NASA To Test Inflatable Room For Astronauts In Space

An artist's rendering of the BEAM inflatable annex attached to the side of the International Space Station.

An artist’s rendering of the BEAM inflatable annex attached to the side of the International Space Station. Courtesy of Begelow Aerospace hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Begelow Aerospace

A new era for living in space may be about to start.

A prototype habitat is headed to the International Space Station for a two-year trial. What makes the module unique is it’s launched folded up, and is inflated to its full size once in orbit.

The idea for inflatables began at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in the 1990s. The space agency was trying to figure out how to get astronauts to Mars, without the crew going crazy living in a tiny capsule for months on end.

Kriss Kennedy was a NASA engineer working on the problem. It essentially boiled down to this: how do you pack a large living structure into a small rocket cargo space? The solution: inflatables.

“Well, there are several advantages for inflatable habitats, one is you can package it in a smaller volume,” says Kennedy, and then expand it once you get into space.

Now the inflatable is not like a balloon. Folded up, it just looks like a cylinder. Expanded, it grows upward and outward so it looks more like a watermelon.


Credit: Courtesy of Bigelow Aerospace

It’s made of multiple layers of Kevlar and other materials resistant to micrometeorites. And even though it’s inflated. Kennedy says you shouldn’t think of it as squishy.

“It’s very rigid,” he says. “Once you get even a partial pressure it’s extremely hard, as hard as aluminum.”

But as enthusiastic as some at NASA were for this new approach to building space habitats, Congress wasn’t sufficiently impressed, and in 2000 legislators told NASA to kill the program.

Enter billionaire Robert Bigelow. A man who made his fortune in budget hotels. He saw a future for inflatable space habitats, maybe even space hotels.

He got the rights to NASA’s inflatable technology and created Bigelow Aerospace.

After more than a decade of development, the company has produced BEAM, Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, and NASA has agreed to attach it to the International Space Station and see how it performs.

Folded up, BEAM is about 6 feet by 6 feet. Inflated, it’s about 12 feet by 10 feet, approximately the size of a small RV.

NASA wanted extra room that could be transported in compact form to space and expanded upon arrival.

NASA wanted extra room that could be transported in compact form to space and expanded upon arrival. Courtesy of Bigelow Aerospace hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Bigelow Aerospace

Jason Crusan is in charge of BEAM for NASA. He says when it arrives at the station, astronauts will remove it from the cargo rocket with the station’s robotic arm, and plug into a node on the station.

Once it’s securely attached, the astronauts will start to inflate it.

“It could be done as fast as four minutes,” says Crusan. “We’re not going to do it that fast. We’ll do it over the course of several hours.”

It’s not that expanding it too fast might make it pop. BEAM’s layered design won’t let that happen. He says you could poke a big hole in an outer layer, “and it will leak obviously but it’s not going to puncture like a balloon.”

While it’s attached to the space station, the plan is for the crew to go inside the habitat from time to time to see how it’s performing. Crusan says there are no plans at the moment for the crew to have a sleep-over.

BEAM will be attached to the Space Station for two years. After that it will be detached and allowed to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

Crusan says NASA now sees a future for inflatables, and it’s the same future as in the 1990s: getting humans to Mars.

“We do want to look the use of expandables in what we call our Mars transit architecture,” he says.

What goes around comes around.

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ISIS Reportedly Carries Out Mass Kidnapping Of Factory Workers In Syria

ISIS has conducted a mass kidnapping of industrial workers near Syria’s capital Damascus, according to Syrian state media and an independent rights group.

There are conflicting reports about how many people were taken from the al-Badiyeh Cement Company, located northwest of Damascus in the town of Dumeir. NPR’s Alison Meuse tells our Newscast Unit that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 170 people were kidnapped – but Syrian state media puts that number at more than 300.

Here’s more from Alison:

“Syria’s minister of industry says his office is working to free hundreds of workers. They were abducted by ISIS from an industrial zone. A local official tells state media he saw the men being transported toward the eastern suburbs of Damascus. His office earlier received more than 100 workers fleeing a separate factory.

“ISIS is known for executing those accused of working with the Assad regime, including civilian employees. In recent weeks, the extremists have faced setbacks as Assad’s forces push the group further from the densely populated area around the capital.”

A ministry of industry official said that the company has not been able to reach any of the kidnapped workers, according to SANA, the Syrian state news wire.

