Thursday: Tax Day; Obama to Outline Space Plan; Benjamin Hooks Dies at 85

BY jbreslow  April 15, 2010 at 8:49 AM EDT

tax day

Felipe Castro advertises tax preparation services in Miami. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.)

It’s April 15, which means, of course, it’s tax day. The Big Money marks the occasion with a look at the five worst parts of the tax code, while the Wall Street Journal offers tips on what to do in case of an audit. The Tax Policy Center explores income tax myths, and NPR reports that some wealthy Americans are hoping to see their taxes go up.

Obama to Outline Scaled-Down Space Plan

Presumably having filed his taxes early, President Barack Obama travels to the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday to outline his vision for the future of NASA, a plan that could mean a scaled down mission for the agency and a bigger role for the commercial space industry.

The president’s plan — first outlined in his 2011 budget proposal — calls for cancelling the Constellation Program, whose mission is to bring humans back to the moon and also possibly to Mars, while boosting investment in commercial companies to someday shuttle American astronauts into space.

At the same time, the president proposes salvaging one aspect of the Constellation Program — the Orion crew capsule. Originally, Orion was designed to carry astronauts to the International Space Station and then to the moon. Under the president’s plan, Orion would be docked at the space station as a lifeboat.

The Obama administration argues that NASA’s current projects are too expensive and will take too long to show results. Not surprisingly, some veterans of the space agency have blasted the plan. Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, James Lovell of Apollo 13 and Eugene Cernan of Apollo 17, called the president’s space agenda “devastating.” In an open letter the former astronauts wrote:

“For the United States, the leading space-faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second- or even third-rate stature.”

President Obama’s plan has also met resistance from politicians in Florida, who worry about its impact on the state’s jobs picture. The administration has said it would spend $40 million to retrain workers who lose their jobs when the space shuttle is grounded next year.

At stake is more than just national pride, according to the Wall Street Journal:

“Losing the lead in space has national-security and industrial consequences. Such industries as shipping, airlines and oil exploration depend on orbiting satellites to gather and send essential data. TV signals, cell phones, ATMs, some credit card machines and many Internet connections rely on space technology. Recent estimates peg global civilian and military spending on space and space-related technologies at more than $260 billion annually.”

Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal Constitution counters:

“I’m as much in love with space travel as anyone could be who never actually worked for NASA….I also know that the country can’t afford to pay for everything. Some big expensive programs have to be cut, and cutting the program aimed at putting Americans back on the moon seems reasonable.”

Jobless Claims, Foreclosures Rise

Markets appear headed for a lower opening Thursday morning on a pair of economic reports showing an unexpected rise in weekly jobless claims and a jump in home foreclosures. The Labor Department reported initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 24,000 to 484,000 last week, while data from RealtyTrac showed home foreclosures rose 16 percent in the first quarter of 2010.

Volcano Grounds European Flights

Giant ash clouds spewing from a volcano in Iceland have halted flights across much of Europe. The big fear, according to the BBC, is that “tiny particles of rock, glass and sand contained in the ash cloud would be sufficient to jam aircraft engines.”

Here is footage of the volcano from ITN News:

Civil Rights Leader Benjamin Hooks Dies at Age 85

Benjamin L. Hooks, a longtime champion for civil rights, died early Thursday morning after an illness. He was 85. Hooks was perhaps best known for his efforts to increase the stature of the NAACP. As the Associated Press notes: “Hooks became executive director of the NAACP in 1977, taking over a group that was $1 million in debt and shrunk to 200,000 members from nearly a half-million in the 1950s and 1960s….By the time he ended his position as executive director in 1992, the group rebounded, with membership growing by several hundred thousand.”

Here is video of Hooks receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007: