TIME A Year In Space

Here’s a Look at Saturn’s Most Tortured Moon

Saturn Moon Tethys Cassini
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute Saturn's moon Tethys captured by Cassini.

The ice world Tethys has had a very hard life, as a new image from the Cassini spacecraft shows.

Tethys shouldn’t be alive—but it’s a lovely thing for the solar system that it is, as a recently released picture from the Cassini spacecraft makes evocatively clear. Merely one of 62 confirmed or provisional moons orbiting Saturn, Tethys is easily the one with the most compelling life story.

For one thing, it is a good sister to the other moons in the Saturnian brood. At 660 mi. (1,062 km) across, it’s the fifth largest of all of Saturn’s satellites and orbits at an altitude of 182,689 miles (294,009 km). But it does not fly alone. Its tiny siblings Telesto and Calypso—19 mi. and 16 mi. across (31 km and 26 km) respectively—fly with it, with Telesto in front Calypso in the rear, and Tethys herding them along gravitationally like a mama duck.

Orbiting lower than Tethys, at 147,572 miles (237,494 km) is the fanciful Enceladus. Squeezed by the gravity of both Saturn below and Tethys and other moons above, Enceladus emits sparkling, ice plume volcanos, which leave bright tendrils behind it and continually fall back down to dust the moon’s face. The result is a world that has been eternally battered by incoming meteorites but never shows the scars, since no sooner does one appear than it is covered up.

Tethys enjoys no such cosmetic advantages. Nearly every one of the uncounted hits it has taken in its 4-plus billion years of life is stamped in its face, giving the rocky, icy world an almost sponge-like appearance. On the moon’s eastern limb is the biggest scar of all, the crater Odysseus, which covers 18% of Tethys’s surface. On the far-larger Earth, that would be the equivalent of a crater the size of Africa.

A crack that runs nearly three-quarters of the way around the moon suggests that it almost didn’t survive the collision. Had the projectile that caused the crater been just a little bigger or moved just a little faster, it would have murdered Tethys outright.

There’s no telling how many other moons in Saturn’s litter did suffer that fate. It is a matter of cosmic history that Tethys didn’t. And it’s a matter of cosmic fact that we have reason to be grateful.

TIME A Year In Space

Watch 3 Astronauts Return Home from the Space Station

The Soyuz spacecraft will get you home, but that doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy the ride.

The journey takes over three hours from the time you separate from the International Space Station until the time you thump down in Kazakhstan—and none of it feels like first class travel. First comes the separation from the station and a four-min., 21-sec. engine burn that will steadily lower your altitude and send you slamming into the atmosphere 76 mi. (121 km) above ground.

Then, your spacecraft will be surrounded by a fireball as you plunge toward the ground, a storm that will abate only when you reach heavier, thicker air and your parachutes open, decelerating you suddenly and violently. But there’s no ocean splashdown here. You’ll hit the Kazakh soil hard, and while braking rockets will fire to cushion the impact, you won’t much notice their effect. Station astronaut Scott Kelly compares the experience to “going over Niagara Falls in a barrel—that’s on fire.”

That adventure is what space station crew-members Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti experienced on June 11. Watch above as the trio’s 199 days in space came to an end with a wild ride home.

Read next: How Vaccines in Space Can Help on Earth

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TIME A Year In Space

How Vaccines in Space Can Help on Earth

Looking good: A healthy and well-vaccinated Scott Kelly on March 23, 2015, six days before launch
Bill Ingalls—NASA Looking good: A healthy and well-vaccinated Scott Kelly on March 23, 2015, six days before launch

A unique experiment is happening aboard the International Space Station

You’d think it would be hard to get sick in space. There is no part of your body the medics wouldn’t have turned inside out looking for problems; you’d be placed in medical quarantine for days before launch; and once you did take off, well, goodbye Earth, with all its colds and flus and walking pneumonias. The bugs are down there and you’re up here.

But that’s not the way things work. Bacteria and viruses adore the environment of a spacecraft: it’s warm, it’s sealed, it’s climate-controlled, and best of all it’s full of people who have nowhere to go and no way to avoid sharing any stray germs they might have brought with them.

That’s especially true aboard the International Space Station (ISS), where crews rotate in and out and can stay for many months at a time, and where residents’ immune systems—flummoxed by long-term exposure to zero-g—are unable to function as they should. Now, NASA is taking an important step toward solving these problems, with an imaginative study of year-in-space marathoner Scott Kelly and his twin brother Mark, a retired astronaut. The cutting-edge, space-age tool that will be central to the work? The ordinary flu vaccine.

The Kelly brothers’ immune systems had already been studied in the run-up to Scott’s launch last March, and both men were certified fit. But they should be slowly diverging, and it is Scott who will be having problems. In space, some of the immune system’s billions of cells begin to change in shape and function, especially the critical T-cells — and none of it is for the better.

“There is suppression of T-cell activation pathways,” says Dr. Emmanuel Mignot, an immune system specialist and one of the year-in-space mission’s medical investigators. “They are the generals that coordinate the entire immune response.”

Making things worse, while the ISS is hardly germ-free, it’s a lot more antiseptic than Earth is, and that means the body can get forgetful, unlearning some of the immunities it’s acquired over the years. “The immune system needs to be challenged,” says Mignot. If it isn’t, it grows slack.