The Associated Press reports that “militants launched a surprise attack against government forces earlier this week” in the same area as the factory.

The wire service adds: “There was no formal responsibility claim for the kidnapping, but the IS-linked Aamaq agency posted a video showing the deserted cement factory, located near a military air base.”

Islam Alloush, a spokesman for Army of Islam rebel group which has a presence in the area of the kidnapping, told the AP that “Islamic militants attacked five targets in the town, including other insurgents’ positions near the airport.” He added that the Army of Islam assisted some workers who escaped.

Also on Thursday, U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura told reporters that they are planning to resume peace talks during the week of April 11, though he says the exact date has not yet been set.

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Melissa McCarthy Is Very Rich And Very Mean As 'The Boss'

Melissa McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, an industry titan trying to rebrand her image after a jail sentence, in The Boss.

Melissa McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, an industry titan trying to rebrand her image after a jail sentence, in The Boss. Universal Pictures hide caption

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You never see Melissa McCarthy’s neck in The Boss. This is the film’s best joke, because instead of being beaten into the ground, it goes completely unremarked upon. The fiery comedian, playing a CEO named Michelle Darnell who puts elements of Donald Trump’s mouth under Suze Orman’s hairdo, has made turtlenecks a permanent part of her wardrobe. This holds true even once she’s taken the plunge from top executive of several unspecified companies to sleeping on a former subordinate’s couch. The turtleneck gag is admirably silly but so slight it never really builds to anything, which is just the movie in a nutshell.

McCarthy is playing the “47th-richest woman in the world,” but she must by this point be Hollywood’s number-one source of foot-in-mouth disease, having time and time again demonstrated to male executives that people will watch female-fronted comedies. Her ability to be coarse and R-rated is already making waves in the industry, influencing the heroines of smaller films like The Bronze to get just as nasty. But McCarthy has made her clunkers, too, like any respectable box-office draw, and The Boss has a distinct clunking sound.

The premise, like that of last year’s Get Hard, is a white-collar spoof. The government seizes Darnell’s assets after the serpent-tongued hyper-capitalist is arrested for insider trading, forcing her to rebuild from scratch with the extraordinarily patient generosity of Claire (Kristen Bell), the assistant she long spurned. Claire is raising a daughter on her own (lovable child actor Ella Anderson), and the three women get to share the spotlight without having to talk about men or shopping. Instead, well, they talk business.

“First rule of business: Pretend to negotiate, and then take what you want,” Darnell says. But her movie neither negotiates nor takes many laughs. The Boss has a couple good bits about cushy white-collar prisons and the cult of personality the rich build around themselves, but keeps getting sidetracked with easy sight gags and McCarthy’s familiar taboo-crushing insults, which after a while become boring, not offensive. Bell is as likable onscreen as ever, but she’s no true foil to McCarthy in the manner of Rose Byrne (Spy) or Sandra Bullock (The Heat).

Darnell’s big idea to rocket her way back to the top is to compete with the Girl Scouts — or, rather, the “Dandelions,” because this film does not share its protagonist’s zest for courting litigation. When she learns about the cookie-selling operation, of which Claire’s daughter is a member, Darnell sees not female empowerment but free labor. She launches a rival organization called “Darnell’s Darlings,” has the girls sell Claire’s brownies, and gives them profits instead of patches.

Conceptually this is smart, though painting the Scouts as ruthless Samoas-hawking sharks is old hat by now. (They even made it into the Oscars this year.) But again, the film fails to build anything grand from this idea. When the girls face off in a turf war, they grab each other’s hair and throw roundhouse kicks, and McCarthy clotheslines a teenager. The humor is meant to come from the scene’s shock value, we gather, but the whole thing really just feels … unpleasant. Like a batch of cookies that came out far too bitter.

Following Tammy, this is the second co-writing effort between McCarthy and her husband/director, Ben Falcone. The Boss keeps to the mainstream comedy rails where Tammy did not; nothing in the storyline, direction or character types is remotely fresh. Absent Paul Feig, the helmer of McCarthy’s deliciously entertaining trilogy Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy (as well as her upcoming Ghostbusters remake), the star’s talents never seem to spark. The film’s flaw as a comedy is that it fails to make Darnell, whose old office was flanked by larger-than-life portraits of herself, a true fish out of water once she’s marooned in middle-class Chicago. Being catapulted by a springy fold-out couch isn’t a joke on her pampered personality — it’s just a joke on the couch.

