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Rafer Johnson, 1960 Olympic Decathlon Champion, Dies at 86 

Rafer Johnson, who won the decathlon at the 1960 Rome Olympics and helped subdue Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin in 1968, died Wednesday. He was 86.He died at his home in the Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, according to family friend Michael Roth. No cause of death was announced.Johnson was among the world’s greatest athletes from 1955 through his Olympic triumph in 1960, winning a national decathlon championship in 1956 and a silver medal at the Melbourne Olympics that same year.His Olympic career included carrying the U.S. flag at the 1960 Games and lighting the torch at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to open the 1984 Games. Johnson set world records in the decathlon three different times amid a fierce rivalry with his UCLA teammate C.K. Yang of Taiwan and Vasily Kuznetsov of the former Soviet Union.Johnson won a gold medal at the Pan American Games in 1955 while competing in just his fourth decathlon. At a welcome home meet afterward in Kingsburg, California, he set his first world record, breaking the mark of his childhood hero, two-time Olympic champion Bob Mathias.Devoted to KennedyOn June 5, 1968, Johnson was working on Kennedy’s presidential campaign when the Democratic candidate was shot in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Johnson joined former NFL star Rosey Grier and journalist George Plimpton in apprehending Sirhan Sirhan moments after he shot Kennedy, who died the next day.”I knew he did everything he could to take care of Uncle Bobby at his most vulnerable moment,” Kennedy’s niece, Maria Shriver, said by phone. “His devotion to Uncle Bobby was pure and real. He had protected his friend. Even after Uncle Bobby’s death he stayed close.”Johnson later called the assassination “one of the most devastating moments in my life.”Born Rafer Lewis Johnson on August 18, 1934, in Hillsboro, Texas, he moved to California in 1945 with his family, including his brother Jim, a future NFL Hall of Fame inductee. Although some sources cite Johnson’s birth year as 1935, the family has said that is incorrect.They eventually settled in Kingsburg, near Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley. It was less than 25 miles from Tulare, the hometown of Mathias, who would win the decathlon at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics and prove an early inspiration to Johnson.Johnson was a standout student and played football, basketball, baseball and track and field at Kingsburg Joint Union High. At 6-foot-3 and 200-plus pounds, he looked more like a linebacker than a track and field athlete.FILE – This Sept. 6, 1960, photo shows the top three finishers in the decathlon of the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics at Olympic Stadium in Rome: Rafer Johnson, Yang Chuan and Vasili Kuznetsov.During his junior year of high school, Johnson’s coach took him to Tulare to watch Mathias compete in a decathlon, an experience Johnson later said spurred him to take up the grueling 10-event sport.As a freshman at UCLA, where he received academic and athletic scholarships, Johnson won gold at the 1955 Pan Am Games and set a world record of 7,985 points.After winning the national decathlon championship in 1956, Johnson was the favorite for the Olympics in Melbourne but pulled a stomach muscle and strained a knee while training. He was forced to withdraw from the long jump, for which he had also qualified, but tried to gut out the decathlon.Johnson’s teammate Milt Campbell, a virtual unknown, gave the performance of his life, finishing with 7,937 points to win gold, 350 ahead of Johnson.It was the last time Johnson would ever come in second.Johnson, Yang and Kuznetzov dominated the record books between the 1956 and 1960 Olympics.Kuznetzov, a two-time Olympic bronze medalist whom the Soviets called their “man of steel,” broke Johnson’s world record in May 1958 with 8,016 points.Later that year at a U.S.-Soviet dual meet in Moscow, Johnson beat Kuznetzov by 405 points and reclaimed the world record with 8,302 points. Johnson won over the Soviet audience with his gutsy performance in front of what had been a hostile crowd.A car accident and subsequent back injury kept Johnson out of competition during 1959, but he was healthy again for the Olympics in 1960.Final event dramaYang was his primary competition in Rome. Yang won six of the first nine events, but Johnson led by 66 points going into the 1,500 meters, the decathlon’s final event.Johnson had to finish within 10 seconds of Yang, which was no small feat as Yang was much stronger running at distance than Johnson.Johnson finished just 1.2 seconds and six yards behind Yang to win the gold. Yang earned silver and Kuznetsov took bronze.At UCLA, Johnson played basketball for coach John Wooden, becoming a starter on the 1958-59 team. In 1958, he was elected student body president, the third Black to hold the office in school history.”He stood for what he believed in and he did it in a very classy way with grace and dignity,” Olympic champion swimmer Janet Evans said by phone.Evans last saw Johnson, who attended her 2004 wedding, at a luncheon in his honor in May 2019.”We were all there to fete him and he just didn’t want to be in the spotlight,” she said. “That was one of the things I loved about him. He didn’t want credit.”Johnson retired from competition after the Rome Olympics. He began acting in movies, including appearances in “Wild in the Country” with Elvis Presley, “None But the Brave” with Frank Sinatra and the 1989 James Bond film “License to Kill.” He worked briefly as a TV sportscaster before becoming a vice president at Continental Telephone in 1971.FILE – Rafer Johnson joins thousands at Piedmont Park to support the fight against HIV/AIDS at the 28th annual Atlanta AIDS Walk & 5K Run, Oct. 21, 2018, in Atlanta.In 1984, Johnson lit the Olympic flame for the Los Angeles Games. He took the torch from Gina Hemphill, granddaughter of Olympic great Jesse Owens, who ran it into the Coliseum.”Standing there and looking out, I remember thinking, ‘I wish I had a camera,’ ” Johnson said. “My hair was standing straight up on my arm. Words really seem inadequate.”Throughout his life, Johnson was widely known for his humanitarian efforts.He served on the organizing committee of the first Special Olympics in Chicago in 1968, working with founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Johnson founded California Special Olympics the following year at a time when positive role models for the intellectually and physically disabled were rare.”Rafer really paved the path for many of us to understand the responsibilities that come with being a successful athlete and the number of lives you can impact and change,” Evans said.’An extraordinary man’Maria Shriver recalled meeting Johnson for the first time at age 10 or 11 through her mother, Eunice.”He and I joked that I’ve been in love with him ever since,” she said. “He really was an extraordinary man, such a loving, gracious, elegant, humble man who handled his success in such a beautiful way and stayed so true to himself throughout his life.”Peter Ueberroth, who chose Johnson to light the Olympic torch in 1984, called him “just one great person, a marvelous human being.”Johnson worked for the Peace Corps, March of Dimes, Muscular Dystrophy Association and American Red Cross. In 2016, he received the UCLA Medal, the university’s highest award for extraordinary accomplishments. The school’s track is named for Johnson and his wife, Betsy.His children, Jenny Johnson Jordan and Josh Johnson, were athletes themselves. Jenny was a beach volleyball player who competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and is on the coaching staff of UCLA’s beach volleyball team. Josh competed in javelin at UCLA, where he was an All-American.Besides his wife of 49 years and children, he is survived by son-in-law Kevin Jordan and four grandchildren.

