TIME health

How Anti-Vaxxers Are Hurting People of Faith

Hurts for a second, helps for a long time
Bloomberg; Bloomberg via Getty Images Hurts for a second, helps for a long time

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

A defensible vaccine opt-out is being threatened by a frivolous one

Science and religion have not always gotten along—especially when it comes to medicine. If you believe your body is a temple and your faith can keep you well, you don’t take kindly to doctors telling you how to look after yourself and your family. If you believe faith is fine but it’s medicine that saves lives, you frown on people who endanger themselves—and their children—by resisting scientific progress.

When it comes to vaccines, however, both camps—with the help of lawmakers—had reached a workable truce. All states require children to be vaccinated to attend school, and all states also provide exemptions for the small share of kids who, for legitimate medical reasons, can’t be vaccinated. All states but Mississippi and West Virginia have also allowed parents with religious objections to opt out of the vaccination rules.

It’s undeniable that that can put their kids at risk. By definition, the child who is vaccinated against polio will not contract the disease and the child who’s not vaccinated possibly could. But that possibility can be a remote one, thanks to what’s known as herd immunity. As long as about 95% of a population is vaccinated against a particular disease, it’s exceedingly difficult for a virus to find enough holes in that herd to reach the few people who aren’t protected. And since religious opt-outs had been relatively rare, the system worked.

But that’s all changed, thanks to what’s known as the philosophical or personal belief exemption, an expansion of the no-vax loophole allowing parents to refuse vaccinations for pretty much any reason at all—they don’t like the state telling them what to do, or they can’t be bothered by all those trips to the doctor, or they’ve read something on the Internet that about how vaccines are a mortal health peril, despite the fact that that virtually every medical authority on the planet assures them that that’s not so. Call it a personal belief and you get a free pass. This has done very bad things to the herd.

Many states like Colorado and California, which have easy opt-out rules, have fallen below the 95% compliance levels needed to keep their populations healthy, and recent outbreaks of measles in New York City, mumps in Columbus, Ohio, and whooping cough in California directly correlate with poor vaccination levels. A multistate measles outbreak in the southwest that is only now subsiding was similarly linked linked to a single infected person who visited Disneyland and spread the virus among unvaccinated visitors there.

Meantime, states with high vaccination rates are experiencing few of these problems. Most notable among them are Mississippi and West Virginia, which have neither religious nor philosophical opt-outs and thus have first-in-the-nation vaccine compliance levels of 99.9%.

Now some states are pushing back. As TIME reported, the California state Senate has just advanced a bill to eliminate both philosophical and religious exemptions, leaving only demonstrated medical problems as a reason for parents to refuse vaccines. Legislators who opposed the bill objected to eliminating the religious exemption, and their argument does have merit. Not only does the new bill raise First Amendment issues, statistics also make it clear that it’s not the faith community that’s causing most of the trouble. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, states that have a personal belief exemption have 2.54 times the vaccine refusal rate of states that have only the faith exemption. Left to themselves, the religious refuseniks would not be causing too much of a problem

But California legislators know the population they’re dealing with. Anti-vaxxers are like water, flowing to the nearest handy opening. Close off the personal belief portal, and they’ll just slosh over to the religious side, claiming a sudden spiritual epiphany that excuses them from vaccinating. The only way to keep kids safe is to close both exit routes.

The victims in all this are the truly devout. Lawmakers have long made clear that not all religious objections to medical procedures will be tolerated, particularly when it comes to the welfare of minors. Parents who cite religious beliefs in refusing to treat a child for, say, leukemia will likely lose that child to the state, which will provide the necessary care.

In the case of vaccines, however, there is—or was—a workaround. With the thinning of the herd, however, religious practices have to come second to saving the lives and health of babies. People of faith may resent the states, but if blame is to be laid, it belongs to the anti-vaxxers. They’re a crowd that’s always excelled at making avoidable messes, and they’ve just added one more to their long and growing list of 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 A Year In Space

Exclusive: Space Station Astronauts Talk Loneliness, Missing the Weather and Their Crazy Work Schedule

Astronauts Scott Kelly and Terry Virts speak live from the space station

The first six weeks of Scott Kelly’s marathon year aboard the International Space Station (ISS) haven’t been easy. There was the reacclimation to zero-gravity, the failure of a Russian cargo ship carrying needed supplies, the cancellation of singer Sarah Brightman’s planned visit—to say nothing of the constant, minute-by-minute work schedule that is the stuff of any day aboard the station.

Kelly and astronaut Terry Virts discussed those things and more in one of at least four video chats TIME will conduct with the ISS during our exclusive Year in Space coverage. Phoning the station is not easy. It takes days of planning and at least an hour of sound checks before the uplink is made, and then long delays as questions and answers are relayed back and forth. It makes ordinary conversation a challenge.

