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.

TIME psychology

Why Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Cried in Court

HORIZONTAL Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, photo released on April 19, 2013.
FBI/Getty Images Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, photo released on April 19, 2013.

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

When bravado does battle with the brain, the brain will win

Savagery is harder than you think. As members of a highly social species, genetically coded for cooperation, compassion, and the powerful, nearly telepathic ability to experience what another person is feeling, we should not be terribly surprised that convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev shed at least a few tears in court on Monday when his aunt took the stand in the trial’s penalty phase to plead for his life.

We like to think that our criminal monsters are just that—monstrous, somehow fundamentally different from the rest of us. And in some cases that’s true: serial killer Ted Bundy is often described as sociopathic, a man incapable of empathy. Movie theater shooter James Holmes is thought to be schizophrenic, a disease that can indeed leave people incapable of feeling.

But most of the time killers are people with the same emotional software as the rest of us. And just as happens with real software, theirs got corrupted somehow. When it comes to empathy, such a breakdown takes some doing.

The human brain is wired with so-called mirror neurons, brain cells that draw us together by causing us to experience similar things at the same moment. It’s mirror neurons that explain why yawns are contagious, why a newscaster’s sudden laughing jag makes you laugh too, why newborns—who have never seen themselves in a mirror and thus have no idea what their faces look like—will open their mouths wide when an adult does. Up to 10% of the brain’s neurons are thought to have mirroring properties, which is a measure of how important they are.

When Tsarnaev’s aunt took the stand, she began crying before she even spoke. When she did speak, she could manage to give only her name, her age and her place of birth before dissolving entirely and being allowed to step down. She was seated only 10 feet from her nephew, which made her a real and tactile presence.

Tsarnaev’s cool indifference, which has been on display throughout the trial, has seemed at least partly 21-year-old bravado—magnified many times over by whatever psychological journey he took that allowed him to commit the horrific crime he did, and magnified still more by the certain knowledge that his life is over, that he will either be executed or spend the next half dozen or so decades in a cage. It pays, at least in public, to maintain a certain numbness in the face of that reality, lest it become overwhelming.

But for a man-child who may be a horror but is not a Bundy, there are limits. Another person’s tears are limits. An aunt who, in a different time and place, would surely hug you is a limit. And mirror neurons—which populate the brain of the bomber as surely as they do the brain of the doctor or the mother or the person you love—are limits too. Tsarnaev ran out of emotional room today, and the sorrow he felt is just a small part of a penalty he will pay for many years.

Read next: Boston Bomber’s Teacher Says Tsarnaev ‘Always Wanted to Do the Right Thing’

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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 psychology

Sympathy (of a Sort) for Aaron Hernandez

Goodbye to all that: Hernandez being arrested on June 25, 2013—his final day as a free man
George Rizer for The Boston Globe Goodbye to all that: Hernandez being arrested on June 25, 2013—his final day as a free man

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

How should a civilized society punish its monsters?

Aaron Hernandez belongs in hell—literally. If the fiery pit really exists, the former New England Patriot who was just sentenced to life without parole for the murder of a friend, is awaiting trial for two earlier murders and is being sued by man whom he allegedly shot in the eye and left for dead, deserves a confirmed reservation in the lowest circle. What Hernandez and a lot of people like him don’t deserve, however, are the prisons in which they are serving their much-deserved sentences—at least in the conditions under which they will serve them.

The news stories that followed Hernandez’s conviction adhered to schadenfreudean form: watch as the man who used to wear number 81 dons the uniform of inmate W106228; watch as the one-time owner of a 7,100 sq. ft. home is locked inside a cell smaller than a parking space. There’s a certain understandable satisfaction in that: Criminal justice is at least partly about retribution—civil society venting its anger at its most uncivil members. And a killer like Hernandez has a lot of anger coming to him. But when does a lot become too much, especially if civil is the way a society wants to remain?

Just how Hernandez will do his lifetime of time is not yet set; a lot will depend on his behavior, his safety, and how much humbling the administrators of the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center outside of Boston believe he needs. But at best he can expect to remain inside his cell 19 hours out of every 24. Solitary confinement is a possibility—and that will mean 23-hour-a-day lockdown with an hour outside in a small, caged recreation area. He will eat his meals alone in his cell.