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CDC Warns of ‘Most Difficult Time’ for US Public Health

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned Wednesday of a bleak winter ahead as the country continues to see nationwide surges of COVID-19 cases.”The reality is that December, January and February are going to be rough times,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a livestream presentation hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”Redfield said the current surge in cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is worse than previous ones, noting the geographic scope and steeper trajectory of infection rates and deaths, as the U.S. is recording roughly 2,000 deaths from the virus daily.Redfield also warned of the strain on hospitals across the country, which are running low on beds and overworked staff.The U.S. topped 100,000 hospitalizations for the virus for the first time since the pandemic began Wednesday, according to the COVID Tracking project.Our daily update is published. States reported 1.4 million tests, 196k cases, and 2,733 deaths. There are 100,226 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the US —the first time hospitalizations have exceeded 100k. pic.twitter.com/8QSKujBGao— The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking) December 3, 2020While many Americans face “fatigue” following social-distancing and mask-wearing guidelines, Redfield urged people to adhere to these practices in the coming months.Millions of Americans traveled for the Thanksgiving holiday last week, despite advice from health experts against flying and gathering in large groups indoors.Also on Wednesday, the CDC said Americans should quarantine for 10 days after potential exposure to the virus, shortening the previous guideline of a 14-day quarantine.The United States has recorded more than 273,000 deaths and more than 13.9 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus this year, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