Still, even in the 14 minutes the connection lasted—during which the station passed over Canada, the Great Lakes, Minneapolis, Denver, and Southern California—Kelly and Virts were surprisingly open, sharing their feelings about both the camaraderie and the sublime loneliness of being where they are. Kelly especially must be mindful of those feelings as he faces 10 more months of circling the Earth, while his family and friends and everything he knows lie 250 miles below him.

“It’s one thing I think about every single day,” he said.

And then, like any other astronaut, he put that aside and went back to his work.

Follow TIME’s coverage of the yearlong mission at time.com/space

TIME politics

Oh, Brother: Jeb Bush and the Problem With Siblings

Psst, look behind you: George and Jeb in 2006
Jim Watson—Getty Images Psst, look behind you: George and Jeb in 2006

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

The comparisons are inevitable when you're running for a job your sib once held

Welcome to the NFL, Jeb Bush. It’s nasty out there on the presidential campaign trail, isn’t it? You shake hands you really don’t want to shake, make speeches you really don’t want to make, and get asked all kinds of questions you really don’t want to answer. And if you’re feeling especially picked on, well, you’re right.

That, like it or not, is part of a contest you’ve been involved in a whole lot longer than you’ve been a sort-of, kind-of, not-quite-announced presidential candidate. It’s the siblings war, and as with any other person with a brother or sister who ever ratted you out to mom or clobbered you in the playroom, it’s a battle you’ve been fighting for as long as you can remember.

The problem you’re facing at the moment—as every news outlet in the country has delighted in reminding you—concerns the Iraq war, which started and unraveled on your big brother George W.’s watch. Last Saturday, you taped a segment for Fox News—hardly an unfriendly outlet for a Republican—and Megan Kelly asked you if, knowing what you know now, you’d have authorized the 2003 invasion. You answered with three words I bet you’d really like not to have said: “I would have.”

Never mind that you later backtracked, saying you’d misheard the question and thought Kelly was asking you what you’d have done if you’d only had the flawed intelligence that was available at the time. And never mind that the rest of your answer to Kelly seems to support that. “I would have,” you said in full, “and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would have just about everybody that was confronted with the intelligence that they got.”

But that didn’t stop Politico from asking “Will Iraq take down another Bush?” That didn’t stop the New York Times from declaring, “Brother’s Past Proves Tricky for Jeb Bush.” And it won’t stop virtually every other sentient person on the planet from connecting you to George W.—for better and for worse.

That’s the way it is with sibs. Part of the problem is the glib association people outside the family make about brothers and sisters. Teachers, camp counselors, coaches, all assume that if your big sib was good in math or sports you will be too—and if you’re not, they’ll want to know why. And if the same big sib was a lousy student or a behavioral handful you have to overcome the assumption that you’ll be the same.

But a much bigger problem is the dynamic that unfolds within the sibling brood itself. Think of a family as a corporation. Mom and Dad are co-CEO’s and the kids are the products. George W. was the first one to come down the assembly line, and like any sole product in any start-up company, he was the exclusive focus of the bosses’ time, money, energy and attention. By the time you came along, those early resources had gone into the ledger as what the MBAs call sunk costs—investments that can never be gotten back. So if the company has to choose between Bush Son V.1 (that’s George) and Bush Son V.2 (that’s you), it’s usually not even close.

That’s at least part of the reason that even though George had the rep of the dilettante and layabout and you were thought of as The Serious One, he got the first shot at the presidential cookie jar and you’ve now got to work with the crumbs that are left. That’s at least part of the reason too that in 2013 even your Mom, who surely loves you like a son, was dismissive of your presidential prospects, telling Matt Lauer that you’re “by far the best-qualified man,” but that, “there are other people out there that are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes.” That couldn’t have felt good.

You made the inevitable comparisons to your big brother much worse by going into the same line of work he and your father did. Family psychologists call this—straightforwardly enough—identifying. Your big brother or big sister gets all kinds of family attention for, say, starring in school plays, so you start going to auditions too. The problem is, the goodies start to get spread a little thin. No matter how many starring roles you land, you’ll still get only 50% of the parental applause for being the family’s performer. Better then to choose a different route—what the psychologists call de-identifying—play sports or join the chess club and get 100% of the laurels for those achievements.

But the most powerful—if least quantifiable—sibling dynamic you’re struggling with now is the business of love, loyalty and guilt. Take that nasty moment on May 13, when you were at a Reno, Nev. town hall and a 19-year-old college student said to you, “Your brother created ISIS.” Did you need that headache? No you did not.