In a movie clearly designed to spark more Bechdel Test-passing onscreen interactions between women, it seems a sin to admit the film’s funniest performance comes from a dude. Peter Dinklage, man bun in tow, plays Michelle’s corporate rival and ex-boyfriend, who puts his samurai training to use sabotaging her career as his pained face and demeanor betray deep unrequited love. Dinklage steals the show because he’s able to sell his character with something deeper than profanity, violence and stale jokes about the cartoonishly wealthy. In today’s ruthless corporate world, you have to bring your A game — and your turtlenecks.

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A Widower, A House, And A Plot Hammer That Hits A Little Hard

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a widower taking a destructive path through grief in Demolition.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a widower taking a destructive path through grief in Demolition. Fox Searchlight hide caption

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Everyone grieves in their own way, the expression goes, and they shouldn’t be judged for it. Yet an exception should be made of the grieving-by-metaphor that happens in Demolition, which finds a widower literally dismantling his empty, materialistic life, with sledgehammers and power tools, before figuratively picking up the pieces. At no point does this process seem organic, much as Jake Gyllenhaal tries to make a mystery out of this hollow soul and hint around the question of whether he truly loved his wife and the home they built together. Demolition is the rare film that’s doomed by its central conceit: It starts in a hole and mostly keeps digging.

The opening minutes find Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal), a slick Wall Street investor, spending what will be his last minutes with his wife Julia (Heather Lind) before a car accident takes her life and spares his. At the hospital, Julia’s father Phil (Chris Cooper), who also employs Davis at his firm, tearfully relays the news of his daughter’s death, but Davis absorbs the loss without expression. With his emotions tucked away in some vault he cannot access, he instead focuses on the hospital vending machine that’s failed to dispense a packet of peanut M&Ms. He writes down the name of the vending company. They’ll be hearing from him soon.

And so the contrivances of Bryan Sipe’s screenplay converge: Davis starts to take apart the bathroom stalls and light fixtures at the office and spreads the components of a $200 cappuccino maker on his garage floor. He also starts writing multi-page, handwritten letters to the vending company, filled with details about his personal life that he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing with anyone else. At the receiving end of those letters is Karen (Naomi Watts), a single mother who’s having problems keeping her rebellious son Chris (Judah Lewis) in check. Davis’ eventual involvement in their lives has an oddly neutralizing effect on the teenager, who’s awed to meet someone more reckless than he is.

Director Jean-Marc Vallée, hot off a couple of prestige hits in Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, recognizes the dreary nature of Davis’ mirthless destruction, so he and Sipe undercut it with welcome moments of humor and absurdity. Davis’ epistolary confessions too closely recall Jack Nicholson’s letters to Ndugu in About Schmidt, but the film scores available laughs off the disconnect between its hero’s curious behavior and what might be expected from a normal human being. Abandoning basic social norms may be pathological, but it’s liberating, too, and Demolition is determined not to sink too deeply into the bog of Davis’ ennui.

Yet sink it does, especially once revelations about the state of Davis and Julia’s marriage come to light and he emerges from his stupor. Like the most facile sections of American Beauty — with which it shares much in common, including a tightly wound Chris Cooper — Demolition takes aim at the sterile trappings of bourgeois privilege, smashing them into splinters in order to access the real truth underneath. (That last part happens literally here.) The study in contrasts is not subtle: Davis commutes between his home, a modernist prison of steel and glass, and a high rise where he trades in numbers-based abstraction. He then meets a family whose lives, screwed-up as they are, are suffused with working-class earthiness.

Demolition ends in a flurry of shocking disclosures and cataclysmic events that all but nullify Davis’ journey to that point. The entire film acts as a mechanism to arouse its hero and get him back in touch with his feelings, but the third act weakens the impact of his attempts to reexamine his life through methodical destruction. Davis isn’t responsible for his rehabilitation so much as fate is. And fate, in a scenario this ruthlessly contrived, feels like the orderly, steel-and-glass structure Davis was trying to flee.

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A Photographer's Family Left Behind In 'Louder Than Bombs'

Jesse Eisenberg and Gabriel Byrne in Louder Than Bombs.

