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NASA reports that things went well in Saturday's 5-1/2-hour spacewalk, with two American astronauts removing a pump from the International Space Station Saturday in an effort to repair a faulty piece of cooling equipment.

Astronauts Michael Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio completed more of the fixes in less time than had been anticipated.

This post was last updated at 11:50 a.m. ET.

Three U.S. military aircraft running evacuation flights out of South Sudan were fired upon on Saturday, leaving four service members injured, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command said.

United States Africa Command says all four service members have been treated and are in stable condition.

The three CV-22 Ospreys were fired on while flying out of Bor, which NPR's Gregory Warner reports is not under government control.

As we near the end of 2013, NPR is taking a look at the numbers that tell the story of this year. They're numbers that, if you really understand them, give insight into the world we live in.

On a breezy December morning, a work crew is scouring the surf line on Grand Isle, La., scooping up tiny tar balls and collecting them in a basket.

Foreman LeRoy Irving keeps track of what the 14-person team has collected in a half-day. "If I had to guess, maybe 10 pounds," he says.

Russia's best-known prisoner has been freed, after spending more than 10 years in jail.

After receiving a pardon from President Vladimir Putin on Friday, the former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky is in Germany, where he's expected to meet with his mother.

For now, he's not saying much in public beyond a statement thanking supporters, but his sudden release has raised a storm of speculation in Russia.

Within hours of the announcement that Putin had granted the pardon, Khodorkovsky was on a private jet that whisked him to Berlin.

Sharon O'Flaherty is riding the bus to Limerick, a no-frills city in western Ireland. She's going to see her dying grandmother this Christmas. She hasn't been home in two years.

"I was working for a company for five and a half years," she says. "I got made redundant, and couldn't find a job at an equal level. So the options were immigration, and it was basically take your pick: Europe, Canada or Australia. So I chose Australia."

The 29-year-old now works as a recruitment manager in Perth.

The 113th Congress has finished its first session, and lawmakers enacted fewer than 60 laws. No Congress since 1947 has done so little legislating.

That's bad news for many of Washington's lobbyists. Howard Marlowe, for one, hasn't been feeling the joy of his job.

"One of the driest periods in the 35 years that I've been lobbying," he says.

An old Washington hand, Marlowe has a small, boutique lobbying firm specializing in local infrastructure projects. His client base includes airports, shipping ports and local governments.

Utah Seeks Emergency Stay Of Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Dec 21, 2013

Officials in Utah are asking for an emergency stay of a federal court ruling that found the state's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.

Reporting from Salt Lake City, NPR's Howard Berkes filed this report for our Newscast unit:

"Within minutes of the federal court decision, the Salt Lake County Clerk's office was inundated with gay couples seeking marriage licenses.

Astronauts Ready For Marathon Spacewalks

Dec 20, 2013

NASA astronauts will be heading out to conduct critical repairs on the International Space Station early Saturday morning. The 6 1/2-hour spacewalk, the first in a series, will replace a faulty piece of cooling equipment.

A federal judge has struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage, saying it's unconstitutional.

The 53-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby says a 2004 ban passed by the state's voters violates the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Associated Press says:

"Attorneys for the state argued that Utah's law promotes the state's interest in 'responsible procreation' and the 'optimal mode of child-rearing.'

"The lawsuit was brought by three gay and lesbian couples in Utah.

Many neighborhoods in Detroit are in the dark — not because of a power outage but because fewer than half of the city's 88,000 streetlights actually work.

In some parts of town, city block after city block is filled with streetlights that never come on.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill on Friday that will give some students who are in the U.S. illegally a break on their tuition.

Christie inked New Jersey's version of the DREAM Act, which the Republican governor supported in his last re-election bid.

The state's Legislature passed the bill after a compromise that dropped a provision that would also have allowed students in the country illegally to be eligible for state financial aid if they qualified under income guidelines, according to The Associated Press.

The AP reports:

Uganda's Parliament ignored Western criticism and passed a bill on Friday that punishes acts of homosexuality with prison terms that can include life in prison.

The bill has been a source of controversy for years. Western governments and leaders, including President Obama, have criticized the measure, which President Yoweri Museveni must sign for it to take effect.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, it's actual name, also makes it a crime to "promote" homosexuality, which could mean simply offering HIV counseling.

It's not every day that three long-serving House members announce their retirements within hours of each other. It's rarer still that two of those seats have a distinct possibility of being filled by a black Republican after next year's election.

