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Richard Branson’s moment of destiny in space will happen 50 miles above a town called Truth or Consequences.

In the high desert of New Mexico, a dream that was born when Branson watched the moon landing two days after his 19th birthday will, he hopes, finally be realised.

It has been a long journey for the billionaire, and this vertical journey will take place more than a decade after he had originally envisaged it happening.

That seems irrelevant now as – hours before England’s footballers hope to make history at Wembley – Branson expects to reach his own pinnacle as the first billionaire space tourism tycoon to become an astronaut.

His wife and family will be there to watch.

Hours before take-off, it was somewhat humbling to stand under the rocket of his space ship Unity.

Slung beneath its mothership, the small plane-like craft almost looks too flimsy for the mission.

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In the air-conditioned cool of the Spaceport America hangar, the final touches were being added before take-off in the blistering heat just after dawn.

Virgin Galactic's passenger rocket plane, the VSS Unity near Truth and Consequences, New Mexico
Virgin Galactic’s passenger rocket plane, the VSS Unity, near Truth and Consequences, New Mexico

Two pilots, three mission specialists and one tycoon will shoot vertically at three times the speed of sound for a few minutes of zero gravity, an unrivalled view of the earth and an equally rapid start to their descent.

All being well they will glide back to the runway.

Branson will beat Amazon founder Jeff Bezos into space by nine days and few can really believe his claim that winning the race doesn’t matter to him.

Branson and his team of fellow astronauts. Pic: AP
Branson and his team of fellow astronauts. Pic: AP

Bezos’s Blue Origin team have raised questions about whether Branson will actually reach space at all.

They subscribe to the view of some that 62 miles up is the real deal, while Branson is happy to take NASA‘s judgment that an altitude of 50 miles makes an astronaut.

But for a lifelong showman like Branson this is more than a mere publicity stunt or even a realisation of that childhood dream.

Taking a seat aboard will send a message to the hundreds who have put down tens of thousands of pounds to secure a seat that their journey will happen and will be safe.

Virgin's Unity spaceship. Pic: AP
Virgin’s Unity spaceship. Pic: AP

No one can discount the risks. Seven years ago a pilot died when one of Unity’s predecessors broke up during a test flight. Space, as they always say, is hard.

For Branson this is as much about business as any high ideals of opening space up to the rest of us.

You still have to be very rich to even dream of joining any of the commercial missions.

And there is no denying that a successful mission for Branson will signify a new era in space travel.

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Kevin McCarthy: US House Speaker removed from office for first time in history




Kevin McCarthy: US House Speaker removed from office for first time in history

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has been removed from office after a historic challenge to his leadership from his own party.

The Republican faced a motion to vacate, which was triggered by Donald Trump ally Matt Gaetz on Monday, just months after securing the position in 15 rounds of voting.

It is the first time in the country’s history that House representatives have voted the Speaker out.

Behind closed doors early on Tuesday, Mr McCarthy told fellow Republicans: “If I counted how many times someone wanted to knock me out, I would have been gone a long time ago.”

Several Republicans, however, had said they were sticking with Mr McCarthy as they emerged from the meeting, during which they said he received standing ovations.

It follows a decision made by Mr McCarthy over the weekend to cooperate with the Democrats to keep the government running rather than risk a shutdown.

It is a move that angered Mr Gaetz and other far-right Republicans, as Mr McCarthy relied on Democratic votes to pass a temporary funding extension on Saturday that avoided a partial government shutdown.

A band of about 20 Republicans had forced Mr McCarthy’s hand by repeatedly blocking other legislation.

Mr Gaetz and his allies said they were frustrated by the slow pace of spending legislation on Mr McCarthy’s watch.

Republican Representative Tim Burchett, who said he would vote to oust Mr McCarthy, said: “We took a whole month of August off. I think that that’s pretty telling.”

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Another day of history in US politics

It’s political pantomime, without the laughs.

To look at the House of Representatives is to see the turbulence of America’s political ecosystem.