If Hernandez does wind up so deep in the correctional hole, he won’t be alone. Roughly 2.3 million people are incarcerated in the U.S. and an estimated 80,000 of them are either in solitary confinement or some other kind of segregated housing. That includes the more than 3,000 inmates on death row, most of whom remain there for years or decades. That once included too the 151 inmates who have been released from death row since 1973 after wrongful convictions were exposed and overturned. In many states, 23 hours in the cell also means no TV, radio, books, music, magazines, or any other distractions.

Conditions like that may be designed to break the spirit, especially in the case of gang members or other violent prisoners, but they also wreck the mind—and fast. As TIME reported in 2007, electroencephalograms show that it takes only a handful of days in isolation for prisoners’ brain waves to shift to a pattern indicating isolation and delirium. As long ago as 1890, the U.S. Supreme Court condemned solitary confinement for its tendency to leave prisoners in a “semi-fatuous condition,” a form of punishment some investigators now call “no-touch torture.”

Suicide rates are disproportionately high among the punitively entombed, as are hallucinations, violent episodes, panic, paranoia, and self-mutilation. And since it is underlying mental disorders that often land inmates in prison in the first place, the time they spend in the hole only exacerbates the problem.

Not only is this inhumane, it also perverts the criminal justice system. When Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber now serving 21 years on terrorism charges, was preparing to stand trial in 2007, his lawyers challenged his fitness to do so, arguing that the three and a half years he had spent in solitary had rendered him unable to assist in his own defense. It was an argument that availed Padilla little, but it provides a credible avenue for other defense attorneys involved in similar cases.

Worse, inmates who are not serving life terms and are eventually released to the streets after long stretches in segregated confinement are likelier to re-offend violently—a combination of rage and lack of social contact destroying whatever self-regulatory faculties they once had. In 2013, Colorado prison director Tom Clements, who had begun reforming the state’s solitary confinement policies, was gunned down by a former prisoner who went straight from solitary confinement to freedom, a sudden trip across dimensions he was clearly not able to handle. His successor, Rick Raemisch, has continued the reforms and even spent nearly 24 hours in an isolation cell as a way of both sampling the experience and demonstrating his commitment to limiting its use.

Pressure for reform is coming as well from prison staffs—who live every day with the dangers that accrue when violent criminals are driven systematically mad. Last year, the Texas prison guards’ union wrote a letter to the state’s department of criminal justice asking that the use solitary confinement be curbed, that even some death row inmates be integrated into the prison population and that such sanity-preserving privileges as TVs, tablets, and the option of a prison job be more widely offered.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the state had already made impressive progress, reducing the solitary confinement population by 25% since 2006. But that still leaves 7,100 inmates—2,400 of whom have diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses or mental disability—locked away alone. A handful of other states including New York, Colorado, and Mississippi have also begun reforming their solitary confinement policies.

Compassion for monsters is not easy to achieve—and the slope gets slippery fast. Hernandez is one thing, but what about Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is still waiting to see if he will be sentenced to death or life? What about Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols or 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui? Your pure evil may be different from my pure evil, so how do we decide? The only thing all of these criminals have in common is that they once had lives, freedom, and, in the case of Hernandez, fame and great wealth too—and they forfeited it all. We can punish them and pen them without forfeiting an important part of ourselves as well.

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 psychology

How Birth Order Will Shape the New Royal Princess

It's never easy being a second-born—especially when your big brother is going to be king

Dear Royal Princess:

You’re having some kind of week—what with labor and birth and the entire planet waiting for pictures of you so they can smile and swoon and make strange smoochy noises at the mere sight of you. It’s all good, and the last thing I want to be is the skunk at the monarchical picnic, but there’s one detail folks may have neglected to mention and you might as well learn about it now. His name is George—or Georgie as all those smoochy people call him—and he’s got plans for you.

George is your big brother. He’s only 20 months old and the world finds him adorable, but you won’t—for a lot of reasons. For starters, at some point in your childhood he will sit on your head. Actually, at a lot of points in your childhood he will sit on your head—and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

The main problem with George is not that he’s third in line to the throne and you’re fourth. That just happens to be one of the downsides of your family business. The problem is one that’s familiar to the rest of us serfs and colonists: he’s the first born, and you’re not.