You could have answered that charge by disavowing your brother—a simple, “Yeah, can you believe the mess he made?” would have done it. Certainly that’s the way any Democrat would go, as well as some Republicans trying to get a little distance from the serial messes of your brother’s two terms. But you can’t do that—not if you want to feel comfortable at the Kennebunkport Thanksgiving table next fall.

So you hedge and you elaborate and you decline to answer hypothetical questions—even if they’re fair and entirely predictable questions. And you sometimes get sick of it all and say, as you also did in Reno, “First and foremost, I am proud to be George W.’s brother. I can’t deny the fact that I love my family.”

No one doubts that that second statement is true. As for the first one? Well, only you know. But get used to the questions, get used to the problems, because they’re not going away. Presidencies are short; campaigns are even shorter. But the wonderful, awful, loving, vexing job of being a sib is forever.

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 A Year In Space

What Sarah Brightman’s ‘Postponed’ Mission Says About Space Tourism

Not so fast: Brightman at a March press event announcing her now-postponed mission
Dave J Hogan; Getty Images Not so fast: Brightman at a March press event announcing her now-postponed mission

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

You need more than international fame and a very fat wallet to fly

Here’s betting you’d like to fly in space—almost everybody does. Here’s betting you’ll never actually do it—almost no one does. Those two facts are more than casually connected. The news today that Sarah Brightman—the internationally celebrated soprano who paid $52 million to spend 10 days aboard the International Space Station (ISS)—has backed out of the mission helps illustrate why.

Space flight has never been a safe or easy or, most of the time, even terribly fun thing to do. The training is brutal, the rockets are dangerous, the spacecraft are cramped, the living conditions are spartan, and as for the one thing you think you’d enjoy the most—the weightlessness? Odds are you’d spend a fair bit of your time aloft doing little but throwing up—which you could jolly well do back home.

MORE: See The Trailer For TIME’s Unprecedented New Series: A Year In Space

Astronauts and cosmonauts know this, and so do the people who train them to fly. There’s a reason the Americans and Soviets chose test pilots in the early days of their space programs. There’s a reason too that, during the shuttle era, even astronauts who were going to fly as mission specialists—meaning they would not be piloting the spacecraft—did themselves a favor if they were licensed pilots too. If you’ve got the ice-water blood necessary to take a plane aloft and not lose your marbles when an engine quits, or the weather turns surly, or the ground’s rushing up at you fast and you’ve got exactly three seconds to get things under control before you come to a very messy end, you’re likelier to have the cool to handle yourself when a stack of engines generating 7.3 million lbs. (3.4 million kg) of thrust ignite underneath your back and hurl you to space at an eventual speed of 17,500 mph (28,200 k/h).

The late Jack Swigert, command module pilot for Apollo 13—a man who clearly knew what it felt like when everything falls to pieces around you—once reflected on why lunar astronauts never spoke terribly lyrically about their journeys, often describing what they saw with off-the-shelf adjectives like “awe-inspiring” or “incredible.” The explanation, he said, is that you can either go to the moon, or you can appreciate the going, but not both. The very thing that qualifies you to make the trip—a coolness, a detachment in the face of the deadly and improbable place you find yourself—disqualifies you to describe it in terribly resonant terms. So fighter jocks fly and poets stay home and they both do what they do best.

But that has all changed in the last decade—or at least there has been an attempt to change it. We live in the era of space tourism, of the citizen astronaut, of the multi-millionaire buying a seat on a Russian Soyuz rocket for mid-eight figures, or plunking down a quarter of a million dollars for a quarter of an hour popgun flight on Richard Branson’s SpaceShipTwo. We chatter about the one-way trip to Mars and the inflatable hotel in Earth orbit and Jeff Bezos doing who knows what with his secretive Blue Origins aerospace company, which promises that it’s “opening the promise of space to all,” though to date it’s gotten nowhere close.

Brightman, in parlaying great wealth and existing fame to a chance to fly to the ISS, was attempting one of the most hair-raising space feats of all. With the shuttle grounded, the only way to get to the space station is Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, a three-person pod so tiny that passengers fly in a semi-fetal position, lying on their backs with their knees drawn up to their chests. At best they stay that way for six hours after liftoff, assuming they launch at the right moment to chase down the station in just four orbits. But, launch at a different moment and it can take as long as two days to execute the same rendezvous.

On both the way up and the way down, the crew can pull more than 4 g’s, and that’s only if everything goes well. In 2008, cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and astronaut Peggy Whitson were coming home aboard a Soyuz when the rear part of the spacecraft—the service module—failed to separate as it was supposed to. That sent them on what’s called a ballistic reentry of 30 degrees, causing them to pull a tortuous 8 g’s. The near-fatal plunge took 23 minutes to unfold. Even the best Soyuz reentry has been described by astronaut Scott Kelly, who is aboard the ISS for a marathon one-year stay and had been looking forward to Brightman’s visit, “like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel—that’s on fire.”