The experiment that will help study all of this began a few months before Scott even left Earth, when both brothers received a common trivalent flu vaccine—one that is formulated to protect against three strains of the virus. Blood was drawn from both men seven days later, which is typically the point at which the immune response peaks and the greatest number of cells that have been mustered to respond to the vaccine are present.

This coming November, as flu season is getting underway on Earth, both brothers will be vaccinated again—Scott in space and Mark on the ground—and more blood will be drawn. Scott’s sample will be frozen until it can be returned to Earth aboard one of the unmanned, round-trip cargo runs flown by the SpaceX Dragon. There will be a third and final round of vaccines and blood draws a year from November.

In all of the samples, Mignot will be scrutinizing the brothers’ twin immune responses in ways that haven’t been possible before. “We’ll be using a new technique that recognizes just pieces of the virus,” he says. “It’s quite sophisticated; we’ll have ideas both of the strength and qualitative nature of the immune response.”

Mignot and the other NASA researchers will be looking not just at how Scott’s immune system is changed by his time in space, but how well it recovers once he’s back on Earth. The results will have implications that go beyond the ISS.

Bad as an illness would be aboard the station, the astronauts are always only hours away from climbing aboard their attached Soyuz spacecraft and coming home. During a long-term mission to Mars—when an emergency return would take at least eight months—even a comparatively minor illness could present a far more serious problem. What’s more, as with most ISS biomedical studies, any basic knowledge about how the body works can have applications not just for astronauts, but for the seven billion other humans who have no plans to leave the Earth.

The Kelly brothers are hardly the only people who will be getting their flu shots this year and next. But over time, if things go well, they could prove to be the most important.

TIME movies

What Science Says About Jurassic World’s New Dinosaur

The film may be fun, the premise is cool, but the science says no dice

It’s easy to go Hollywood, but it can be hard to come back. That’s not something paleontologist Jack Horner has to worry about—yet. A little more scientific loose-talk, however, and he could be flirting with trouble.

Horner is the celebrated curator of paleontology at Montana’s Museum of the Rockies, the co-author of the provocatively wonderful How to Build a Dinosaur, and, most famously perhaps, technical consultant on all four Jurassic Park films, including the upcoming Jurassic World, opening on June 12. Good science fiction, like good science itself, changes as new discoveries roll in, and the Jurassic franchise is no exception.

The original film, based on a Michael Crichton novel, rested on the plausible-enough idea that dinosaur DNA could be recovered by collecting ancient mosquitoes that had been trapped in amber shortly after they supped on dino blood. Extract the blood, apply a little contemporary cloning and add only a comparatively small dash of suspension of disbelief and you’ve got your thunder lizards.

But DNA, it turns out, is not nearly such hardy stuff. Store it properly and it can, at best, survive a few million years. But the 65 million years since the death of the dinosaurs? Not a chance.

So the new movie adds a twist. It doesn’t junk its old premise entirely, but instead riffs off of it, imagining an entirely new species of dinosaur—the Indominus rex—engineered from the recovered genes of four actual dinosaurs: the Gigantosaurus, Rugops, Majungasaurus and Carnotaurus.

Since human-manipulated transgenic animals do exist, Horner has a certain measure of cover to promote the new movie as a scientific improvement on the old ones. “The cool thing about making a hybrid,” he said in a recent interview with BBC, “is that we can take a whole bunch of genes from other animals and mix them together to make a new animal, which is actually more plausible than bringing them back.”

That’s true enough as far as it goes—but it doesn’t go as far as he pushes it. Horner himself has explored the frontiers of dino DNA both in the lab and in his public appearances, making a wildly popular splash with a 2011 TED Talk, in which he discussed the possibility of creating a dinosaur by, effectively, reverse-engineering a chicken. Modern birds are the closest living kin to dinosaurs and, far better than the dead mosquito in a drop of amber, serve as repositories of their DNA. If you could shut off the genes that turned a claw to a wing, or reanimate the ones that coded for a dinosaur’s tail instead of a bird’s tail, you might work your way back to animals that haven’t been seen for tens of millions of years.

In 2014, Horner and his colleagues published a paper looking specifically at the evolution of the bird tail. Before that, Harvard geneticist Matthew Harris went further, engineering a chicken with crocodile-like teeth. (It’s chickens that wind up in these studies so often for the same reason they wind up on our plates so often: They’re cheap, domesticated and plentiful.)

Transgenic science is much further along than any dreams of rolling the chicken’s evolutionary clock backwards, though here too the steps have been relatively modest. Typically, animals created transgenically are a single recognizable species into which genes have been spliced to produce a single trait—goats that produce spider silk in their milk, which can then be used for manufacturing; cows that produce proteins for nerve-protecting myelin, which may have applications in treating neurodegenerative diseases; a pig that produces less-polluting manure thanks to a bit of mouse DNA.

None of that is even remotely close to the Mixmaster scenario Horner envisions—and for a reason. Geneticists have long been humbled by their work on genomes as simple as the yeast’s and as complex of the human’s, learning that things are never as easy as finding a discrete gene for a discrete trait.

Rather, even a relatively modest trait in a single species may be governed by a whole suite of genes, interacting with a whole suite of epigenes—essentially the genes’ on-off switches. And all of those must, in turn, work in a perfect symphonic cooperation with all of the other genes and traits that make up the organism.