Your mom and your dad—lovely people, by all accounts—are no different from other parents when it comes to baby-making; they’re ruled by their genes and genes are greedy. The only thing they want is to be reproduced over and over and over again. That makes moms and dads want to have lots of babies, which is good, but they don’t treat all those babies exactly the same.

The first-born—Georgie in your case—gets a head start on food, attention, medical care, education and more. Before the second-born—you, in your case—even comes along, that makes the big sibling a better bet to survive childhood, grow up and have babies of his own, which makes the genes smile. In your family, of course, there’s plenty of food, money and other resources to go around, but back in the days of one of your many royal grandpas—let’s say Edward III, who had the rotten luck to be in office in 1348 when the black plague was making its rounds—surviving childhood wasn’t such a sure thing.

So moms and dads, who have already invested a lot of resources in the first born, tend to favor that child, with later ones getting what’s left over. Corporations call this sunk costs (you’ll learn about this at Eton). In the case of the monarchy, it’s called “an heir and a spare”—but you didn’t hear that from me.

This is an arrangement that suits that first product just fine, which is why big brothers and sisters tend to play by the rules. Your job—and the job of any littler royals who may come along after you—will be to try to upset that order. It’s why later-borns tend to be more rebellious and to take more risks than first-borns. You’ll be likelier to play extreme sports than big bro George. Even if you and he play the same sports, you’ll choose a more physical position—say, a catcher instead of a pitcher in baseball (which is a sport like cricket except the bat is thinner and the ball moves faster and there’s this thing called the infield fly rule and…never mind). In the event you ever become Ruler of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of other Realms and Territories around the world—and a whole lot would have to go wrong in your family for that to happen, so don’t start getting measured for the cape yet—you’d be a more liberal, less conventional monarch than your big bro will be.

Later-borns are more inclined to be artists too, and if there is a comedian in the family, it’s likeliest to be the very last-born. This makes sense, since when you’re the smallest person in the nursery, you are in constant risk of getting clocked by someone bigger, so you learn to disarm with humor.

As you get older, other perils await—ones that are especially problematic for royal families. You don’t really know your grandpa Charles yet, but you’ll find he’s a pretty well-behaved guy (OK, there was the thing with grandmum Camilla, but that’s for him to explain to you). The same is true of your dad. How come? Because they’re both going to be king one day.

As for your Uncle Harry? Ask him about what he wears to Halloween parties (not good) or to play pool in Las Vegas hotel rooms (not much). And if he hasn’t always been the picture of royal reserve, well, neither have your great-grandpa Phillip or your great uncle Andrew. (One day, ask Uncle Andy about a special friend of his named Miss Stark—and if you really want to get a laugh, call her Auntie Koo.) That’s what comes from having lots of money, too much free time, and being really, really close to the throne but never getting to sit on it.

In fairness, it’s not just you royals who get up to mischief when a big sib is the star and you’re not. Something similar has happened here in the colonies. Ever heard of Donald Nixon or Billy Carter or Roger Clinton or Neil Bush? Probably not, but trust me, don’t be those guys.

None of this is for you to worry about yet. Even royal babies are just babies, so for now sleep in, fatten up and hang with mom as much as you can—especially if it keeps your dad away from her. Trust me, the middle-child gig is even worse.

TIME A Year In Space

The Great Space Twins Study Begins

Astronaut twins Mark and Scott Kelly
Marco Grob for TIME Astronaut twins Mark and Scott Kelly

Scott and Mark Kelly—one in space, one on Earth—go under the microscope for science

When serendipity hands scientists the perfect experiment, they don’t hesitate to jump on it. That’s surely the case with NASA’s improbable study of Scott Kelly, who has just completed the first month of a one-year stay aboard the International Space Station, and his identical twin brother Mark, who will spend the same year on Earth.

Zero-gravity messes with the human body in all manner of ways but it’s not always easy to determine which problems are actually caused by the weightlessness and which would have happened anyway. The puzzle gets a lot easier if you just happen to have a second subject with exactly the same genes, the same lifestyle and the same level of fitness. Observe any differences in their health over the year, subtract the matching genetics and what’s left over on the other side of the equal sign is likely the work of weightlessness. Much of the research that will investigate these differences in the Kellys is already underway, both in space and on the ground.