Brightman didn’t even begin her training until Jan. 19, according to sources at Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, which would have given her less than eight months to get ready for her early September launch—a fraction of the years of preparation a professional astronaut may put in before flying. And she had skipped out on the training altogether after April 22, according to the same sources. A request for comment from Brightman’s team has not been returned.

Space Adventures, the Virginia-based space tourism company that serves as travel agent for trips to the ISS, did put out a statement announcing that Brightman was “postponing her plans to launch” due to “personal family reasons.” But the odds are good that that postponement will become—or already is—a cancellation. There may well be family problems responsible for the scrub. Or maybe Brightman just got a clear-eyed look at what she was doing and gave a thought to the lost crew of Challenger in 1986, the lost crew of Columbia in 2003, the lost crew of Soyuz 11 (three cosmonauts who died during reentry in 1971 when their spacecraft sprang a pressure leak), the lost crew of Apollo 1 (three astronauts who died in a launch pad fire in 1967) and reckoned that maybe, just maybe, space isn’t for dilettantes.

There’s no shame in not being fit to fly in space; that describes the overwhelming majority of us. And there’s no harm in working toward the day when space really is something for everybody, when tourists can go and settlers can go and adventurers can go—all traveling with the right machines and the right training and the right sense of humility and respect. “Space tourism,” for now, is a deadly oxymoron. If Brightman chose not to go because she recognized that, she showed a particular kind of candor and courage that deserves its own applause.

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 A Year In Space

Singer Sarah Brightman Is Not Going to Space (for Now)

Sarah Brightman during training in Star City Russia
Roscosmos Sarah Brightman during training in Star City, Russia

After just a few months of training, Brightman has dropped out

Singer Sarah Brightman announced Wednesday that she is postponing her trip to space.

Her $52 million, 10-day trip aboard the International Space Station will be pushed back due to personal family reasons, according to a statement posted to her Facebook page. She had stopped training on April 22, two people familiar with her training schedule tell TIME.

“Since 2012, Sarah has shared her story of a lifelong dream to fly to space. Her international fame as the world’s best-selling soprano has enabled her message to circle the globe, inspiring others to pursue their own dreams,” said Eric Anderson, Co-Founder and Chairman of Space Adventures, Ltd in the statement. “We’ve seen firsthand her dedication to every aspect of her spaceflight training and to date, has passed all of her training and medical tests. We applaud her determination and we’ll continue to support her as she pursues a future spaceflight opportunity.”

Whether what’s being described as a postponement is actually a cancellation is impossible to know right now. Brightman did not even begin her training until Jan. 19, according to Roscosmos, which would have given her less than eight months at best to get ready for a Sept. 1 launch. That’s significantly less time than professional astronauts need to become mission-ready—even without the loss of the last two weeks. It will be up to Roscosmos and Space Adventures to determine if, given all this, they will ever consider it prudent to allow Brightman to fly.

American astronaut Scott Kelly, who is currently in the midst of a yearlong mission aboard the space station, told TIME he was looking forward to Brightman coming aboard.

—With reporting by Jonathan D. Woods / Houston

TIME space

Life in Space? The Odds Just Went Up

A different kind of Europeans: The discolored cracks of the Jovian moon Europa could suggest life
NASA/JPL A different kind of Europeans: The discolored cracks of the Jovian moon Europa could suggest life

A new study reveals new promise on Jupiter's most intriguing moon

If ever there was a time to disobey HAL, the coolly sociopathic computer that stole the show in both 2001: A Space Odyssey and the 2010 sequel, it’s now. At the end of that second movie, the universe unfolds before a group of astronauts exploring the Jupiter system, and as they marvel at it, HAL gives them a simple warning: All these worlds are yours—except Europa. Attempt no landing there.

That’s a rule that’s getting harder not to break. Europa is one of the four large moons of Jupiter, and easily its most compelling. Its entire surface is covered in a thick rind of water ice, with what is almost certainly a deep, globe-girdling ocean of liquid water underneath. Now, a study published in Geophysical Research Letters offers new evidence that the ocean could be home to—or at least hospitable to—extraterrestrial life.

MORE: See The Trailer For TIME’s Unprecedented New Series: A Year In Space

It’s not easy to keep water in a liquid state out in the cosmic provinces where Europa lives. The little world’s surface temperature averages -280º F (-173º C), with the sun little more than a very bright match head 483 million mi. (779 million km) away. But you don’t need sunlight to generate warmth when you’ve got what’s known as tidal flexing.

