired with gingerbread old fashioned, Hawaiian beef sliders paired with a Hawaiian Holiday, and chocolate truffles paired with a lavender chai toddy. Class is $125 and will begin at 6 pm.

Taste of Guadalajara at El Chingon
La Chingona, El Chingon’s West 7th-area private event space, hosts a dinner and show designed to transport guests to Guadalajara, Mexico, the home of mariachi music. The three-course dinner menu includes choices like brisket or pork tamales and chicken or vegetarian mole. A five-member mariachi band and dance performance cap off the evening. Tickets are $47.50-$119 and the event starts at 8 pm.

Saturday, December 10

Brisket U at Rahr & Sons Brewing Company
Learn how to work a barbecue pit and smoke the quintessential Texas brisket during this Saturday morning barbecue lesson. Participants will get schooled on pit types, brisket cuts, trim techniques, rubs and prep, wood selection and smoke profiles, managing a fire and pit chamber, timing, and properly slicing the end product. Class is $119 and will run from 9 am-12 pm.

Sunday, December 11

Make Pappardelle with Homemade Alfredo Sauce at Panther Island Brewing
The North Fort Worth brewery will morph into a culinary studio for a cooking class. Learn how to make rustic pappardelle pasta with creamy Alfredo sauce during this hands-on class led by Fort Worth private chef Na ‘Tori. Class is $55 and begins at 4 pm.

Qantas adds new direct flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Melbourne, Australia

Airline News

There's a new direct flight for Dallas-Fort Worth travelers headed to the land down under: Qantas, Australia's national carrier, has debuted the first ever direct flight from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to Melbourne, Australia. These are the first direct flights by any airline between the two cities.

According to a release, the addition of Melbourne follows the success of Qantas' longstanding route from Dallas/Fort Worth to Sydney.

Up until this debut, DFW travelers had to make a stop in Los Angeles or Sydney.

"The flight will reduce travel time by two to three hours for those who currently need to stop in Los Angeles or Sydney when traveling to Melbourne from Dallas/Fort Worth and other US cities like Washington DC and Boston," says Qantas domestic and international CEO Andrew David in a statement.

It's also a win for travelers from other destinations across the U.S. such as Charleston, Detroit, and Memphis, who had to make two stops to connect to Melbourne.

The route gives U.S. travelers better access not only to Melbourne but to other Australian cities. From Melbourne, travelers can connect to the Qantas Group’s extensive domestic network of more than 60 destinations around Australia.

“We have already seen a great response to these flights since they went on sale, not just from those set to visit Melbourne, but also from those wanting to take advantage of the excellent connections to popular destinations like Hobart and Adelaide," David says.

The flights operate three days a week – Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays – with Qantas’ 236-seat Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, offering lie-flat Business suites and a Premium Economy seat.

Melbourne is considered the cultural capital of Australia, known for its museums, art centers, and music, and has been ranked one of the most livable cities, with a "laid back feel-good vibe," says The Travel.com.

"Pre-COVID, business and holiday travel between the United States and Australia was growing exponentially and we’re seeing the demand bounce back," David says. "We’re excited to be providing our customers with another direct connection across the Pacific."