It can take evolution billions of years to get that right and it balks at allowing any two species to commingle their genes and create who-knows-what kind of biological chaos. It’s the reason a dog can’t mate with a cat or a human with a chimp. It’s the reason too that on those occasion that species do sidestep the system—like the horse and the donkey producing a mule—the resulting offspring are often sterile. Best to shut down the whole experiment before things get out of hand. And that’s just with two species messing around with their genes. Things would get exponentially more complicated if you tried to combine three or four in the lab.

Jurassic World, of course, is all about fun. The fi in sci-fi does not stand for “fidelity.” But Horner, who remains an icon among paleontologists, should nonetheless stay a bit truer to the science. Suggesting that the newest entry in the Jurassic franchise is the most realistic depiction yet of dinosaur reanimation is like saying last year’s Interstellar is the most realistic depiction yet of what would happen if you jumped into a black hole. In both cases, this is not something you should try at home.

Read next: Watch All the Trailers for This Summer’s Biggest Movies

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TIME anthropology

Is It Ethical to Leave Uncontacted Tribes Alone?

Easy to get lost—hard to be found: the dense canopy of the Amazon rainforest
Brazil Photos; LightRocket via Getty Images Easy to get lost—hard to be found: the dense canopy of the Amazon rainforest

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Contact means dangers for both sides‚ but lack of contact does too

It’s not entirely fair to say that a single hug killed 4,500 people, but it’s not entirely wrong either. The hug happened in August of 1910, when an effort by a Brazilian military engineer to lure members of the isolated Nambikwara tribe out of the Amazon bush at last produced results. The engineer had spent the previous 14 months stocking a so-called attraction front—a small outpost that included a fruit and vegetable garden and tools that the Nambikwara were welcome to take.

Finally, the chief of the tribe and six companions showed themselves. The man from the outside world embraced the man from the forest world, and somewhere in that moment, pathogens were surely passed. Three generations later, the tribe that had initially numbered about 5,000 was down to just 550 people—many of them killed by influenza, whooping cough and even the simple cold, diseases they had never encountered and against which they had no immunity.

The death of the Nambikwara has long been a cautionary tale about how best to address the matter of indigenous and isolated tribes, but it’s a tale from which anthropologists, national governments and the medical community have not always taken the same lessons. That’s a problem.

Even as forestland is shaved away by loggers and developers, and as cities and settlements encroach on the wild, an estimated 8,000 indigenous people in multiple small bands make their homes in the Peruvian Amazon. Similarly isolated groups live in the Brazilian Amazon, the mountains of New Guinea and on the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean.

All of those tribes have long raised the same questions: Is it ethical to mess with civilizations that have gotten on fine without help for thousands of years? Is it ethical not to intervene when 21st century medicine could treat diseases and injuries that are an unavoidable part of living in the wild? Is there more cultural condescension in offering modernity to primitive peoples or in withholding it because, well, they’re so primitive?

Part of what’s given the matter greater urgency, as laid out in a striking pair of stories in the journal Science by contributing correspondents Andrew Lawler and Heather Pringle, is the recent, curious behavior of the tribes-people themselves. Increasingly, they’ve been emerging from the Amazon and either raiding settled villages or—for reasons that aren’t clear—simply vandalizing them. Last October, when villagers living along the banks of Peru’s Curanja River left their homes to vote in regional elections, they returned to find food, pots, pans, utensils, hammocks and more stolen. The villagers were tolerant—even understanding.

“Some of them are only a couple generations removed from the forest themselves,” says Lawler, who journeyed extensively down the Curanja for his research. “They consider the tribes their first cousins and call their behavior ‘harvesting,’ not stealing.”

But other behavior is harder for them to abide. In 2013, armed members of the Mashco Piro tribe raided another village, this time mostly to smash windows, kill dogs and chickens and destroy clothes. Other tribespeople have been reported attempting to lure village people into the forest with them. “Perhaps they’re trying to increase their numbers,” says Lawler. “They need a certain number of people to be viable.”

Fear is driving some of them out as well—though in these cases they present themselves openly and seek help. Drug runners throughout Peru and Brazil think nothing of killing tribal people who get in their way, and the smaller the forest footprint gets, the more the two groups bump into each other. But leaving the forest can be as deadly as staying there.

Indigenous contact with Europeans began in 1492 and has, over the centuries, taken a massive toll, with up to 100 million deaths resulting from imported diseases. That lesson had to be learned again in the 1980s and 1990s, when official government policy was to lure the tribes out, to, as Lawler puts it, “get them to settle down and become good, contemporary people.” But infections and deaths again resulted.

The broadly accepted solution—a sensible one—is to make some modern goods available at attraction fronts, but only very limited ones. Pots, pans and tools can be both harmless and helpful. Flashlights, on the other hand, which can be awfully convenient in the wild, also contain toxins in their batteries and are broadly disruptive for cultures that have long since developed ways to deal with day-night cycles.

Goods that go from body to body should be entirely off-limits. Lawler spoke to Peruvian villager Marcel Pinedo Cecilio, 69, who was born in the forest but later emerged. Cecilio recalls his first contact with an outsider—thought to have been an ethnographer and photographer—who left the villagers with a gift of a fishbone necklace. Shortly thereafter, much of the tribe came down with a sore throat and fever and 200 of them died. In the 1980s, up to 400 Peruvian villagers died from passing contact with crews of Shell oil company workers.