As Europa circles Jupiter, its large sister moons, Io, Ganymede and Callisto, do the same in their own orbital lanes. The moons periodically pass one another like cars on a race track, and as they do, they tug—and slightly stretch—one another gravitationally. All that flexing generates internal heat, and in Europa’s case, that keeps its ocean liquid and relatively warm.

Multiple space probes and Earthly telescopes have photographed a webwork of cracks all over Europa’s surface, the result of fracturing and refracturing caused by the constant pulsing. When the cracks appear, subsurface water percolates—or even bursts—to the surface. A lot of those cracks turn a dark yellow-brown over time, and that raises intriguing possibilities.

The discoloration is likely caused by the particular chemistry of the water as it is exposed to the harsh radiation of space. But just what that chemistry is was unknown. It could be sulfur, it could be magnesium or it could, tantalizingly, be salt, giving the Europan oceans the same warm, amniotic conditions as Earth’s own.

To test this idea, planetary scientist Kevin Hand and co-author Robert Carlson, both of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., built what they called “Europa in a can.” Starting with both straight sodium chloride—or table salt—and a combination of water and salt, they chilled both test samples down to the same temperature as Europa’s surface and bombarded them with radiation similar to the environment of Jovian space. The radiation bath continued for varying lengths of time—all on the order of tens of hours. Direct radiation for that long, Hand and Carlson calculated, was the equivalent of about a century’s worth of the more diffuse radiation of space.

Over time, the samples did what the researchers suspected they’d do, which was turn precisely the yellow-brown color of the Europan fractures—with longer radiation exposure producing darker shades. But since human eyeballs are not the most precise ways to measure such things, the researchers also compared the electromagnetic spectra of their lab samples to the spectra of the Europa cracks, taken from images captured by NASA’s Galileo Jupiter probe. The two lined up perfectly.

“This work tells us the chemical signature of radiaton-baked sodium chloride is a compelling match to spacecraft data for Europa’s mystery material,” said Hand in a statement that accompanied the release of the study.

None of this means Europa is home to life, but it goes a long way to making the case that its environment is right for it—a critical first step. Before too long, the mystery may be probed from close up. Last year, the White House included a request for $30 million to study a mission to Europa, as part of NASA’s fiscal 2016 budget.

The plan would involve sending an unmanned probe to orbit Jupiter and make perhaps 45 flybys of Europa, during which it would remotely study the moon’s anatomy and chemistry, and perhaps fly through some of the plumes of water vapor that erupt from its fractures, analyzing their composition. Last February, JPL held a workshop to conduct preliminary planning for the mission and polled planetary scientists around the world to ask what instruments they think should be included on the spacecraft.

The Jupiter trip, if it’s green-lit at all, won’t happen soon. The earliest a Europa probe would probably launch would be 2022, arriving at the Jovian system sometime around 2030. But Europa has time. It’s been there, like Earth, for more than four billion years. If, like Earth too, the moon has incubated life over those long epochs, it’ll still be waiting for us when we arrive.

TIME A Year In Space

Space Station Astronauts Stuck in the Departure Lounge

Before the fall: An unpiloted Progress spacecraft prepares to plunge into the atmosphere
NASA Before the fall: An unpiloted Progress spacecraft prepares to plunge into the atmosphere

A six-month tour of duty turns into seven, as a failed cargo ship scrambles schedules

Think you hate it when you miss a flight? Tell that to Terry Virts, Samantha Cristoforetti and Anton Shkaplerov. Since November, all three have had confirmed return seats booked aboard the same Soyuz spacecraft that carried them to the International Space Station (ISS) and has remained docked there ever since. They were set to come home this month, after a long half-year in orbit.

But scheduling is a tricky thing in the space flight business, especially when it comes to the ISS which, like any busy travel hub, must juggle a lot of incoming and outgoing vehicles. Some carry crew, some carry cargo—and all carry a high risk that something can go wrong. Something did go wrong in late April, when an unmanned Russian supply ship, the Progress 59, carrying 2.6 tons of goods—including oxygen, water, propellant, clothing, spare parts and spacewalk hardware—spun out of control after reaching orbit. That made it impossible for the ship to dock with the ISS, and a few days later, the Russian and American space agencies agreed the cause was lost. On May 7, all 24 ft. (7 m) and 21,000 lbs. (9,500 kg) of spacecraft and cargo tumbled back into the atmosphere and incinerated.

That had knock-on effects. Virts, Cristoforetti and Shkaplerov, the crew for what’s known as Expedition 42, were to leave behind the newly arrived Expedition 43—Gennady Padalka and year-in-space marathoners Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko—and be replaced by the three person Expedition 44 crew before the end of the month. But a new crew requires a freshly provisioned station, and sending Expedition 42 home on schedule would have left ISS short-handed for too long before a new Progress ship could be readied for launch.