Editor's Note: As part of Tell Me More's three-week-long Twitter exploration of black innovators in the tech sector, digital lifestyle expert Mario Armstrong analyzed the tweets and the conversations going on under the hashtag #NPRBlacksinTech. The series wraps today. Below, he looks back on what we've learned.

Before we slow things down for the final two weeks of 2013 — you'll still get fresh stories and posts here, but at a slower clip — let's look back at tech in one of the last weeks of the year.

ICYMI

The powers that be in Washington are typically, though certainly not always, wrestling with weighty issues.

Recently, they've also been debating height, and whether they prefer a stout, familiar dowager, or a taller, sleeker model.

Building heights, people: We're talking building heights in your nation's capital, where for more than a century the 1910 Building Height Act has kept the city's profile low.

President Obama has ordered a one-year review of the military's response to sexual assault within the ranks, saying his administration has "an urgent obligation" to respond to the problem.

"If I do not see the kind of progress I expect, then we will consider additional reforms that may be required to eliminate this crime from our military ranks," the president said in a statement on Friday.

As Reuters says:

President Obama, in his final news conference of the year, sought to put the best face on a difficult first year of his second term.

Speaking a few hours before he heads to Hawaii for a two-week vacation, Obama is meeting with reporters at the White House.

He touted the improving economy, saying 2 million jobs had been added in 2013, with the unemployment rate now at its lowest level in five years.

"2014 can be a breakthrough year," he said.

By a vote of 59-34 the Senate on Friday moved the nomination of Janet Yellen to be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve past a key procedural hurdle.

The vote invoked "cloture" — effectively preventing Republicans from filibustering President Obama's nominee.

Next up for Yellen's nomination: A confirmation vote, set for Jan. 6. With the Democratic caucus controlling 55 of the Senate's 100 seats, she's expected to get a majority and then become the first woman to head the central bank.

Remember when Angelina Jolie decided to have a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer? The Hollywood star revealed her experience in The New York Times in May.

Her story got a lot of people talking about preventive mastectomies. But it didn't do much to increase people's understanding of breast cancer risk, a study found.

Scott Brown still knows how to make an entrance.

The former Massachusetts senator — and a soon-to-be official resident of Rye, N.H. — arrived at the New Hampshire GOP's holiday party in his trademark pickup truck Thursday evening, and was greeted by more than 100 chanting protesters.

Only hours before the deadline to sign up for health insurance that will begin Jan. 1, the Obama administration has offered people whose plans have been canceled a new option. They can sign up for catastrophic coverage instead.

These little-noticed plans cover only three primary care visits, specified preventive services and medical costs that exceed a catastrophic amounts. In 2014, that's $6,300 for an individual.

"Although individual employees have engaged in misconduct or inappropriate behavior, we did not find evidence that misconduct is widespread," concludes a report from the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general. The IG's investigation was launched after the 2012 scandal over some agents' behavior while they were on a mission in Colombia.

There are differing versions of what happened to the Greek Orthodox nuns of Maaloula, who left their convent north of Damascus earlier this month. Some say the nuns are being held hostage by Islamic radicals. Others say they were under missile assault by the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad and were rescued by rebel fighters.

Maybe it all started with ugly Christmas sweaters. Or with cheesy inflatable Santas. Or hideously inappropriate tree ornaments. But Christmastime – at least its visible trappings and accoutrements – seems to be getting tackier.

The history of the Chesapeake Bay oyster hasn't always been a pure one. So you could forgive a chef for being skeptical about the big bivalve comeback being staged in D.C. and the surrounding area this winter as oyster season gets underway.

But many mid-Atlantic chefs are actually cheering. That's because a major public-private effort to re-establish the oyster as a quality local food product — as well as a weapon against water pollution — seems to be working.

Confirming one of the week's less-secret secrets, the White House announced Friday morning that President Obama intends to nominate Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to be the next ambassador to the People's Republic of China.

The 72-year-old Baucus has been in the Senate since 1978. He is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Politicians in the Dominican Republic have long courted Dominicans in the U.S. for votes. That relationship has strengthened in the past couple of years; in 2011, the Dominican government established seven representatives for its communities abroad.

And that influence means activism in the U.S. matters back on the island.

Among the memorials to Nelson Mandela put up across India is a billboard in Tamil Nadu that features a photo of actor Morgan Freeman, not the iconic anti-apartheid hero from South Africa who died earlier this month.

The businessman who paid for the sign says it will be replaced with one that has the right image.

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