One of the most important studies involves what are known as telomeres, the cuffs that protect the tips of chromosomes in much the way a plastic aglet protects the tips of shoelaces. The longer we live, the shorter our telomeres get, and the unraveling of the chromosomes that results drives the infirmities that come with age.

“One of the things that comes up almost all the time in the interviews with Mark and Scott is this idea of the twin paradox,” says Susan Bailey, of Colorado State University, who is coordinating the telomere research. “Is the space twin going to come back younger than the Earth twin?” That kind of time dilation happens in movies like Interstellar, but only when someone is moving at close to light speed. The year Scott will spend orbiting Earth at 17,500 mph (28,000 k/h), may indeed slow his body clock, but by barely a few milliseconds. His telomeres, however, will more than make up for that, and he’ll likely come home physically older than Mark.

“A whole variety of life stresses have been associated with accelerated telomere loss as we age,” says Bailey. “You can imagine strapping yourself to a rocket and living in space for a year is a very stressful event.”

Chromosomal samples from both Kelly twins were taken and banked before Scott left to provide a telomere baseline, and more samples will be collected over the year. Mark’s are easy enough to get ahold of, but Scott will have to draw his own blood in space, spin it down and freeze it, then send it home aboard returning ships carrying cargo or astronauts. Both twins will also be followed for two years after Scott comes back to determine if any space-related telomere loss slows and if the brothers move closer to synchrony again.

The twins’ blood samples will also be used to look for the state of their epigenomes, the chemical on-off switches that sit atop the genome and regulate which genes are expressed and which are silenced. Environment is a huge driver in epigenetic changes, especially in space, as cells adjust to the unfamiliar state of weightlessness. “We can kind of build these molecular maps of what’s happening in the different cells…as they’re challenged by this low gravity condition,” says geneticist Chris Mason of Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, who is leading this part of the work.

Also due for a good close look are Scott’s and Mark’s microbiomes. The number of cells that make up your body are actually outnumbered 10 to one by the bacteria, viruses, yeasts and molds that live in your body. It’s only the fact that most of them are also much smaller than human cells that prevents them from outweighing you 10 to one as well. Still, if you could extract them all and hold them in your hand they’d make a hot bolus of alien organisms weighing up to 5 pounds.

This is actually a good thing, since we need this interior ecosystem to keep our bodies—especially our digestive tract—running smoothly. Like so much else for Scott, that will change in space. “A significant part of what’s present normally in the gastrointestinal tract doesn’t actually colonize,” says research professor Martha Vitaterna of Northwestern University, co-investigator on the microbiome work. “These are things that are constantly being reintroduced with fresh fruits and vegetables, and that’s missing from Scott’s diet.”

Genes can also make a difference to the microbiome, since any individual’s genetic make-up may determine which microorganisms thrive in the gut and which don’t. Scott’s and Mark’s microbiomes will be compared throughout the year, principally through stool samples—ensuring some unglamorous if scientifically essential shipments coming down from space.

Other studies will involve the way body fluids shift in zero-g, drifting upwards to the head and elsewhere since there is no gravity pulling them down. This can damage vision as a result of pressure on the eyeballs and optic nerve. It can also lead to damage to the cardiovascular system, with astronauts returning to Earth at increased risk of atherosclerosis.

Some of these changes can be tracked by blood studies, which will look for proteins that regulate water excretion. Ultrasound scans can also look for vascular damage. Before leaving Earth, Scott had a few small dots tattooed on his upper body to indicate the exact points at which he has to position the ultrasound probe—easier than taking precise measurements to find the proper spots every time he’s due for a scan.

Multiple other studies will be conducted on the twins as well, looking at their immune systems, sleep cycles, psychological states and more. For years, space planners have been talking a good game about going to Mars one day, but those trips will last more than two years. We know the hardware can survive the trip; what we don’t know is if the human cargo can. A year from now—thanks to the Kellys—we’ll be a lot smarter.

TIME is covering Kelly’s mission in the new series, A Year In Space. Watch the trailer here.

TIME Sports

Pacquiao, Mayweather, and the Physics of Getting Punched in the Head

Enjoy it now, guys: Mayweather (left) and Pacquiao are heading for a brain pounding
JOHN GURZINSKI; AFP/Getty Images Enjoy it now, guys: Mayweather (left) and Pacquiao are heading for a pounding

A prize fight might be thrilling but it's murder on the brain

In a perfect world, a highly trained, heavily muscled man would not punch you in the head.