MORE: Watch The Trailer For TIME’s Unprecedented New Series: A Year In Space

“The ISS partners prefer to keep crew handovers, or the time when only three crew are onboard, short so we can maximize the important science and research we’re conducting on the orbiting laboratory,” NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz said in an e-mail to TIME.

The plan now is for Virts, Cristoforetti and Shkaplerov to wait at least until early June to come home. A new Progress will follow in early July and the Expedition 44 crew will launch in late July.

That, however, depends on the Progress line of spacecraft being declared fit to fly, and the language of NASA’s press release raised some red flags, hinting, perhaps inadvertently, that there might be something more troubling going on than just a one-off malfunction in a single ship. “The partner agencies agreed to adjust the schedule after hearing the Russian Federal Space Agency’s (Roscosmos) preliminary findings on the recent loss of the Progress,” the release said, without saying just what Roscosmos had revealed. More information, NASA said, would not be forthcoming until May 22. Neither NASA nor Roscosmos have responded to an e-mail from TIME requesting clarification.

None of this represents anything like an emergency. The station is fully supplied with essentials that can last at least until the fall, and there is no shortage of work to keep all six crewmembers busy while Virts, Cristoforetti and Shkaplerov await their lift home.

This past week, Virts and Kelly completed upgrades on the station’s carbon dioxide scrubbers—the system that removes waste gas from the cabin atmosphere and keeps it breathable. They have also been working with Cristoforetti to stow scientific samples and other equipment aboard SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft, which arrived at the station on April 17 with 4,300 lbs (1,950 kg) of food and supplies and will undock and come home on May 21. Unlike Progress vehicles, which are designed to burn up on reentry, Dragons splash down intact, making them suitable for two-way cargo (and eventually crew) runs.

If Virts, Cristoforetti and Shkaplerov are disappointed at the postponed homecoming—and how could they not be when it’s been six months since they’ve eaten a steak, tasted a beer or felt anything other than a fan-driven, climate-controlled breeze on their faces—they wouldn’t let on publicly. That’s not in the nature of ISS crews who sign on for long hauls with always-conditional return dates.

They might also spare a thought for crewmates Kelly and Kornienko. When the two of them—who have been on board since March 29—reach the six-month mark in their mission, they’ll still have another whole six to go. It’s not just on Earth that no matter how sorry you feel for yourself, there’s always someone who’s got things a little harder.

TIME Premature Babies

Viable at 22 Weeks: Just How Low Can Preemies Go?

A pound and a half of life: This baby was born in 2014 at 23 weeks in Sichuan China.
TPG; Getty Images A pound and a half of life: This baby was born in 2014 at 23 weeks, in Sichuan China.

A landmark study raises tough questions about science and ethics

Babymaking is easy when everything goes right. All it takes is a single—decidedly agreeable—act and the rest runs on autopilot for the next nine months. But it’s the “everything goes right” part that is the rub, because in too many cases, at least one thing goes wrong. In the U.S., about 18,000 times per year, that one thing is prematurity.

The outlook has gotten better for premature babies over the last half century. In 1960, the survival rate for a 3.3 lb (1,500 gm) premie was just 28%. By 2010 it was 78%. But everything depends on the calendar: Babies born at, say, 27 weeks—out of the normal 40-week gestation period—have a far easier go than those born at 26 weeks, whose odds in turn are better than those at 25 or 24. The cutoff, the no-go zone, has long been considered 22 weeks. At that age and earlier, there’s just not enough baby to save.

But now, it seems, that may have changed. A study just released in the New England Journal of Medicine is shaking the preemie community with the surprising findings that in a small but significant number of cases, the 22-week limit may be no limit at all. The announcement raises all manner of new questions about how aggressively to treat the littlest infants, how much care is too much—and how much is suddenly not enough. It also, unavoidably, has a lot of people asking how an even slightly lower age of viability affects the fraught debate over abortion.

The new research, led by epidemiologist Michael A. Rysavy of the University of Iowa, involved 4,704 babies born at 24 different hospitals from 2006 to 2011. All of the babies were born before 27 weeks of gestation, and the care they received differed dramatically depending on the hospitals in which they were treated. Virtually any neonate born above 23 weeks of age received aggressive, active treatment. Things were less certain for those born at 23 weeks—with anywhere from 52.5% to 96.5% of them getting full-team medical attention in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and the rest receiving mostly comfort care. And for those born at the 22-week cutoff, the likelihood of receiving treatment was nothing short of a crapshoot, ranging from just 7.7% to 100%.

