TIME

Journey to the Red Planet: MAVEN Approaches Martian Orbit

Ahead of its arrival, take a look back at the spacecraft's evolution

On Sept. 21, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft will arrive in orbit around Mars and embark on a one-Earth-year long mission to collect data from the planet’s upper atmosphere. MAVEN launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Nov. 18, 2013 and, over the last 10 months, covered a journey of 442 million miles to get where it’s going. The spacecraft is the very first to be dedicated to the study and measurement of Mars’ upper atmosphere.

“The MAVEN science mission focuses on answering questions about where the water that was present on early Mars [went], about where did the carbon dioxide go,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator from the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in a statement. “These are important questions for understanding the history of Mars, its climate, and its potential to support at least microbial life.”

MAVEN, which is equipped with a telecommunications package that allows it to relay data from the Curiosity and Opportunity Rovers currently exploring the planet’s surface, is one of several efforts NASA has undertaken to prepare for potential human exploration of Mars.

TIME space

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: Space Case

Just because you're a Master of the Universe on Earth doesn't mean the real universe will agree. Rich boys playing with space toys have a lot to learn

Time was, billionaires had no shortage of bling to buy—a yacht here, a Learjet there, a professional football team if you happen to have your Sundays free. But that’s all so yesterday. The must-have, 21st-century toy for the man with real cash to burn is fast becoming a spanking new spacecraft company.

That’s the way is seems at least, with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and, most enigmatically of all, Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos and his double super-secret, my-lips-are-sealed Blue Origin. While the other boys are anything but press shy, Bezos has kept his operation under a comparative cone of silence. The company is based in Kent, Washington, and while it doesn’t have any actual spaceships yet, it does have a website, some cool graphics and a very nifty coat of arms featuring what appear to be two turtles holding a shield with the Earth below them, the cosmos above and the motto Gradatim Ferociter (by degrees, ferociously) inscribed beneath. Really.

The last few days have been big ones for Bezos, however, with the announcement on Sept. 17 that he was partnering with United Launch Alliance (ULA)—itself a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing—to produce a new engine for ULA’s workhorse Atlas V booster. Currently, ULA uses a Russian-made RD-180 engine in the first stage of the Atlas. That became both politically and logistically untenable last spring, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Western sanctions against Moscow and an announcement from Russia that it would tighten sales of the engine in retaliation.

So it’s good news that ULA is swapping out its hardware, but huge news—at least judging by the media response—that the universe’s biggest bookseller is part of the deal. The Washington Post—which is owned by . . . oh, let me check my notes. Ah yes, Jeff Bezos—declared the news “a historic partnership between ‘Old Space’ and ‘New Space.’” Bloomberg News and Businessweek, noting the bad blood that has long existed between Musk and Bezos in the race for the high ground, declared it a “battle of the billionaires” and even ran a madcap little graphic showing the two lads jousting on the backs of cartoon rockets, because why not?

But let’s sweep away the packing peanuts and see what’s really inside this latest shipping box. First of all, this may be a Musk-Bezos cage match, but if so, Bezos really should have been part of the undercard. It is a not inconsequential fact that he has yet to fire so much as a push pin into space, while Musk’s SpaceX is already flying satellite payloads for paying customers and is about to make its fourth unmanned cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Bezos has been talking for a while about taking paying tourists to suborbital space—a dream Branson is chasing too—but he is vague about when this will happen and shows no signs at all of having the wherewithal to do it.

Then too there was the timing of his big announcement, which occurred on the very day that NASA announced the companies it had chosen—after a years-long competition—to take over the business of flying astronauts to the ISS. The two winners were Boeing and, yes, Musk. It’s true that nobody knew exactly the day or time that NASA would be revealing its picks, but everybody in the space world did know it was coming sometime in mid-September. Bezos may or may not have intended to spit in the other guys’ soup, but that’s what he wound up doing.

In fairness to Bezos, the engine he is developing, dubbed the BE4 (for Blue Engine), sounds like a real gem. Most rocket engines run on a combination of liquid oxygen and a fuel known as RP1—which sounds a little less nifty when you realize it stands simply for Rocket Propellant 1, and a lot less nifty when you realize that means kerosene. Bezos plans to replace that with far cleaner liquefied natural gas. He also makes the very good point that most of the engines flying today (excluding Musk’s) were designed in the 50s, 60s and 70s and it really is time to bring 21st century materials and computer models into the mix. One BE4 could produce 550,000 lbs. (250,000 kg) of thrust. That’s less than a Russian RD-180 and much more that Musk’s Merlin. But engines are routinely bundled—Musk’s biggest working booster has 9 Merlins and NASA’s historic Saturn V moon rocket had five massive F-1 engines—so thrust is by no means a deal-breaker.

But the thing is, the F-1’s were real, as is the Merlin and as is the RD-180. The BE4, like so much in the space billionaire’s toy box, is either vaporware or hardware that has yet to actually do anything. Bezos and ULA do promise their engine will be flying by 2018—unless, of course, it’s not.