Fortunately for most of us, the world is indeed perfect in that one small way. But most of us aren’t boxers. For those who are–say, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, who square off this weekend in a matchup dubbed “the fight of the century“—getting punched in the head by highly trained men is an occupational hazard. The payday can be huge, but the price—in terms of traumatic brain injury—can be very high.

Plenty of sports are hard on the brain. Organized football, from Pop Warner up through the pros, has been rightly pilloried for the devastating toll it takes on players, who suffer from repeated concussions that may lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative condition that has claimed so many NFL veterans.

But while football might be the most concussive team sport, it’s followed closely by ice hockey, and then by soccer, lacrosse, basketball, field hockey, gymnastics and baseball, generally in that order, depending on age, gender and the level of professionalism of the players.

Even in football, however, blows to the head are incidental if unavoidable parts of the contest. In boxing, they are the contest—and that means trouble.

“[Boxing] is not really tracked the way school sports are tracked,” says Robert Cantu, clinical professor of neurology and neurosurgery at the Boston University school of medicine. “Concussions in boxing are a poorly reported sample, but at B.U. we’ve had a 100% incidence of CTE in the boxers we’ve studied.”

With good reason. Various studies have put the force delivered by a blow from a trained boxer at anywhere from 450 lbs. (204 kg) to over 1,400 lbs. (635 kg), enough to accelerate the head to 53 g’s. Those forces hit in one of two ways—linear and rotational—and neither of them is good.

“Acceleration from a straight-on punch is linear, while a roundhouse is more rotational,” says Dr. Christopher Giza, professor of pediatric neurology and neurosurgery at UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital, and a former commissioner of the California State Athletic Association. “We think rotational forces are more important in getting knocked out, but most punches have components of both.”

Within the brain, it’s the white matter—or the fatty sheathing on nerve cells that serves as insulation and connective tissue—that suffers the most. “The brain has the consistency of firm Jell-O,” says Giza. “If you shake or twist it you put strain on the connections, leading to stretching or tearing.” That causes both immediate and long-term harm, with the damaged connective tissue leaking what are known as tau proteins, which build up over time to form the signature deposits that signal CTE.

The brain’s slightly loose fit in the skull causes other problems. A thin layer of fluid surrounding the brain is supposed to provides shock absorption in the case of minor blows, but when you get hit hard enough, that little bit of wiggle room allows the brain to rattle around, with soft tissue colliding with unyielding bone. That can cause shock, bruising and even bleeding and death.

In boxing, it’s often easy to see when either kind of damage has caused trauma. The knockout, or the dazed and disoriented condition known as a technical knockout, is practically the very definition of a severe concussion. But most concussive injuries produce subtler symptoms, and while sports like football and hockey are increasingly taking the time to examine players during games and sit them out if there are signs of trouble, that’s not an option in boxing.

“From the ringside, trainers have to examine players very briefly between rounds to determine if they should stop the fight,” says Giza. “They need a very specific set of skills to diagnose a problem so quickly.” With other things going on at the same time—cuts treated, strategy planned—that diagnosis becomes even harder. And since the sport hardly rewards a boxer whose trainer pulls him preemptively, there is a competitive and financial incentive in simply slugging on.

None of this means that all boxers will sustain traumatic brain injury. The 100% figure Cantu cites is derived, he readily acknowledges, from a self-selected population of fighters who come to his clinic seeking help for neurological symptoms. At least some of the larger population of boxers who don’t show up may be fine. What’s more, smart boxers—at least at the championship level—are increasingly taking steps to protect themselves, sparring less, engaging in safe aerobic training more and fighting perhaps only two bouts a year.

But limiting things to two well-compensated fights is a luxury not every boxer can afford. For too many of them—as well as too many athletes in other sports—the payday comes first and health comes second. It’s a way of doing business that growing numbers of athletes live to regret.

TIME

Why an Out-of-Control Spacecraft Is Bad News for Russia

A resupply craft heading for the space station spins out of control

If you want to get where you’re going (and where you’re going is space) there’s nothing like a Soyuz rocket. The venerable Russian booster was first launched in 1966 and has been flying ever since, reliably delivering cargo and crews to low Earth orbit—except, that is, when it fails. That, alas, appears to be the case at the moment.