Routine care of illnesses and treatment of injuries could be a boon, though for safety’s sake they would best be delivered by select groups of well-vaccinated field workers staffing small care stations. The workers could also offer vaccines against the most common illnesses that strike the tribes—typically respiratory diseases—to protect them against chance encounters in the future. Tribes are also unusually susceptible to eye infections.

But the sensible solutions are not easy to implement. This year, funding for FUNAI, the Brazilian federal agency that is responsible for indigenous peoples, was only 2.77 reais ($1.15 million), which was just 15% of what the agency requested, according to Pringle. Last year, FUNAI reported that it need 30 frontier outposts to do its work, but it was able to support just 15.

Official obtuseness is another part of the problem. In 2007, then-Peruvian President Alan García denied that uncontacted tribes-people exist at all, claiming that they are a fabrication of environmentalists bent on halting oil and gas exploration, reports Lawler. The head of the state-owned oil company echoed García, declaring it “absurd to say there are uncontacted people.” His argument: no one has seen them—which is pretty much what “uncontacted” is supposed to mean.

Nobody pretends there are easy ethical, medical or cultural answers to the problems, but nobody pretends things can go on the way they have either. When a population has crashed from many millions to several thousand, it’s clear which way the trend lines are pointing. The disappearance of uncontacted tribes may mean that policymakers can at last stop worrying about them—but it will also mean that the rest of humanity will have to begin mourning them.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME health

How the Gates Foundation Aims to Cut Childhood Mortality in Half

Filling bellies: Melinda Gates and the Gates Foundation are going after one of the leading killers of babies
J. Countess; Getty Images Filling bellies: Melinda Gates and the Gates Foundation are going after one of the leading killers of babies

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

A new grant will go straight after a leading killer of kids under five: undernutrition

Correction appended, June 3

There are a lot of ways to think about child mortality—most of them not very pretty. You can think of the 6.3 million children every year who never live to see their fifth birthday. You can think of how that breaks down to the loss of 17,260 babies every day, day after day, for 365 days.

But you can also think that those terrible numbers are exactly half of what they were in 1990, meaning that last year, 6.3 million children who would not have seen age five did. Most of that extraordinary progress has been made by controlling, treating or vaccinating against preventable diseases like cholera, measles, pneumonia and malaria. Now, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation proposes to slash the child mortality rate in half once more, announcing a plan to invest $776 million over the next six years to advance one of the most primal and important health interventions of all: giving kids enough to eat.

Death by starvation or undernutrition can be hard to track, because while it’s not always the proximate killer, it’s often the accomplice. Expose a well-nourished child and an undernourished child to, say, the measles virus and it’s no mystery which one of them has a better prognosis.

“Estimates are that in about 50% of all of the remaining under-five deaths, nutrition played at least a significant role,” said Melinda Gates in a conversation with TIME.

The Foundation aims to change that in a lot of ways—little of which will involve the old bags-of-rice-offloaded-at-the-airport model. Emergency supplies can fill gaps in times of natural disasters, but they are, as Gates calls them, downstream strategies—sustainable only as long as the supplies keep flowing from generous benefactors. Upstream strategies involve putting systems in place so that generous benefactors are eventually not needed.

Part of the new strategy will involve providing seeds and the know-how for planting and harvesting such bulked-up crops as golden rice, the super banana and the fortified sweet potato. These and other GMO foods have caused all manner of controversy in the developed world, but people like the Gates focus on the increased vitamin A in such crops, which builds skin, teeth, bones and soft tissue and has anti-oxidant properties.

Instruction will also be given in no-till agriculture and drip-irrigation, which conserve both water and soil. Research stations will be opened in targeted areas to increase public awareness of both the existence of the crops and the best ways to raise them. And a special effort will be made to put this knowledge at the disposal of the family member who is likeliest to make the best use of it: the mother.

“Fifty percent of all farmers in Africa are women,” says Gates. “And research shows that every extra dollar a woman gets is 90% likelier to be put back into the family than a dollar a man gets. We want to put women at the center of this.” Expanding wireless access is another key part of the program, allowing farmers—men or women—to have ready access to commodity prices, so they can sell their crops at the top of the market.

Women are central in other ways too. Good nutrition starts before a baby is born, and most health experts believe it is the first 1,000 days—from conception through age two—that make the greatest difference in long-term physical and intellectual development. That means educating young women and adolescent girls about proper diet before they get pregnant, and encouraging breastfeeding after birth.

The Foundation will also be pressing to get government and religious leaders to climb on board—or at least get out of the way. “We need governments to impose the regulations needed to get the most out of nutrition programs,” says Gates. “We can do that by showing them the evidence. Brazil, for example, has gotten its malnutrition rate down by 80%. So we show that data and say, ‘Now it’s up to you to decide.'”

And while Taliban extremists have tried to block polio vaccination efforts in Pakistan, that kind of deadly obstructionism is hardly true of all parts of the Muslim world. “Nigeria has a high Muslim population and they have said ‘We will help you,'” Gates says,—and not just in matters directly related to food. “The Koran allows for family planning and we can get that message out.”

