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Next year NASA will open the International Space Station to tourists. A round trip visit will cost about $52 million.

On Saturday, June 15, the Virginia War Memorial is holding a Flag Day retirement ceremony. Flag retirement is the term used to describe the proper and dignified destruction of worn, no longer serviceable American flags. Today’s ceremony also will feature speakers and patriotic music. It is the finale to the War Memorial’s week-long salute to Flag Day. Since June 8, 12,000 American flags have proudly stood on the hillside next to the Shrine of Memory. The red, white and blue “Hill of Heroes” is a tribute to the 12,000 Virginians who have made the ultimate sacrifice since World War II. The two-hour event begins at 10 a.m. and is open to the public.

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NASA has announced that it is opening the International Space Station (ISS) to tourists. For a mere $52 million per person, one can catch a ride on a rocket belonging to SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space company, and spend a few days at the ISS. Although not slated to begin until June 2020, companies already are paying substantial deposits and reservation fees to reserve spots on four planned launches in one of SpaceX’s Dragon capsules. NASA hopes that a program offering tourists low-Earth spaceflight will bring in much needed income to fund the space agency’s other goals, such as sending humans to Mars and beyond.

The idea sounds intriguing. While we applaud the agency’s outside-the-box thinking and the attention the plan could bring to space exploration, we do have some concerns. We join Axios Media in wondering if NASA’s desire to outsource spaceflight isn’t going to prove to be the agency’s undoing. The website quoted John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, “If the private sector takes over low-Earth orbit, and the political support for exploration dissipates, then what’s the rationale for a government program?”

Our other concern lies with the launch history of SpaceX rockets. Although NASA has heralded Musk’s role in spaceflight, SpaceX rockets have seen lots of failures and launch explosions. In April, a SpaceX Dragon capsule failed during an engine test at Cape Canaveral, Fla. We believe in spaceflight and humankind’s inborn desire to explore the universe around us. We just want to make sure tourists who go to space get back home in one piece.

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Speaking of tourism, we were delighted to read that Virginia’s tourism industry is on a roll. The Associated Press writes that visitor spending in the commonwealth generated $26 billion in 2018 — a 4.4% increase over 2017. Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Monday that 2018 state and local revenues also increased 2.9% over the previous year. Tourism has become Virginia’s fifth-largest employer. And it’s pretty cool that Virginia’s iconic, 50-year-old slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers,” has become the longest-running state tourism slogan in the country. It was created in 1969 by Richmond’s own advertising firm Martin & Woltz, now The Martin Agency. Although originally developed to refer to history lovers, the slogan just as aptly applies to Virginia’s wine lovers, beer lovers, ocean lovers and hiking lovers. And, of course, people lovers.

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While Virginia might be a good destination for tourists, our senior citizens might not be so fortunate. A startling report released by auditors with the Health and Human Services inspector general’s office shows that nursing facilities are failing to report serious cases of potential neglect and abuse of seniors on Medicare even though they’re federally required to do so. The investigators looked closely at episodes involving patients who needed to be taken from their nursing facility to a hospital emergency room. They estimate that in 2016, there were about 6,600 cases of neglect or abuse that were not reported as required. That’s about 18% of the 37,600 trips to the emergency room from a nursing facility Medicare beneficiaries took that year. Even worse, according to the website seniorlist.com, the federal government’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has compiled a list of the states by the number of abuse complaints registered against nursing facilities. Virginia ranks No. 11 in complaints received. Our northern neighbors, the District of Columbia and Maryland, come in at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. Washington state ranks first. North Carolina ranks 33. We can do better by our senior citizens.

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If we’d ever been accused of committing a high-profile murder, Michael Morchower would have been the defense attorney we’d hire. A former FBI agent, U.S. attorney and federal magistrate, “Magic Mike” was one of Richmond’s most well-known defenders. During his 40 years as an attorney, Morchower managed to get accused drug dealers, murderers and politicians off. The transplanted New Jersey native and University of Richmond graduate defended some of central Virginia’s most notorious criminals. Morchower died June 9 in Farnham. He was 79.

— Robin Beres

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