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Trump heads to golf course, says will attend space launch

The motorcade carrying US President Donald Trump travels through Reston, Virginia on May 23, 2020.
The motorcade carrying US President Donald Trump travels through Reston, Virginia on May 23, 2020. AFP
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Washington (AFP)

Donald Trump on Saturday underlined his push for a return to normal life in the US by making his first visit to a golf course in two months and confirming he would attend a space launch next week.

Trump took a 35-minute drive from the White House to the Trump National club in Sterling, Virginia, in reportedly his first visit to a golf property since March 8.

It was not confirmed whether the president would play golf, but he was a regular weekend player before the coronavirus lockdown.

The White House on Saturday also confirmed the president would attend the May 27 launch in Florida of two astronauts on a SpaceX mission -- the first crewed space flight from US soil in nine years.

"Our destiny, beyond the Earth, is not only a matter of national identity, but a matter of national security," Trump said in a statement.

Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are scheduled to blast off from Kennedy Space Center at 4:33 pm (2033 GMT) on Wednesday for the International Space Station, arriving the next day.

The mission is seen as a crucial step towards ending American dependence on Russian rockets.

Asked about going ahead with the mission in the midst of the pandemic, Behnken told reporters: "Where there's a will, there's a way."

- Astronauts in quarantine -

Behnken and Hurley have been in strict quarantine since May 13, but they said their actual isolation began as far back as mid-March.

Hurley said he and Behnken have been tested twice for COVID-19.

American astronauts have been flying to the ISS, which currently houses two Russians and one American, on Russian rockets since the US space shuttle program was shelved in 2011.

A successful SpaceX mission would mean the United States had achieved its goal of no longer having to buy seats on Russian Soyuz rockets.

However, the Wednesday launch plan could be hit by bad weather, with a 60 percent chance of a postponement, according to official forecasts.

Trump, keen to find a way out of the coronavirus crisis and facing an uphill re-election battle, on Friday ramped up pressure on state and local governments to ease lockdown measures.

He demanded state governors classify churches, synagogues and mosques as "essential services" on the same level as food and drug stores, and immediately allow them to hold services.

The pandemic has hammered the American economy and led to calls for an end to virus restrictions, even as COVID-19 numbers continue rising in parts of the United States -- the worst-hit country in the world, with 1.6 million infections and more than 96,000 deaths.

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