For now, the Foundation’s funds will be concentrated in five critical spots: India, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Burkina Faso. That money will be supplemented by even more. The Gateses’ grant frees up $180 million in partial matching funds from the U.K.’s Department for International Development. The European Union, meanwhile, has pledged a whopping €3.5 billion by 2020 to battle child malnutrition.

That’s a big number—but it comes from a bloc of 28 nations. The Gates grant comes from a couple with a foundation and a mission. If that mission includes saving 17,260 babies every 24 hours, well, that’s a pretty fair day’s work.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the amount of money the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is investing. It is $776 million.

Read next: Here’s What’s on Bill Gates’ Summer Reading List

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME space

A Visual History of Spacewalks

Here's a look at some of the high points, 50 years after America's first spacewalk

Fifty years ago, on June 3, 1965, Ed White performed America’s first spacewalk—giving the country a much-needed space boost and a well-loved space hero. The half-century of extravehicular activity (EVA) that has followed is the legacy of White and the other early pioneers. Here is a look at some of the high points.

  • March 18, 1965: Alexei Leonov Completes First Spacewalk From Voskhod 2

    The first human being to walk in space, the Soviet Union’s Alexei Leonov, floated from his Voskhod-2 spacecraft on the morning of March 18, 1965 and spent just 12 minutes afloat. They were, as it turned out, 12 miserable minutes. His body temperature soared from the exertion, pushing him dangerously close to heatstroke. His spacesuit expanded so much in the vacuum it became difficult to move or even re-enter the hatch. The one sound Leonov recalls most from the experience was his own labored breathing. But a spacewalk—or extravehicular activity (EVA)—had been achieved.

  • June 3, 1965: Edward White Makes American Spacewalk

    Americans were runners-up in the race to walk in space, with Gemini IV’s Ed White performing his EVA more than 10 weeks after Leonov’s. But unlike Leonov, White loved every second of his 23-minute adventure. “I feel like a million dollars,” he exclaimed as he maneuvered around with the aid of a hand-held zip gun. The gun ran out of fuel before the walk ended and one of White’s extra gloves can be seen in the footage floating out of the open cockpit door. Still, when told to come inside he responded, “It’s the saddest moment of my life.”

  • June 5, 1966: Eugene Cernan’s Un-Excellent Adventure

    astronaut eugene cernan gemini 9 eva spacewalk
    NASA Astronaut Eugene A. Cernan, pilot of Gemini 9A space flight, is pictured outside the spacecraft during his extravehicular activity on June 5, 1966.

    After Ed White’s grand time on Gemini 4, NASA expected Gene Cernan’s more-ambitious spacewalk on Gemini 9 to be a pleasure. It wasn’t. A maneuvering backpack was stashed in a storage area in the rear, outdoor portion of the spacecraft, but without any handholds on the ship to help him maneuver, Cernan mostly spun and snapped at the end of his tether. His heart rate soared to 155 beats per minute, his visor fogged up so badly he couldn’t see, and he had an even harder time than Alexei Leonov had re-entering his ship—describing it as akin to trying to put a champagne cork back in a bottle. EVAs, the space agency was learning, were far harder than they seemed.

  • November 13, 1966: Buzz Aldrin Soars on Gemini 12

    The astronaut who was destined to become the second man on the moon made a smaller but no less relevant kind of history aboard Gemini 4, when he at last proved that spacewalking could be done efficiently and productively. Aldrin exited his spacecraft three times—twice for stand-up EVAs in which he remained partly inside—and once for more than two hours during a full, tethered walk. He took photographs, studied and mapped stars and picked up a micrometeorite sample collector. His combined 5 hours and 20 minutes of EVA blew the doors off of existing records.

  • Jan. 16 1969: Soviet Union Achieves First EVA Crew Transfer

    Vladimir shatalov in the cabin of the soyuz 4 orbiter, 1969.
    Sovfoto/UIG/Getty Images (2) Left: Vladimir Shatalov in the cabin of the Soyuz 4 orbiter; Right: Soyuz 4 in flight seen from Soyuz 5.

    For Aleksei Yeliseyev and Yevgeny Khrunov, the joint mission of Soyuz 4 and 5 was a little like getting a lift to work in one friend’s car and coming home in another’s. The two cosmonauts launched with commander Boris Volynov aboard Soyuz 5, and then docked in orbit with Soyuz 4, commanded solo by Vladimir Shatalov. Yeliseyev and Khrunov then successfully performed the first spacewalk crew transfer, leaving their ship, floating over to Shatalov’s and climbing inside. They bet on the right horse. Volynov’s solo reentry aboard Soyuz 5 was miserable, with the service module at the back of the spacecraft failing to separate properly, the parachute lines tangling and the braking rockets intended to cushion the thump-down in the Kazakh steppes failing. Volynov survived, but flew across the cockpit and lost some teeth on landing.

  • July 21, 1969: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin Walk on Moon

    History forgets the paradoxical smallness of the first lunar landing. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were on the lunar surface for just 21 hours and 36 minutes. Their moonwalk—a solid-ground EVA—lasted less than two and a half hours. The area they explored was equally modest: if the landing area were a baseball field and the lunar module touched down on the pitcher’s mound, Armstrong and Aldrin never left the infield—except for one brief excursion Armstrong made to shallow right to look at a crater. But never mind. July 20, 1969 became a hinge point in history—the moment the first humans took the first toddling steps on another world.