A Progress cargo vehicle, destined for the International Space Station (ISS), was launched atop a Soyuz on April 28 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and while it reached orbit as planned just minutes later, everything since then has been something else entirely. The ship, carrying 2.6 tons of supplies—including propellant, oxygen, water, spare parts, crew clothing and spacewalk hardware, as well as a commemorative replica of the Soviet victory banner raised above the German Reichstag building 70 years ago this May—began what NASA has dubbed a “slow spin,” but which looks, from a video shot from within the spacecraft, like a pretty fast one. No matter how it’s described, any out-of-control spin is a very bad thing.

The vehicle had been launched when the ISS was in position to allow the Progress to rendezvous with it after a relatively quick, four-orbit, six-hour chase. Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has now changed that to a more traditional 34-orbit—or 2.1 day—pursuit, in hopes of opening up enough time to fix what is wrong with the ship.

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

The problem appears to have been caused by the failure of two radar antennas to deploy as planned. The Joint Spacecraft Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, Calif., reported that it detected 44 pieces of debris in the vicinity of the spacecraft. The significance of that is unclear—the Progress sheds a shroud before going to work in orbit and some debris could have been left behind—but it’s not a good sign.

None of this represents anything close to an emergency for the ISS crew. “The spacecraft was not carrying any supplies critical for the United States Operating Segment (USOS) of the station,” said NASA spokesman Dan Huot in an e-mail to TIME. “Both the Russian and USOS segments…continue to operate normally and are adequately supplied well beyond the next planned resupply flight.”

But the problem comes at an unhandy time for Russia. Even as Roscosmos was fighting to right the Soyuz, a Dragon resupply vehicle, successfully launched by California-based SpaceX, was docked to the station and going through five weeks of unloading. Both SpaceX and the Virginia-based Orbital Sciences—which flies the Antares supply vehicle—are under contract to make cargo runs to the station. Progress has a far longer success record than either of the comparative upstarts, but the current malfunction is the second since 2011, when another Progress spun out of control just 325 seconds after launch and crashed into the Kazakh steppe.

Roscosmos has enjoyed a monopoly on manned space flight to the station ever since the shuttles were retired in 2011, and briefly owned the market for unmanned runs too—at least until the Dragon made its first successful trip in 2012. By 2017, both Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft are supposed to begin carrying crews to the station. That will hurt more than Russia’s ego: Roscosmos charges $70 million per seat for passengers, and Russia—pinched by low oil prices—could sorely use the cash. It’s not as if SpaceX and Boeing will fly folks for free, of course—the transition to private suppliers means someone’s got to make a profit—but SpaceX founder Elon Musk likes to speak about how important it is to “repatriate” the money the U.S. is currently paying Russia. It’s an idea that has special appeal when relations between Moscow and Washington remain chilly.

None of this means anyone should be dissing the Soyuz or the Progress. They’re sweet machines that have been doing their jobs for a long, long time. And the Russian engineers who build and fly them have proved themselves pros. But technology changes, time passes and markets move. Problems with the Progress can only help move them somewhere else.

TIME A Year In Space

A Month Spent in Space—and 11 More to Go

.@FLOTUS Thank you. Made it! Moving into crew quarters on @space_station to begin my #yearinspace.
Scott Kelly—NASA Scott Kelly posted this selfie on March 30, shortly after his arrival to the space station, while moving into his living quarters, where he will sleep during his year in space.

The first 30 days of Scott Kelly's mission aboard the ISS are in the books

A year in space is marked in part by the holidays that will pass while you’re away. Christmas? Sorry, out of town. Easter? Ditto. Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, Halloween? Catch you next year.

It’s fitting then, that the first holiday astronaut Scott Kelly spent in the just-completed first month of his planned one-year stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS)—which began with his launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in the early morning hours of March 29—was Cosmonautics Day. Never heard of it? You would have if you were Russian.

Cosmonautics Day celebrates April 12, 1961, when Yuri Gagarin lifted off from the same launch pad from which Kelly’s mission began, becoming the first human being in space. Kelly and his five crewmates—including fellow one-year marathoner Mikhail Kornienko—got the morning off on this year’s special day, taking the opportunity to enjoy the relative comforts of a spacecraft with more habitable space than a four-bedroom home. But in the afternoon it was back to work—following a moment-by-moment schedule that is scripted on the ground, followed in space and that, while often grueling, is the best way for astronauts and cosmonauts who have signed on for a long hitch to keep their minds on their work and keep the time from crawling.