Jesse Eisenberg and Gabriel Byrne in Louder Than Bombs. Courtesy of The Orchard hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of The Orchard

Near the end of Louder than Bombs, Norwegian writer-director Joachim Trier’s first English-language film, a narrator arrives to inform us that one of the characters will remember that particular moment years later. The intrusion is unexpected, but perhaps less so for people who’ve seen Trier’s 2006 debut, Reprise. That playfully serious movie was about the making of a writer’s consciousness, so its literary flourishes were apt.

In their clever but ultimately disappointing latest film, Trier and regular co-writer Eskil Vogt turn their novelistic style to the saga of a war photographer and her family. Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert) is dead when the story begins, but she appears in flashbacks and dream sequences. Left behind is Gene (Gabriel Byrne), who was once an actor but became a high-school teacher in a New York suburb so the couple’s two sons would have one parent with a normal life.

Gene’s older son, Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) is now a college professor with a wife and a brand new baby (named, of course, Isabelle). His younger brother, Conrad (Devin Druid), is a sullen teenager who initially seems the more troubled of the two. That Dad teaches at the school Conrad attends is not making things easier.

An exhibition of Isabelle’s photographs is planned, and Jonah devotes himself to it, apparently as a way of escaping his wife and daughter. With the show comes a proposed article by one of Isabelle’s former colleagues (David Strathairn). He may reveal things about the late photog that Gene and Jonah would prefer stay private — and that Conrad doesn’t even know. But dad and big brother’s attempts to shield the boy just make him more resentful.

This is a fairly conventional domestic melodrama, twisted interestingly if not always profoundly with tricky storytelling. Handheld camera creates intimacy and off-kilter motion, and reflections in windows and mirrors are both visual and psychological motifs. The family members’ glimpses of each other each are fragmented, detached, and sometimes accidental.

Trier rhymes scenes to show how different characters deceive each other the same way, and sometimes with the same words. Most elaborately, he twice stages a sequence in which Gene follows Conrad on his after-school rounds. The first time, we see the events from the father’s viewpoint, and the son seems unaware that he’s under observation. Then we see that Conrad knew he was being watched, and tried to script his movements to suit Gene’s preconceptions.

Sometimes, parent and child meet in an alternate universe. Conrad escapes into video games, so Gene adopts a game avatar and meets his son online. (The outcome is darkly comic.) For his computer ploy, Conrad has unearthed an old clip of his dad in a movie — it’s a scene from a 1987 comedy, Hello Again, in which Byrne plays against Shelley Long — that he proudly shows to an incredulous Jonah.

The movie’s title is likely from an album by the Smiths, one of several alt-rock acts referenced in Trier and Vogt’s work. (In the Vogt-directed Blind, two characters are linked by a Morrissey album.) But the phrase comes from Elizabeth Smart, who’s among Morrissey’s many female literary inspirations.

That’s ironic, because women are at best ghostly presences in Louder Than Bombs. Isabelle is actually dead, and the other female characters — Gene’s secret lover, Conrad’s unrequited crush, and both Jonah’s wife and his ex-girlfriend — scarcely exist.

They’re muses, not people, which may be why one of the film’s final hints is that Conrad — like Reprise‘s protagonists — will grow up to be an autobiographical writer. Even when making a family drama, Trier’s essential subject is the self-absorption of the creative male.

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Rapid 'Ōhi'a Death: The Disease That's Killing Native Hawaiian Trees

Scientists say five years ago, this was a lush, green native forest. But a deadly fungus is killing thousands of 'ōhi'a trees. This is the Big Island, where researchers believe the disease first took hold.

Scientists say five years ago, this was a lush, green native forest. But a deadly fungus is killing thousands of ‘ōhi’a trees. This is the Big Island, where researchers believe the disease first took hold. Molly Solomon/Molly Solomon hide caption

toggle caption Molly Solomon/Molly Solomon

Deep in the forests of Hawaii, a native tree called ‘ōhi’a reigns king. The tall canopy tree dominates the island’s forests, especially on the Big Island. ‘Ōhi’a makes up approximately 80 percent of Hawaii’s native forests and more than half of ‘ōhi’a grows on Hawaii Island.Often the first plant to grow from a fresh lava flow, ‘Ōhi’a is known for its resilience. That’s what makes a recent discovery all the more tragic: ‘ōhi’a is dying.

The disease, called Rapid ‘Ōhi’a Death, was first spotted on the eastern side of the Big Island. In an area called “Ground Zero,” scientists observe land that was once lush, green rain forest. It’s now barren, littered with dead trees.

