Updated Feb 8, 2018

What the SpaceX launch might mean for exploration

Photo: SpaceX / Flickr

In the afterglow of SpaceX's successful Falcon Heavy launch on Tuesday, Elon Musk told reporters the reusable rocket could "launch things direct to Pluto and beyond; no stop needed. You don't even need a gravity assist."

Why that matters: Interplanetary spacecraft often rely on the gravitational forces of planets to reach their targets — because that method takes less fuel and a smaller rocket. Cassini was boosted to Saturn by Venus, Earth and Jupiter, for example. If the Falcon Heavy and any successors can provide a direct route to the outer solar system, it would save time (and money) and could therefore mean more missions.

Some potential targets: Right now, scientists have their sights on comets, the Saturn moons Titan and Enceladus, and Jupiter's Europa.

Yes, but: This launch was about demonstrating the rocket could carry a heavy payload (for example, a satellite for national security reconnaissance) to space, coast with it for hours and then restart its engine in order to place the cargo in its final orbit, Jonathan McDowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics tells Axios. "That was the main point." A deep space mission, on the other hand, could require a different fuel type or optimizing other parameters.

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Sign of the times: A pro-Warren super PAC

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a rally in Nevada. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A group of women progressives who back Sen. Elizabeth Warren has formed Persist PAC, a super PAC airing pro-Warren ads starting Wednesday in an effort to boost her performance ahead of Saturday's crucial Nevada caucuses, a spokesman told Axios.

Why it matters: Warren has spoken adamantly against the influence of unlimited spending and dark money in politics. But these supporters have concluded that before Warren can reform the system, she must win under the rules that exist — and that whether she likes it or not, their uncoordinated help may be needed to keep her viable through this weekend's contest and into South Carolina and Super Tuesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Pentagon policy chief resigns amid reported discord with Trump

John Rood. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

John Rood, the Pentagon's top policy official, will resign from his post at the end of the month, CNN first reported and President Trump confirmed.

The state of play: CNN said Rood "was perceived as not embracing some of the changes in policy the White House and senior Pentagon officials wanted," such as peace talks in Afghanistan with the Taliban and a decision to cut back on military exercises with South Korea as the president courted North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

Coronavirus cases rise, as warnings of global pandemic grow

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's NHC; Note: China refers to mainland China and the Diamond Princess is the cruise ship offshore Yokohama, Japan. Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

We may be "at the brink" of a global pandemic, warns a top U.S. public health official, as cases continue to spread despite containment efforts. Meanwhile, the global economy is being affected, including the tech manufacturing industry.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed more than 2,000 people and infected over 75,000 others, mostly in mainland China, where the National Health Commission announced 136 new deaths since Tuesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health