Kelly’s first month was, in some ways, typical of the 11 that lie ahead. There was the arrival of a SpaceX cargo ship—a vessel carrying 4,300 lbs (1,950 kg) of equipment and supplies, including a subzero freezer that can preserve experiments at -112º F (-80º C)—that needed to be unloaded; new gear to aid studies of the effects of microgravity on mice; and a sample of so-called synthetic muscle, a strong but pliant material modeled after human muscle, to be used for robotic limbs and joints. Also tucked into the load was a less practical but infinitely more anticipated item—a zero-gravity espresso machine, dubbed the ISSpresso.

There are 250 experiments that must be tended at any one time aboard the ISS, but the most important of them will be Kelly and Kornienko themselves. The human body was built for the one-g environment of Earth, but if we ever hope to achieve our grand dreams of traveling to Mars and beyond, we’d better figure out if we can survive the rigors of zero-g. And that’s no sure thing. Almost every system in the body—circulatory, skeletal, cellular, visual—breaks down in some ways in weightlessness.

In their first month in space alone, the two long-termers submitted to a whole range of preliminary experiments that will track their health throughout their stay: their eyes are being studied to determine the kind of effect the upward shift in fluids caused by zero-g has on the optic nerve and the shape of the eyeball. Space physicians already know the basic answer: not a good one. But the hope is that Kelly and Kornienko will help provide ways to mitigate the damage.

Other biomedical studies in the first month include sampling saliva and sweat to test for bacterial levels and chemical balance; leg scans to determine blood flow; studies of blood pressure—which can fluctuate wildly when the heart no longer has to pump against gravity; analyses of throat and skin samples; bone density tests and studies of the cells to determine why they change shape in zero-g. As exquisite serendipity has it, Kelly’s identical twin brother, Mark, is a retired astronaut, providing a perfect controlled study of how men with matching genomes and matching backgrounds react to a year spent in decidedly non-matching environments. Nearly all of the studies Scott submits to in space will be duplicated in Mark on the ground.

The eleven months ahead will not all be a Groundhog Day repetition of the first. Kelly will venture out on at least two spacewalks—the first of his four-mission career—and will help oversee a complex reconfiguration of the station, with modules and docking ports repositioned to accommodate commercial crew vehicles built by Boeing and SpaceX, which are supposed to begin arriving in 2017. There will also be movie nights and web-surfing and regular video chats, phone calls and emails with family. And the periodic arrival of cargo ships will provide such luxuries as fresh fruits and vegetables, which don’t last long in space, but don’t have to because six-person crews missing the comforts of home scarf them down fast.

The clubhouse turn of Kelly’s and Kornienko’s one-year mission will occur next December, the 50th anniversary of what was once America’s longest stay in space: the two-week flight of Gemini 7, which astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell passed in the equivalent of two coach airline seats, with the ceiling just three inches over their heads. The ISS is a manor house compared to the Gemini. But the astronauts are still astronauts, human beings in a very strange place experiencing very strange things—in this case for a very long time.

TIME is covering Kelly’s mission in the new series, A Year In Space. Watch the trailer here.

TIME baltimore

The Pain of Watching Baltimore Burn — Again

BALTIMORE, USA - APRIL 27: Fire Fighter attempt to put out a building that was set on fire during riots in Baltimore, on April 27, 2015. Protests following the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered while in police custody have turned violent.
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Fire fighters attempt to put out a building that was set on fire during riots in Baltimore, on April 27, 2015.

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

The current violence is—and very much isn't—a repeat of the 1968 riots

I’ve seen this ugly movie before and I didn’t like it much that first time, either. I can’t pretend I was touched directly by the violence when Baltimore was last convulsed by riots, but I was close enough—a boy living in the green suburban ring surrounding Baltimore City during the days of violence that followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. I experienced the curfews and the lockdowns and the shuttered schools, the troop trucks on the streets and the olive drab National Guard planes flying low over our house, heading south to the airport where the soldiers would be disgorged and fan out into the city.