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NASA: Mystery Object Is 54-Year-Old Rocket, Not Asteroid

A mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is a 54-year-old rocket, not an asteroid after all, astronomers confirmed Wednesday.Observations by a telescope in Hawaii clinched its identity, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.The object was classified as an asteroid after its discovery in September. But NASA’s top asteroid expert, Paul Chodas, quickly suspected it was the Centaur upper rocket stage from Surveyor 2, a failed 1966 moon-landing mission. Size estimates had put it in the range of the old Centaur, which was about 10 meters long and 3 meters in diameter.Chodas was proved right after a team led by the University of Arizona’s Vishnu Reddy used an infrared telescope in Hawaii to observe not only the mystery object, but — just on Tuesday — a Centaur from 1971 still orbiting Earth. The data from the images matched.”Today’s news was super gratifying!” Chodas said via email. “It was teamwork that wrapped up this puzzle.”The object formally known as 2020 SO entered a wide, lopsided orbit around Earth last month and, on Tuesday, made its closest approach at just over 50,476 kilometers. It will depart the neighborhood in March, shooting back into its own orbit around the sun. Its next return: 2036.

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Film Documents Lives of Girls, Women on Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota

Poverty, drugs, alcohol, frequent disappearances of young women and the absence of law enforcement are all issues plaguing the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in South Dakota. But women there are trying to make the future better and brighter as they work to create “a girl society” that is aimed at helping girls aged 10 to 18.
Camera: Vladimir Badikov; Video Editor: Matvey Kulakov; Produced by: Joy Wagner 

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Britain Approves Pfizer Coronavirus Vaccine, Raising Hopes of Return to Normality

Britain has approved the use of the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer – and plans to begin inoculations in the coming days. As Henry Ridgwell reports, it represents a significant milestone in the battle against the pandemic – but challenges remain.Camera: Henry Ridgwell   Producer: Bakhtiyar Zamanov

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China Joins Race to Mine Moon for Resources