“The [study] shows that variations in hospital rates of active treatment for babies born at 22 weeks gestation were highly attributable to the birth hospital,” says Edward McCabe, chief Medical Officer for the March of Dimes.

But, the study suggests, those hospitals that leave the 22-weekers to what has always seemed an all-but certain death may have to rethink their policies. Of the entire sample group of babies, 78 of the 22-weekers received aggressive care and just 18 of them survived into toddlerhood. Of those, only 7 were largely healthy, left with no moderate or severe impairments like blindness or cerebral palsy. Those are not especially promising numbers, but they’re better than anyone ever thought they could be.

“Overall, if you look at the mean survival rates for 22 week old babies [in the study], it was just 2%, and only 9% for those who received resuscitation [and other care],” said Dr. Michael Uhing, the medical director of the NICU at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, and a principal source for a 2014 TIME cover story on premature babies. Still, 2% and 9% are not 0%, and the mere decision not to resuscitate—often made to spare the baby the pain of a slow and all-but inevitable death —may have helped drive overall numbers down. “When outcomes are with babies hospitals never resuscitated,” Uhing says, “the results may have been falsely low.” In other words, provide the care that’s often withheld as an ostensible act of mercy, and improved survival rates may follow.

It’s too soon to know if—and how—the new study will change hospital policies. In Uhing’s NICU, the findings of the Iowa study will simply be added to the uncountable other data points and therapeutic options families of preemies must consider. “It’s always been a conversation with the parents and a joint discussion about the outcomes,” Uhing says. It will continue to be.

And as for the third rail issue—the abortion debate? That, the doctors acknowledge, will surely heat up with the new findings. But it’s not an argument they’re interested in joining. “It’s a different subject,” Uhing says flatly. The people who work in NICUs are there to save babies. If science lets them do that at 22 weeks, they’ll do it. If future breakthroughs allow them to go down to 21 or even 20, they’ll save those babies too. The political wars will tend to themselves. In the NICUs, the only battle has ever been with the limits of medical science itself.

TIME A Year In Space

The Sweetest Little Space Flight You Ever Saw But Probably Missed

The SpaceX Dragon took a big step toward proving its fitness to carry crews

NASA flew a teeny-tiny, 90-second, unmanned mission this morning—and you should care about it a lot. Here’s why.

The flying object that lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 9 a.m. EDT and splashed down about a mile away in the Atlantic at 9:01:30 after climbing just 5,000 ft. (1,500 m) was a test version of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. Dragon has been making unmanned cargo trips to the International Space Station since 2015 and will start carrying crews in 2017. But carrying crews is an order of magnitude more dangerous than carrying equipment and supplies, and that means a great many additional safety drills. One of the most important of those is what’s known as the pad abort test.

MORE: See the Trailer for TIME’s Unprecedented New Series: A Year in Space

Liftoff is easily among the most dangerous parts of any space mission, when the controlled bomb that is the rocket roars to life with a pod full of astronauts sitting atop it. Ever since the days of the Mercury program—when there was just a single crewman aboard—NASA knew it needed a way to get that pod out of harm’s way if the booster seemed set to blow. And so spacecraft were equipped with escape towers, little scaffolds at the very tip of the rocket stack outfitted with mini-rockets that would ignite at the first sign of trouble and pull the capsule up and away.

That was the system that was tested today, with no booster involved and nothing but the 20-ft. (6 m) capsule and trunk on the launch pad. While that didn’t make for terribly dramatic TV, it was, in its own way, a very dramatic mission—if only because of the sleek engineering at work. SpaceX’s escape system does away with the tower part of the escape tower, embedding its mini-rockets into the base of the capsule itself. When they ignite, they thus push the capsule from below as opposed to pulling it from above, which provides greater stability.

It takes eight engines to lift the 8-ton vehicle, each producing 15,000 lbs. (6,800 kg) of thrust. The collective 120,000 lbs. (54,000 kg) is about twice the oomph of the Redstone rocket that carried America’s first astronaut, Alan Shepard, on his popgun suborbital flight in 1961.

The Dragon that flew today was stuffed with sensors to measure thrust, temperature, structural stresses and more, as well as a microphone to record internal acoustics and a camera to beam back on-board visuals. It also carried a human dummy, nicknamed Buster, to determine the g-loads on a passenger.

The eyeblink mission ended with the Dragon descending under three red and white parachutes into the ocean, just as a real Dragon mission will—and just as the old Apollo spacecraft did. Indeed, NASA TV made something of a point of comparing this splashdown to the triumphant returns long-ago crews made from the moon. That analogy may have been overwrought, but only a little. Ever since the last shuttle flew, the U.S. has had no spacecraft capable of getting astronauts to space. Today’s tiny flight was a big step back.