The ousting of Kevin McCarthy leaves the lower chamber of Congress in a state of paralysis.

There will be an interim Speaker but his or her role will effectively amount to finding a permanent replacement.

It is a dysfunction at the heart of power, an extension of the fault lines that fracture the modern-day Republican Party.

Never before has a House Speaker been ejected in this way, another day of history in US politics

The history-makers at the wheel have travelled a distance from the party fringes to positions of influence.

Matt Gaetz is the high-profile House representative who tabled the motion to oust McCarthy.

He’s prominent amongst a hard-line conservative core of House Republicans, Trump-aligned, and bent on reshaping party traditions and reorientating its trajectory to the right.

It is a tail that can wag the dog and this episode is clear evidence of it.

The rules dictate that just one representative – Mr Gaetz in this case – can trigger a vote to oust the Speaker.

That arrangement was a deal Mr McCarthy struck in January to appease his party’s right wing and enable his accession to the position of Speaker.

It didn’t look like clever politics by Mr McCarthy at the time and it looks even less so today.

Today, politics are harder in a party whose politics have changed.

Not all are convinced by Mr Gaetz’s intentions, with some Republicans believing he is angling for a change at a higher office.

“It seems very personal with Matt. It doesn’t look like he’s looking out for the country or the institution,” Mr McCarthy said.

Mr Gaetz has denied he is spurred on by a dislike of Mr McCarthy.

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Hunter Biden pleads not guilty to three firearm charges




Hunter Biden pleads not guilty to three firearm charges

Hunter Biden, the son US President Joe Biden, has pleaded not guilty to three federal firearm charges filed against him after a plea deal collapsed.

He is accused of lying about his drug use in October 2018 on a form to buy a gun, which he kept for around 11 days.

Abbe Lowell, his lawyer, told the court in Wilmington, Delaware, on Tuesday he plans to file a motion to dismiss the case, challenging their constitutionality.

While the president’s son has admitted to struggles with a crack cocaine addiction over the period in question, his lawyers insist he didn’t break the law.

These kind of gun charges are rare, and an appeals court has found banning drug users from guns violates the Second Amendment.

The case remains on track for a possible trial just as the 2024 election looms.

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Woman sues Disney theme park over claims water slide gave her ‘painful wedgie’




Woman sues Disney theme park over claims water slide gave her 'painful wedgie'

A woman is suing Disney over claims a water slide at one of its theme parks left her with serious injuries.

In a lawsuit filed in Orange County, Florida, last week, the woman claims the Humunga Kowabunga slide at Walt Disney World gave her “severe vaginal lacerations”.

Warning: The article below contains details some people may find distressing

After going on the ride at Typhoon Lagoon as part of her 30th birthday celebrations in 2019, she was taken by ambulance to a local hospital before being moved to another that specialised in gynaecological injuries, court documents say.

There medics found she had a “full thickness laceration” of the vagina, which “caused the plaintiff’s bowel to protrude through her abdominal wall and damage her internal organs”.

She is seeking $50,000 (£41,400) in damages from Disney, Sky News’ US partner network NBC News reports. The lawsuit said the Humunga Kowabunga slide puts riders at risk of a “painful wedgie”.

According to court documents, she went on the ride wearing a one-piece swimming costume with her mother and daughter after being instructed to cross her legs.

“The slide caused [her] clothing to be painfully forced between her legs and for water to be violently forced inside her,” the documents read.

“She experienced immediate and severe pain internally and, as she stood up, blood began rushing from between her legs.”

A cave looking rock at Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Orlando, Florida, U.S.A
Another attraction at Typhoon Lagoon

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It adds that “risk of injury as a consequence of water being forced inside a woman’s body” is “far greater than it is for a man”.

Disney has not responded to NBC News’s requests for comment.

Humunga Kowabunga is Typhoon Lagoon’s fastest and steepest waterslide. It sends people down a five-storey descent at speeds of up to 40mph, according to Disney’s website.

The theme park was built in 1989.

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