China’s space program celebrated a major accomplishment this week when its Chang’e 5 lunar probe mission safely landed on the moon. The landing Tuesday brought Beijing a step closer to becoming the third country in the world to retrieve geological samples from the moon, but more important, analysts say, is that China is accruing experience for more ambitious plans.The goal of this mission is to extract 2 kilograms of sample from the moon’s northern Mons Rümker region and bring it back to the Earth. If the mission succeeds, China will join the U.S. and the former Soviet Union as the only countries to have collected lunar samples.Analysts say the complexity of Chang’e 5’s unmanned exploration mission shows the great progress of China’s space capabilities, and, if successful, will likely help Beijing realize future plans for manned moon landings and the construction of bases.Namrata Goswami, an Indian defense expert and now a space policy and geopolitical scholar living in the U.S., told VOA that Chang’e 5 would allow China to advance “their understanding of rendezvous and docking, especially when they are planning on human landing.”While reaching the moon remains a significant accomplishment for any space program, Beijing’s space program is still in its early stages and is still building experience.“They’re catching up to where the United States was in the 1960s,” said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis and space security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. “The United States has already sent not just probes to the moon but humans and returned to the Earth and brought back samples of lunar rocks. So China is catching up in that respect, but they’re still not where the United States is in terms of space technology. But it is nevertheless a competition for science.”Between 1969 and 1972, the U.S. brought back a total of 382 kilograms of lunar soil through seven Apollo manned spacecraft missions, six of which succeeded. The former Soviet Union used unmanned probes to take 301 grams of moon soil samples between 1970 and 1976.An image taken by the Chang’e 5 spacecraft after its landing on the moon is seen in this handout provided by China National Space Administration.Lunar missions’ importanceThe early detection results of lunar resources have given people a lot of hope. For example, the current director of NASA, Jim Bridenstine, said last July that collecting rare-earth metals from the moon would be possible this century.”There could be tons and tons of platinum group metals on the moon, rare-earth metals, which are tremendously valuable on the Earth,” Bridenstine told CNBC in an interview.Harrison said some of the metal resources that exist on the moon could become materials for future human space bases, “either structures on the moon itself for habitation or for other science missions,” as well as “structures in space around the Earth.”Some rare-earth metals are considered strategically important because they are an integral part of the manufacturing of electronic devices, electric vehicle batteries and military equipment. Currently, more than 80% of U.S. rare-earth imports come from China.Analysts say moon mining is not feasible in the near future, but recent observations confirming the presence of water on the moon may help promote further exploration of space.“Probably the most important material to look for on the lunar surface initially is going to be water ice,” Harrison said, “because you can turn that water into rocket fuel to power missions back to the Earth or to other places in space, and also use it to support life on the lunar surface.”With very low gravity levels, launching rockets from the moon will be more energy-efficient than from the Earth.FILE – An image of Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen inside a building at the Wenchang Space Launch Center, in Hainan province, China, Nov. 23, 2020.Another lunar resource of potential development value is helium-3, which can be used for nuclear fusion fuel. Helium-3 is scarce on the Earth. Early lunar exploration estimates put the moon’s shallow helium-3 content at millions of tons.Goswami said, “The fusion is the future because if you want to travel from the Earth to Mars in a very limited time, the helium-3 that is there on the moon is going to form a part of that extracted mineral that is going to be turned to support nuclear fusion.”Although China is still behind the U.S. in the space competition, experts believe that China’s lunar exploration project is making steady progress and could evolve into a space force with strategic military uses.Goswami said that if a country acquires the capability to use space weapons in lunar orbit, it will provide a superior military strategic advantage.“If you are in lunar orbit from a military scenario perspective, you can look down on the geosynchronous orbit satellite and even at times blind or disable them,” she said.Return to moonPresident Donald Trump said last year that he hoped NASA would send U.S. astronauts to the moon again by 2024. It is unclear whether President-elect Joe Biden will continue to support a moon landing.American space analysts suggest that the Biden administration could redirect NASA’s research to Earth observations, to focus on issues such as climate change, and that it isn’t a question of whether a U.S. return to the will be delayed, but how long.“If it’s more than just a few years of delay, that could handicap the program in the long run by causing it to stall, lose support and lead to cascading delays for years to come, in which case China very well could have time to press forward with its crew mission to the moon and put humans on the moon before the United States is able to return,” Harrison said. “But if the Biden administration sticks to the program and only proposes a delay of one or two years, then I think that the program is likely to build up momentum and be more likely to succeed.”China has drawn up an initial plan for landing on the moon and building a lunar base. It is making 2030 a goal for manned moon landings and planning to build a basic lunar research station between 2021 and 2030, as well as an integrated, human-friendly lunar base between 2036 and 2045.Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

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US Shortens COVID-19 Quarantine to 10 Days

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that Americans potentially exposed to COVID-19 could quarantine for 10 days, shortening the previous recommendation of 14 days. The CDC also said that a seven-day quarantine was acceptable with a negative test result, but cautioned that everyone should monitor themselves for potential coronavirus symptoms for 14 days. “Reducing the length of quarantine may make it easier for people to follow critical public health action by reducing the economic hardship associated with a longer period, especially if they cannot work during that time,” CDC official Henry Walke told reporters on a conference call. Last week, a top U.S. health official said people might be more likely to comply with a shorter quarantine period, even if it meant some infections might be missed. Studies show that most people develop symptoms around five days after being exposed to the virus. The CDC said its new guidelines are based on new analysis of data and research. The World Health Organization still recommends a 14-day quarantine period after potential exposure to COVID-19. Esha Grover contributed to this report.
 