  • August 5, 1971: Al Worden Makes First Deep Space EVA

    Alfred M. Worden (b1932) during the Apollo 15 lunar mission, 1971.Artist: NASA
    Print Collector/Getty Images; NASA/Getty Images Left: Apollo 15 Command Module Pilot Alfred Merrill Worden performing his EVA during the Apollo 15 lunar mission on Aug. 5, 1971; Right: Worden at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, during the 'dry' portion of the space vehicle's Countdown Demonstration Test on July 14, 1971.

    The center seat in an Apollo spacecraft was even less appealing than the center seat in a commercial aircraft. The guy in the middle was the one who’d have to stay aboard the command module while the other two astronauts went down to the surface of the moon. In the case of Al Worden, command module pilot of Apollo 15, that solo housesitting lasted three days. But Worden got his chance to stretch his legs on the flight home to Earth, when he made humanity’s first deep-space EVA, floating to the rear of the spacecraft to collect film canisters and exterior cameras and examine the overall condition of the service module. He was outside for just 38 minutes—not much compared to three days on the lunar surface, but not a bad way to spend even a small portion of the slow flight home.

  • May 26, 1973: Outdoor Housework on Skylab

    Nobody pretended that after the thrill of the moon landings, it would be easy selling Americans on Skylab, the retrofitted third stage of a Saturn V booster that served as the country’s first space station. But that sales job proved even harder when Skylab was launched and arrived in orbit with a jammed solar panel and a damaged sun shield, which left the station both overheated and underpowered. Astronauts Pete Conrad, Joe Kerwin and Paul Weitz arrived eleven days later and set about putting things right. They fixed the sunshield problem from within the station, by poking a parasol-like device through a small airlock in the side of the ship and opening it up. But the solar panel required Conrad and Weitz to venture outside with what amounted to cable cutters and snip a strap keeping the solar wing closed. They succeeded—but when the wing snapped open, both astronauts were violently flung away from the ship. Their tethers held fast and they collected themselves and went, gratefully, back inside.

  • February 7, 1984: First Untethered Spacewalk

    Finally, a spacewalk looked the way it was supposed to look. Since Alexei Leonov first stepped outside, every EVA had included safety tethers to keep the astronauts from floating away. But in 1984, astronaut Bruce McCandless eased himself away from the shuttle Challenger, steering about with the aid of a 300-lb. jetpack known in NASA-speak as the Manned Maneuvering Unit—or MMU. McCandless floated more than the equivalent of a football field away and if he felt any vertigo, he was entitled. Held aloft by nothing but physics, he could look down and see the Earth rolling by at four miles per second.

  • July 25, 1984: Cosmonaut Metal-Workers

    Soviet cosmonaut svetlana savitskaya, the first woman to walk in space during the soyuz t-12 space mission to the salyut 7 space station in august 1984, photo was taken by cosmonaut vladimir dzhanibekov.
    Sovfoto/UIG/Getty Images (2) Left: Russian Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982; Right: Savitskaya, the first woman to walk in space, during the Soyuz T-12 space mission to the Salyut 7 space station in August 1984.

    Spacewalks were always supposed to be about work—and that was especially so when it came to space stations. The Soviets’ early-generation Salyut stations were workhorses of longstanding, but that meant they’d need maintenance if they were to keep on flying. In the summer of 1984, Svetlana Savitskaya and Vladimir Dzhanibekov tested one of the most important repair methods ever, welding and brazing metal samples in the vacuum of space. The experiment worked, the system was proven and Savitskaya, in the process, became the first woman to walk in space.

  • May 13, 1992: First Three-Person Spacewalk

    One of the biggest selling-points of the space shuttle was that it would enable in-orbit repairs of malfunctioning satellites, saving tens of millions of dollars and keeping the nation’s space infrastructure humming. Shuttle astronauts Pierre Thout, Richard Hieb and Thomas Akers proved that point in a big way when the shuttle Endeavour edged up to the disabled Intelsat 603 communications satellite and the three spacewalkers, standing in the open equipment bay, grappled it by hand. They secured the 4,215-lb mass, outfitted it with a new motor, and released it back into the orbital wild—once again fit and functioning.

  • Dec. 5, 1993: First Hubble Repair Mission

    Never was a simple exercise in equipment repair so closely watched as when the shuttle Endeavour made its service call on the nearsighted Hubble Space Telescope. The $2.5 billion orbiting observatory was launched with enormous hoopla and then badly underperformed—thanks to a warped mirror. But Endeavour arrived with a fix in hand, and astronauts Story Musgrave and Jeffrey Hoffman made a record-setting five spacewalks over five days to get the rehab work done. The EVAs were broadcast live to Earth and a global—if selective—audience watch the hypnotically slo-mo space surgery. The scenery was beautiful, the handiwork was delicate, and the payoff—more than 20 years of dazzling images—was well worth the effort.

  • March 11, 2001: Longest Spacewalk in History

    astronaut susan helms longest spacewalk
    NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center STS-102 mission astronaut Susan J. Helms works outside the International Space Station (ISS) while holding onto a rigid umbilical and her feet anchored to the Remote Manipulator System (RMS) robotic arm on the Space Shuttle Discovery on March 11, 2001.