I experienced too Barry Oskar (not his real name; I use a pseudonym to spare his surviving family any unnecessary pain), the grandfather of a pair of children who lived on my block. Oskar owned a liquor store in the heart of the violence and announced one evening to family and neighbors that he had shot and killed the first black man to die in the rioting. I didn’t know if it was true or it was a boast — such was Oskar’s naked hatred of African Americans that he would count that a boast. But it had the ring of something he would do, and it wasn’t as if the half dozen killings that occurred in those violent days were going to be aggressively investigated anyway.

The rioting that broke out this week followed the funeral of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old African American who died at the hands of a dysfunctional white police force that, since 2011 alone, has had to pay out $5.7 million to settle brutality claims. Superficially it felt like a 1968 redux, but the city of now is not the city of then. When I was born, Baltimore was a fault-line place, a town perched on the tipping point between north and south, between the Brown v. Board school desegregation ruling, which had happened not long before, and the voting rights and civil rights acts that were still years away.

The population was openly, racially stratified and businesses that reckoned they could get away with it operated with Jim Crow impunity. When our babysitter, a young African-American woman — as nearly all babysitters were in that time and that place — took my brothers and me to the Uptown Theater to see a revival screening of Pinocchio, the manager scowled at her as soon as we entered, summoned her over and whispered a few cross words.

She came back to us bearing what she gamely framed as the very exciting news that we were all going to get to sit in the balcony. That was fine with me — the balcony was indeed exciting — and it was not until we all got home, my grandmother got word of what had happened and called the theater to rip the bark off the manager that I suspected something more was going on. That something, she made clear to us, had been very wrong.

I didn’t know anything about the primal roots of racism at the time. I hadn’t done any of the reading I’ve done in the decades since about how the brain sorts all people into same and other, tribe and non-tribe, a highly adaptive behavior when we lived in the state of nature but decidedly non-adaptive now. I didn’t know either how powerfully color — of a flag or a uniform or a person — affects that sorting behavior, how easily nonsense like What color is the dress? can morph into What color is the person? And when the answer is black, and the person is young and male, terrible things can happen at the hands of the people who are supposed to be keeping the peace.

I’m glad I didn’t know those things back then, the last time Baltimore burned. Behavioral science can too often be used to make excuses. Laws are fine, but alas, the hearts and minds of men are too often fixed. Best to grow up without that dodge, to learn early on that hearts and minds are as mutable as custom, and that it is every culture’s — and every person’s — responsibility to turn from the dark to the light.

That’s as true of Baltimoreans as of anyone else, but too many people are unsurprised by the current violence. They’ve heard of the city’s stubbornly high murder rate — fifth in the country, behind only Detroit, Newark, New Orleans and St. Louis. Oh, and they’ve seen The Wire — so that pretty much seals things.

But Baltimore’s history and nature run far deeper — the tale of a harbor town, a steel town, a beer-brewing town, an immigrant town. Yes, parts of the city have hollowed out as parts of so many other cities did. And unlike many of those other cities, Baltimore has not enjoyed the same rebound, the same return to the urban core.

But in Baltimore as in the nation as a whole there have been tectonic shifts barely imaginable in 1968. When the lines of authority in a time of civil unrest run from a President named Barack Obama to Attorney General Loretta Lynch to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake—African Americans all—no one can pretend the world is the same place it was when Lyndon Johnson, Ramsey Clark and Tommy D’Alesandro filled those roles. Rawlings-Blake especially can speak truth to law-breaking power in ways that the white patriarchy never could.

“I’m at a loss for words,” she said angrily as the fires in her hometown flared. “It is idiotic to think that by destroying your city that you’re going to make life better for anybody.”

That idiocy will end. Riots always do when enough rage has been spent. And the question then will be what both the black and white populations of Baltimore, newly chastened, newly shaken, will do. If Rawlings-Blake can shame the looters, someone must also shame the police and their enablers. Otherwise the cycle will never be broken.

Barry Oskar did not live to see Baltimore’s latest burst of violence — indeed, he did not live terribly many years after the murder he liked to brag about. One day he was in his store, behind his counter and an intruder entered with intent to rob. Oskar reached for his well-loved gun but the robber shot fast and first, and the mortal ledger was once again balanced — murder for murder, death for death, the entry made in the blood ink of the race wars. No more, Baltimore. Please stop. You’ve suffered enough.

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.

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