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European Space Agency Signs Deal to Remove Debris from Orbit

The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a $102 million contract with a Swiss start-up company to purchase a unique service: the first-ever removal of an item of space debris from orbit.
 
The company, ClearSpace SA, will capture part of a used rocket using what is described as a “tentacle,” and then dragging it down for reentry. The object to be removed from orbit is a so-called Vespa payload adapter that was used in 2013 to hold and then release a satellite. It weighs about 112 kilograms.
 
Experts have long warned that hundreds of thousands of pieces of space debris circling the planet — including an astronaut’s lost mirror — pose a threat to functioning satellites and even the International Space Station (ISS).
 
During a remote news conference regarding the contract late Tuesday, ESA Director General Jan Woerner said there are more than a million pieces of space debris orbiting the Earth. He said there have already been cases in which satellites and spacecraft have been hit by the debris.
 
The ESA says the deal with ClearSpace SA will lead to the “first active debris removal mission” in 2025, in which a custom-made spacecraft, known as the ClearSpace-1, will rendezvous with, capture and take down the Vespa payload adapter for reentry.
 
ClearSpace SA CEO Luc Piguet says the company hopes to expand such operations in the future to include multiple object removal, and even servicing and refueling spacecraft.  
 
“When we look toward the future, what we can see already today is that there’s more than 5,000 nonfunctional objects in orbit, which essentially are, if you want, clients that need some sort of service. And every year, we add 74 new objects to this list,” Piguet says.

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Mass COVID-19 Immunization Plans Raise Huge Challenges

Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, has likened the scientists who have developed coronavirus vaccines to the cavalry arriving just in the nick of time. “The toot of the bugle is louder,” he reassured Britons during a recent news conference.   But like his European counterparts, Johnson’s government is scrambling to come up with a vaccine distribution plan and is having to answer key logistical and epidemiological questions, including who should be in the early waves to receive inoculations and how to ramp up a mass immunization program able to vaccinate millions as soon as possible.   On Tuesday, British regulators approved the use of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, saying a rollout will begin next week. Health minister Matt Hancock said the approval of the vaccine is “fantastic news.”   Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street in London, Britain, Dec. 2, 2020.And at a Wednesday press conference, Johnson admitted that it would be an “immense logistical challenge” just to get the vulnerable inoculated.  “It will inevitably take some months before all the most vulnerable are protected — long, cold months. So it’s all the more vital that as we celebrate this scientific achievement we are not carried away with over-optimism or fall into the naive belief that the struggle is over,” he said.  Most countries say they will focus early inoculations on medical professionals and care workers and vulnerable groups, the elderly and those with chronic underlying health conditions.   Thereafter it gets more complicated.   Vaccine skepticismAnd another crucial question is how to persuade enough people to accept vaccinations so that the virus can be suppressed.  Even before the emergence of the coronavirus, Europeans were among the most skeptical about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, according to a pre-pandemic survey of 140,000 people across more than 140 countries.   The survey conducted for the Wellcome Trust, a medical research charity based in London, found that in France, Austria, Switzerland, Russia and Belgium up to a third of the population distrusts vaccines.   FILE – Anti-vaccination activists protest the decision of the Health Ministry and Education Ministry to not allow children without vaccination to go to school, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Aug. 22, 2019.And in Ukraine only about half of the population agreed that modern vaccines are safe.   European governments fear vaccine skepticism is only increasing because of social media agitation by extreme critics of vaccinations, or anti-vaxxers. Recent surveys have found that Britons are becoming increasingly questioning about the coronavirus vaccine. A majority in France, Germany, Italy and Britain say they are “likely” to get inoculated, but only a minority say they will definitely get vaccinated. And hesitancy is growing, according to a French Prime Minister Jean Castex, wearing a protective face mask, attends the questions to the government session at the National Assembly in Paris, France, Dec. 1, 2020.The chairman of the French Senate, Gérard Larcher, has called for mandatory inoculations, saying, “It’s not just for yourself, it’s a form of solidarity and protection for the whole of society.” But so far Macron has rebuffed the idea of compulsion, fearing it will prompt greater resistance. Fifty-nine percent of the French say they will refuse to be vaccinated, according to an opinion poll conducted for Journal du Dimanche.  Germany’s science minister, Anja Karliczek, said Tuesday vaccinations would be voluntary and that the same safety standards are being applied in the approval process for coronavirus vaccines as for other drugs. Emphasizing how standards have been maintained would likely gain the widest possible public acceptance for coronavirus immunization, she added.   Logistical challenges  Aside from the problem posed by vaccine refusal, European governments say they’re also trying to solve logistical challenges, from securing sufficient vaccines before the northern hemisphere summer ends, to having enough cold storage facilities for the vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna, when they start arriving after European regulators have approved them.  An employee of Cryonomic, a Belgium company producing dry ice machines and containers which will be used for COVID-19 vaccine transportation, pushes a medical dry ice container in Ghent, Dec. 2, 2020.The vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer needs to be stored and shipped at minus 75 degrees Celsius. Germany has already started gearing up to solve the storage challenge, with large freezers already rolling off production lines. Wales’ health minister, Vaughan Gething, warned Tuesday that the Welsh government doesn’t have any storage facilities as yet and will be unable to receive or store any vaccines allocated by the British government.  Other challenges include having sufficient staff available to administer vaccines, setting up data systems able to track the progress of immunizations and notifying people when to receive vaccinations and then when to return for a second booster shot. Germany is planning to set up inoculation centers that will be overseen by the governments of the country’s 16 regional states.   In France, immunizations will likely be left to family doctors and local pharmacists. In Britain, the national health service will be in charge, but it has been overstretched with rolling out tests and tracing the contacts of the infected, earning sharp criticism from lawmakers.  Government officials across Europe say they hope that they have learned lessons from the less than smooth supply lines and production shortages they experienced earlier in the year for ventilators, drugs and personal protective gear. Huge global demand led to bottlenecks, delays and transportation shortfalls. 
 