    The International Space Station (ISS) is easily one of history’s great assembly projects, with 15 modules, some the size of a bus, snapped together in a dragonfly configuration. When one of those modules has to be relocated to another spot on the spacecraft, the work can be painstaking. That’s what astronauts Susan Helms and James Voss learned when they ventured outside the ISS to prep the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module for a move, and didn’t step back inside for 8 hours and 56 minutes—a record that still stands. That is 5.95 laps around the world—or 148,900 miles logged—and one very big job completed.

  • August 3, 2005: First In-Flight Repair of Space Shuttle

    Discovery Astronauts Continue Mission Tasks
    Steve Robinson—NASA; Matt Stroshane—Getty Images Left: The shadow of Mission Specialist Steve Robinson is seen on the underside of the space shuttle Discovery during his spacewalk on Aug. 3, 2005.); Left: Robinson addresses the media after arriving in his T-38 jet at the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 18, 2010 in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

    The space shuttle was built to do repairs in orbit, but at some point it was inevitable that it would be the object of repairs too. That was more important than ever when the shuttle Discovery went aloft in July 2005, the first mission to fly after the tragic loss of the shuttle Columbia. It was damage to Columbia’s heat shielding that doomed the ship during reentry, and loose tiles on the underside of Discovery pose a similar risk—if a far smaller one. But this was a chastened NASA and a small risk would not be tolerated. So astronaut Steve Robinson ventured outside to affect a repair—helping to ensure that a shuttle program that had already seen so much suffering would see no more.

  • What’s Next?

    This year, astronaut Scott Kelly will perform spacewalks to reconfigure the International Space Station for the arrival of more commercial vehicles during his yearlong mission.

TIME A Year In Space

The Silly Reason the Chinese Aren’t Allowed on the Space Station

Welcome home: Nie Haisheng is helped out of his Shenzhou 10 spacecraft after a 15-day mission in 2013.
AFP/Getty Images Welcome home: Nie Haisheng is helped out of his Shenzhou 10 spacecraft after a 15-day mission in 2013.

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

A nonsensical law only increases geopolitical risk

Geopolitics can be child’s play—literally. How else would you describe the did-not! did-too! brawl that can result when one country crosses another country’s invisible line in the playroom that is the South China Sea? How else would you describe the G-8 canceling its playdate in Sochi after Russia climbed over the fence to Ukraine’s yard?

Something similar is true of the International Space Station (ISS), the biggest, coolest, most excellent tree house there ever was. Principally built and operated by the U.S., the ISS has welcomed aboard astronauts from 15 different countries, including such space newbies as South Africa, Brazil, The Netherlands and Malaysia. But China? Nuh-uh. Never has happened, never gonna’ happen.

China has been barred from the ISS since 2011, when Congress passed a law prohibiting official American contact with the Chinese space program due to concerns about national security. “National security,” of course, is the lingua franca excuse for any country to do anything it jolly well wants to do even if it has nothing to do with, you know, the security of the nation. But never mind.

Few people in the U.S. paid much attention to the no-Chinese law, but it’s at last taking deserved heat, thanks to a CNN interview with the three Chinese astronauts—or taikonauts—who flew China’s Shenzhou 10 mission in 2013. The network’s visit to China’s usually closed Space City, which will air on May 30, is a reporting coup, especially because of the entirely familiar, entirely un-scary world it reveals: serious taikonauts doing serious work with serious mission planners—every bit what you see behind the scenes at NASA or Russia’s Roscosmos.

And similar to the nature of those other space agencies too is the professed wish of the Chinese crews to work across national borders. “As an astronaut, I have a strong desire to fly with astronauts from other countries,” said Nie Haisheng, the Shenzhou 10 commander. “I also look forward to going to the International Space Station. Space is a family affair; many countries are developing their space programs and China, as a big country, should make our own contributions in this field.”

But that contribution can’t happen aboard the ISS. The 2011 law draws a sort of ex post facto justification from a study that was released in 2012 by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, warning that China’s policymakers “view space power as one aspect of a broad international competition in comprehensive national strength and science and technology.” More darkly, there is the 2015 report prepared by the University of California, San Diego’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, ominously titled “China Dream, Space Dream“, which concludes: “China’s efforts to use its space program to transform itself into a military, economic, and technological power may come at the expense of U.S. leadership and has serious implications for U.S. interests.”

OK, deep, cleansing breaths please. On the surface, the studies make a kind of nervous, reflexive sense. China is big, China is assertive, China has made clear its intentions to project its military power in ways it never has before—including to the high ground of space.

But if that sounds familiar it’s because it’s an echo of the Cold War hysteria that greeted the launch the Soviet Union’s Sputnik. The world’s first satellite, Sputnik was a terrifying, beach ball sized object that orbited the Earth from Oct. 1957 to January 1958, presenting the clear and present danger that at some point it might beep at us as it flew overhead. Every Soviet space feat that followed was one more log on the Cold War fire, one more reason to conclude that we were in a mortal arms and technology race and woe betide us if the guys on the other side got so much as a peek at what we were doing.

That argument failed for a lot of reasons. For one thing, the Soviets hardly needed a peek at our tech since they were the ones who were winning. When you’re in first place in your division you don’t to steal ideas from the guys in last. Something similar is true of the Chinese now.

After launching their first solo astronaut in 2003, they have followed in rapid succession with two-person and then three-person crews, and have mastered both spacewalking and orbital docking. They have orbited a core module for their own eventual space station, have sent multiple spacecraft to the moon and are planning a Mars rover. They didn’t do all that by filching American tech.