TIME A Year In Space

Star Wars, Tacos and Mice: Life Aboard the Space Station

A quiet evening at home: NASA Tweeted this picture of movie night aboard the space station with the caption "Just watching @starwars. In space. No big deal."
NASA A quiet evening at home: NASA Tweeted this picture of movie night aboard the space station with the caption "Just watching @starwars. In space. No big deal."

You can do a lot of hard science in space—but you need your Earthly luxuries too

Think you’re cool because you hosted a Star Wars-watching party on May 4, a date that is recognized as Star Wars Day? Well, you’re not as cool as you think. Watching Star Wars on May 4 when you’re 250 miles above Earth, orbiting the planet aboard the International Space Station (ISS), now that’s cool. That’s how year-long space travelers Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko, along with the other member of the ISS crew, spent a few hours of downtime on Monday.

The ISS is not without these Earthly grace notes. There were tacos—or the closest approximation of them when you’re using rehydrated food—the next day, in honor of Cinco de Mayo. And there was espresso, thanks to a just-delivered machine—dubbed the ISSpresso—which Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti set up and tried.

“Coffee: the finest organic suspension ever devised,” she tweeted. “Fresh espresso in the new Zero-G cup! To boldly brew…”

But there’s a lot more than good food and good films happening on the station this week—and, as with every week, much of it involves good science. Take the mouse studies, which are routinely conducted in orbit but take on special importance in the context of the extensive biomedical research that is at the heart of Kelly’s and Kornienko’s marathon stay.

Mice don’t care for being in space—at least it stands to reason they wouldn’t since zero-g can be as hard to manage for them as it is for human beings and they spend a lot of time in their enclosures just trying to gain purchase on something that’s standing still. Conducting experiments on them is harder too, since the last thing you want to do is open a habitat just anywhere and have an escapee drift free and get lost. So mouse enclosures must be anchored on an experimental rack, lights, fans and power connectors have to be engaged, and food bars have to be provided to keep the mice distracted as the work gets underway.

The research focuses on the animals’ skeletal, muscular, immune and cardiovascular systems—all of which can go awry in humans exposed to extended periods in zero-g. But unlike human subjects, mice can be, well, sacrificed and dissected to provide more detailed looks at what’s going on inside them. Other, less lethal sampling like blood draws can also be conducted. Sample extraction is a big part of what the ISS crew-members working on the mouse studies are doing this week, preparing the tissue to be brought home aboard the SpaceX cargo vehicle when it returns to Earth later this month.

Cristoforetti is spending part of her week working on the straightforwardly if unartfully named Skin-B study, which involves analyzing cells and tissue samples to determine why human skin ages so much faster in zero-g than it does on Earth. That should not happen, since much of what causes the ordinary stretching and breakdown of skin is gravity, which is not a factor in space. But what should happen and what does happen are often two different things in science, and Cristoforetti is working to learn why.

The purpose of the work has nothing to do with human appearance. Skin is the body’s largest organ and it pays to know why it suffers so much in zero-g before sending astronauts on missions to Mars that could last more than two years. Both in space and on the ground, what’s learned from Skin-B could also provide insight into the functioning—and malfunctioning—of the body’s other organs, especially the ones lined with epithelial cells, the type of cell that makes up the skin.

American astronaut Terry Virts, the current commander of the ISS, is busying himself in the Japan-built Kibo module, getting ready for the next round of Robot Refueling Mission-2 (RRM-2) exercises. RRM-2 explores ways to repair, upgrade, and refuel satellites in orbit, using robots instead of astronauts to do the dangerous work. Satellite servicing was one of the big selling points of the space shuttle, and while the program as a whole never made that kind of on-call repair visit routine, some of the most impressive of the shuttles’ missions were the maintenance trips astronauts made to the Hubble Space Telescope. This week, Virts will be configuring the Kibo airlock so that the RRM-2 slide table and task boards can be positioned outside by the ISS’s Canada-built robot arm.

Least important to the station’s science objectives perhaps, but most important to its crew, are preparations Kelly and Virts are making to replace the filters that scrub carbon dioxide from the ISS atmosphere. Remember the scene in Apollo 13 in which the astronauts had to figure out how to make a replacement filter from cardboard, plastic bags and duct tape or they would suffocate on their own exhalations? The station crew doesn’t want to have to do that—so Kelly and Virts kind of have to get things right.

That’s the rub about any given week on the space station: the maintenance jobs can be routine—but only until they’re critical. The science can seem arcane—but only until it revolutionizes our knowledge of human biology. Kelly and Kornienko have 52 such weeks to do their otherworldly work, and the other crewmembers have up to six months each. The rest of us have forever to use the knowledge they bring home.

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