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Singapore OKs Lab-grown Chicken

It might look like chicken. It might taste like chicken. But it doesn’t come from a chicken, it comes from a lab. For chicken lovers in Singapore, this lab-grown chicken will soon be available in nugget form as the country has given the OK for San Francisco-based startup Eat Just to sell the meat. It is the first regulatory approval for so-called clean meat, according to Reuters. “I would imagine what will happen is the U.S., Western Europe and others will see what Singapore has been able to do, the rigors of the framework that they put together. And I would imagine that they will try to use it as a template to put their own framework together,” said CEO Josh Tetrick in an interview with Reuters. FILE – CEO and founder of Eat Just Josh Tetrick sits on bags of plant protein at the Eat Just facility in Appleton, Minnesota, December 2019. (Eat Just, Inc./Handout via REUTERS)Cultured meat uses fat or muscle cells from an animal which are placed into a culture that nourishes the cells, causing them to grow, according to NBC News. The next step involves putting the cells into a bioreactor that further supports growth.  The industry is still in its early stages, and the products come with a big price tag. For example, in 2013, a cultured hamburger made by a Dutch startup cost $280,000 per patty, according to NBC News. Eat Just’s chicken is not nearly as expensive, with a price comparable to premium chicken, Tetrick told NBC. But for Singapore, which only produces about 10% of its own food, the investment in lab-grown meat could pay off in the long term. According to Reuters, there are more than 20 firms around the world exploring the lab-grown meat market, which Barclays bank says could be worth $140 million by 2029. It is unclear if Eat Just’s meat could be approved for sale in the U.S. For now, Eat Just is aiming small. The company told NBC News that when its chicken does finally go to market in Singapore, it will be at just one restaurant. 
 

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