The doubters are unappeased, however. Both these reports warn that all of China’s technological know-how, no matter how they acquired it, has multiple uses, and can be put to either good or nefarious ends, a fact that is pretty much true of every, single technological innovation from fire through the Apple Watch.

Even if all of the fears were well-founded—even if a Chinese Death Star were under construction at this moment in a mountain lair in Xinjiang—forbidding the kind of international handshaking and cooperating that is made possible by a facility like the ISS is precisely the wrong way to to go about reducing the threat. The joint Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975 achieved little of technological significance, but it was part of a broader thaw between Moscow and Washington. That mattered, in the same way ping pong diplomacy between the U.S. and China in 1971 was about nothing more than a game—until it was suddenly about much more.

Well before the ISS was built and occupied, the shuttle was already flying American crews to Russia’s Mir space station. Russia later became America’s leading partner in operating and building the ISS—a shrewd American move that both offloaded some of the cost of the station and provided work for Russian missile engineers who found themselves idle after the Berlin Wall fell and could easily have sold their services to nuclear nasties like North Korea or Iran.

The technology aboard the ISS is not the kind that a Chinese astronaut with ill will would want to or need to steal. And more to the point, if there’s one thing the men and women who fly in space will tell you, it’s that once they get there, terrestrial politics mean nothing at all—the sandbox silliness of politicians who are not relying on the cooperation of a few close crewmates to keep them alive and safe as they race through low Earth orbit. From space, as astronauts like to say, you can’t see borders. It’s a perspective the lawmakers in Washington could use.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Year in Space

Space: It Ain’t All Glamour

International space station

There's a lot of messy housekeeping when you're in orbit—and a lot of exciting work too

How did your pre-treated urine transfer rate work out this week? I’m sorry? You had no pre-treated urine transfer rate to worry about? Oh, then you must not be aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

It’s been a busy few days for the six crewmembers of the ISS—which pretty much describes all of their days. If there’s one point all astronauts mention about their time aloft, it’s the challenge of the schedule—the long, every-minute-accounted-for checklist of items that have to be completed every single day. Some of them are the glamour stuff of space travel—spacewalks, formation-flying with arriving vehicles, TV broadcasts to the folks back home. Some are a good deal more mundane, such as troubleshooting the stubbornly low flow rate in a system that is supposed to filter and recycle urine into ordinary drinking water.

Mission planners are not shy about revealing just how hard they make the astronauts work, as a glimpse at NASA’s ISS blog reveals. On May 22, the crew woke up to a list of 65 must-do items; three days later it was 67; the next day was a lighter day by comparison, with a scant 55.

A lot of what was done on those days was indeed very big stuff. On May 26, year-in-space marathoner Scott Kelly and crewmate Terry Virts oversaw the transfer of the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) from one berthing site to another on the station—which is both much more important and much more difficult than it sounds. For one thing, the module weighs 11 tons. And like most station modules, it’s roughly the size of a school bus.

Relocating it meant three control centers had to work in tandem: Mission Control in Houston; the Mobile Servicing Systems Operations Center in Quebec, Canada, which oversees the work of the station’s robotic arm; and the station itself, with Kelly and Virts in charge. The goal was to decouple the PMM from the Unity module and movie it to the nearby Tranquility module—by remote control, while moving 17,135 mph (27, 576 k/h), at an altitude of 259 mi. (417 km).

But it was worth the effort. By 2017, two new commercial crew vehicles built by Boeing and SpaceX will begin flying to the station, freeing the U.S. from its reliance on the Russian Soyuz as the only way to get astronauts to space. That required reconfiguring the station to open up the best docking ports to receive crew—and that meant the PMM had to find somewhere else to live.

A lot of the other work that went on in the past few days involved the extensive biomedical tests that Kelly, his fellow one-year flier Misha Kornienko, and the other astronauts regularly undergo to study the human body’s fitness for long-term space flight. Kelly and Kornienko went through their paces in what will be a year’s worth of fine-motor skill tests, tapping at touch screens to determine how their reaction time and dexterity change over the course of their stay.

Kelly and cosmonaut Gennady Padalka worked with ultrasound equipment to help study how fluid shifting from the lower body to the head affects the shape of the eyeball and the condition of the optic nerve, both of which are thought to cause long-lasting—and perhaps permanent—changes in the vision of astronauts who have spent extended time in zero-g.

Next week, Kelly will undergo similar testing while wearing a CHIBIS lower body negative pressure suit, which pulls fluid back down from the head and reduces the pressure that causes the damage. And, yes, a more colloquial description for a CHIBIS lower body negative pressure suit is rubber vacuum pants—but if your vision depended on them, you’d be happy to put them on too.

Other work on the station involved echocardiograms, with crewmembers serving sometimes as Crew Medical Officers (CMOs) and sometimes as patients as they performed the scans on one another; experiments on convection, fluid physics and the effects of the space environment on various materials subjected to long-term exposure outside the station; and maintenance work on extravehicular activity (EVA) suits in preparation for spacewalks soon to come.

None of the work is easy, some of it is monotonous, and all of it just keeps coming. On the other hand, you get to perform it while weightless, with a view outside the office window that is pretty hard to beat. As workplaces go, you could do a lot worse.

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