“Out of hundreds of trees that we’re looking at, maybe two or three of the ‘ōhi’a trees still have leaves on them,” says J.B. Friday, an extension forester with the University of Hawaii and one of scientists in the group. “It’s heartbreaking for people who knew what this forest was 10 years ago.”

‘Ōhi’a covers about 865,000 acres statewide. Aerial surveys taken in January show the disease has now spread to more than 34,000 acres on the Big Island, more than doubling in the past two years. Some other things the researchers noted is that the annual death rate for ‘ōhi’a trees on the island is 26 percent — so if it’s not contained, it could decimate the forests in less than five years.

Using a small ax, Friday begins chopping at a dying tree, revealing signs that the fungus has taken hold.

Researchers cut samples of infected 'ōhi'a trees to test for the new strain of fungus, Ceratocystis fimbriata.

Researchers cut samples of infected ‘ōhi’a trees to test for the new strain of fungus, Ceratocystis fimbriata. J.B. Friday/University of Hawaii/J.B. Friday/University of Hawaii hide caption

toggle caption J.B. Friday/University of Hawaii/J.B. Friday/University of Hawaii

“The fungus sometimes has a fruity smell that to me smells like bananas. That tree over there that we’re looking at now, that you can see is turning brown, when we went inside and chopped on that, the symptoms are right there,” he says.

In 2010, Friday started getting phone calls from landowners in the area, reporting ‘ōhi’a trees dying on their property.

“We took some samples and didn’t get anything unusual. But by 2013 it became apparent that something was spreading rapidly.”

Friday called up his colleague Flint Hughes, a research ecologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service.

“This forest was really a jewel of native diversity. It was perhaps the best example of a mature, ‘ōhi’a dominated forest,” Hughes says.

Hughes calls ‘ōhi’a critical to maintaining Hawaii’s watershed. Raindrops and condensation filter through the tree’s leaves, keeping the ground well saturated. It also provides habitat and food for endangered native birds.

“This is our everything tree,” he says. “It’s the most wide spread, it’s the foundational species for our forests. If we lose ‘ōhi’a, it will transform our forests.”

In addition to its environmental role, ‘ōhi’a is also important culturally. Its wood was used to create tools and weapons, says University of Hawaii professor, Kalena Silva. And hula dancers often adorn themselves with its blossoms.

A photo taken in 2005 shows the Hawai'i Island rainforest before it succumbed to Rapid 'ōhi'a Death.

A photo taken in 2005 shows the Hawai’i Island rainforest before it succumbed to Rapid ‘ōhi’a Death. J.B. Friday/University of Hawai’i/J.B. Friday/University of Hawai’i hide caption

toggle caption J.B. Friday/University of Hawai’i/J.B. Friday/University of Hawai’i

“I think the loss of ‘ōhi’a lehua would almost be like losing a member of your family. It’s that important. It has that much meaning,” Silva says.

Plant pathologist Lisa Keith is leading the research on Rapid ‘Ōhi’a Death, she works from Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center’s laboratory. For the past year, she’s been studying tree samples and performing what she calls “CSI tree autopsies.”

And what she’s found isn’t all grim. Keith says even in the most devastated areas, some trees are surviving.

“I think it’s still hopeful that we will find ones that it’s not an escapee, that it actually is natural resistance,” she says. “We can then bank seed or propagate and replant. And that’s some of the work for the future.”

A more immediate concern is stopping the spread of the disease. Recent aerial surveys show the fungus has already devastated trees in tourist destinations like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Rapid ‘Ōhi’a Death could spread to other islands, but that depends on Hawaii’s success at containing it quickly.

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A Global Alarm About Diabetes — And Don't Blame It All On Fast Food

As regions of the world climb out of poverty, people eat more of whatever they'd been traditionally eating. Above: a scene from the market in Delhi, India.

As regions of the world climb out of poverty, people eat more of whatever they’d been traditionally eating. Above: a scene from the market in Delhi, India. Gavriel Jecan/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Gavriel Jecan/Getty Images

Dribs and drabs of research from a few countries around the world have raised concern that diabetes is growing as a cause of death and disability. But the first coordinated global look at the disease, published in The Lancet this week, has fully sounded the alarm.

Pooling data from 751 studies involving 4.4 million adults, researchers estimated that the number of adults with diabetes in 200 countries has nearly quadrupled, from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014. And the disease is growing faster in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries. The lowest prevalence of diabetes — about 5 percent of the population — was in northwestern Europe. At the other end of the spectrum, approximately 1 in 4 adults has diabetes in the Pacific islands of Polynesia and Micronesia. American Samoa holds the dubious distinction of the highest rate of diabetes in the world: 30 percent of the adult population.

NPR talked with Dr. Majid Ezzati of the School of Public Health at the Imperial College of London, who designed the study and oversaw the research. The interview has been edited for clarity.

We hear a lot about the exportation of the worst of the Western diet — fast food, soda — to developing nations. Is that what’s causing the increase in diabetes around the world?

I think that’s an old idea, and overstated. After all, there are features of the diet in the developed world that are good. The role of technology and affluence has been to provide whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables all year round. It would be great if we could export that. The increase in diabetes is a food story, but not necessarily fast food.

So as regions of the world climb out of poverty, people eat more of whatever they’d been traditionally eating.

Yes, and obesity goes up. I emphasize that it doesn’t have to be a lot of fast food and commercial food. Eating more of the same foods increases BMI [body mass index]. Calories are calories and carbs are carbs. If they’re eating the white rice that they traditionally ate, but eating more of it, that could be increasing BMI.

What else might be causing the increase?

The short answer is that we don’t completely know. But one idea is that people who were malnourished, either as fetuses or as young children, and are now eating more and gaining weight, are more susceptible to diabetes. The evidence is accumulating that poor childhood conditions can affect how we produce or use insulin.

[Editor’s note: for one study on the possible link between early malnutrition and later diabetes, see this 2013 review article in the Journal of Diabetes Research.]

Other than the Pacific Island nations, which areas of the world are the most worrisome?

We’ve seen increasing rates of obesity, and diabetes, in North Africa, the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, and in parts of the Caribbean and Latin America. And Africa is not a uniform place. We’ve seen BMI going up quickly in West Africa.

What can be done to stem the rise in diabetes?

Health systems have a role in catching people who are at high risk for diabetes, people call it pre-diabetes, and motivating them to change their diet or sometimes using low-cost medications. These are programs like the Diabetes Prevention Program in the United States. Iran, for example, has a highly effective program in finding people at high risk of diabetes. Some of the Pacific Islands are trying to do that. And South Africa is starting to use the same infrastructure it uses to manage HIV to manage early stage diabetes.

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Donald Trump To Make A Traditional Move: Opening A D.C. Office

The site of Trump International Hotel, due to open in the fall of 2016 in Washington D.C. Donald Trump's campaign announced he will open a campaign ofice in the city next week.

The site of Trump International Hotel, due to open in the fall of 2016 in Washington D.C. Donald Trump’s campaign announced he will open a campaign ofice in the city next week. The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images

The Trump campaign will open a Washington, D.C. office next week, part of a larger move the campaign is making toward becoming a more traditional political operation.

The plans were first announced last week, but the office opening will come following Donald Trump’s bruising, 13-point loss to Ted Cruz in Wisconsin on Tuesday.

The campaign announced that with the D.C. office, it is “consolidating the functions related to the nomination process,” which convention manager Paul Manafort will oversee. And the campaign said it expects to announce “several new positions and hires” in the next few weeks.

Trump’s increasing emphasis on the nominating process comes amid criticism that Trump’s star power may no longer enough to get him a majority of delegates before the convention.

“The nomination process has reached a point that requires someone familiar with the complexities involved in the final stages. I am organizing these responsibilities under someone who has done this job successfully in many campaigns,” Trump said in a press release.

Manafort has known Trump for decades and has been a lobbyist and consultant for four decades. He lives, at least part-time, in Trump Tower in Manhattan, the Washington Post reported.

“Securing the Republican nomination is an intricate series of steps that requires a comprehensive strategy,” Manafort said in a statement released by the campaign. “As part of the campaign team, my job is to secure and protect Mr. Trump’s nomination and that is what we will do.” He added that he is “honored” to work for Trump, who he feels is “on the verge of an incredible victory.”

The campaign has reportedly faced a shakeup recently, having laid off the leader of its data team and dismantled field staff in Ohio and Florida, according to Politico. Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski disputed that report, saying that while some staff were let go, that was the “nature of a campaign.” He added that the Trump campaign has the “most cohesive, loyal staff, the most loving staff I have every had the privilege of working with on a campaign.”

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