That uncertainty is the biggest message that guys who fancy themselves Masters of the Universe (albeit on Earth) have to learn. Space travel is hard—exceedingly, often lethally hard. You can’t negotiate with physics or bully orbital mechanics. You can’t delete gravity’s Buy button. Elon Musk—so far—is making a real go of things. The rest are little more than dreamers until proven otherwise. It’s not business, fellas, it’s science.

TIME Pictures of the Week

Pictures of the Week: Sept. 12 – Sept. 19

From the result of the Scottish referendum and children returning to bombed out classrooms in Gaza to the Pope marrying 20 couples and NASA's next exploration spacecraft, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

TIME NFL violence

Why On-Field Violence Continues Off-Field

Leave it on the field: The Vikings' Adrian Petersen, charged with beating his child with a tree switch
Leave it on the field: The Vikings' Adrian Petersen, charged with beating his child with a tree switch Tom Dahlin; Getty Images

When you're paid to hit people, it's not always easy to stop at the end of the work day—a fact the NFL has to reckon with, and fast

It’s hard not to take your work home. Politicians glad-hand even when they’re not campaigning; linguists struggle not to scold poor grammar; off-duty police officers scan the crowd in a restaurant for signs of trouble before they sit down. So what happens when your job involves hitting people—especially when you’re paid very, very well to hit them very, very hard?

There are a lot of explanations for the crisis of violence that has hit the National Football league—and a lot of them have merit. Athletes are spoiled. Check. They feel entitled. Check. They believe they’re outside the rules and that even if they get in trouble they can buy their way out with a top-dollar legal defense—check and check. But there are athletes and there are athletes, and not every player in every sport gets into the same kind of trouble. Increasingly, it seems, it’s those who are violent during their work day who continue to be that way when they go home.

The numbers tell a nasty story. There is the San Diego Tribune’s regularly updated NFL Arrests Database, which tracks every known bust of a professional football player going as far back to 2000, a total that currently stands at 730—and counting. There is the more-comprehensive Arrest Nation, an all-sports database, which has tallied 47 NFL arrests in 2014 alone—with three and a half months still remaining in the year.

There is the compelling number-crunching of the Arrest Nation data, conducted by the website Vocativ, which reveals football to be the most lawbreaking of America’s four major sports, with a rate of 2,465.8 arrests per 100,000 population—if in fact the NFL had a population at least that big. The NBA, in fairness, was not far behind, at 2,156.6. But both were way ahead of baseball—ostensibly a non-contact sport—at 552.8.

So is it the beat-downs the players administer on the field that leads to the ones in the homes? One camp says no, pointing to the fact that the arrest rate for violent crime in the NFL is not much different from the rate for all males in the same age group. But age is only part of it. Income is at least as big an x-factor, and compared to other people earning at least $420,000 per year (which is the NFL’s minimum pay for first year players), the footballers blow the doors off the arrest statistics. That’s because in the high-income crowd you eliminate the violence that comes during robberies and shoot-outs that are related to poverty and drug addiction.

There must then be something that keeps the football players’ violent crime rate as high as it is for other males, and that something is a job in which violence is learned, rehearsed and drilled all day. “There’s actually little doubt about it at all,” says psychologist and violence expert Brad Bushman of Ohio State University. “One study that comes to mind involved researchers using a standard questionnaire to measure levels of aggression among high school football players throughout the year. As the season went on, their scores rose. In a control group of non-football playing students, there were no such findings.”

Something similar is true among combat soldiers, Bushman says: “Too many of them come home from war and are more inclined to abuse a spouse than before they left.”

Testosterone can play a role too. Even male sports fans experience rising and falling hormone levels before and during a game. In one study, investigators found that a male fan whose team has won will have a higher post-game testosterone level than a fan whose team has lost. Disturbingly, the mere fact of handling a gun can also cause a hormone spike—not what you want when that same man still has the gun in his hand as those aggression-promoting chemicals continue to course through his bloodstream. That can lead to a cycle of violence for both the athlete and the gunman, with behavior changing blood chemistry, and blood chemistry, in turn, promoting more aggression.

Fixing the problem is a multi-part thing. Robert Northrop, a former federal agent who is one of the founders of the consulting group Winning Integrity, the curators and creators of the Arrest Nation site, takes a toughish-love approach. “We’re not interested in piling on the players,” he says, “We’re interested in determining what happens and teaching ethics and integrity to prevent it from happening.”

That, surely has its place. The other approach is to come down hard. You’re likelier to stay the hand of the batterer when he knows he’s swiftly and surely going to be battered in return—in the form of arrest, trial, suspension from play or even expulsion from professional football forever. Embattled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell may not last the season—or even the month. But whether he remains in office or someone else takes over, the league needs a sheriff, one whose penalties hit even harder than the players themselves do.

TIME Research

Quiz: Can You Answer 5th-Grade Science Questions?

Most Americans lack a basic understanding of science

A new survey on scientific literacy from the Center for Accountability in Science found that most respondents failed to correctly answer questions designed for a fifth-grade science class.

“Most Americans are not armed with the basic facts about science,” said Dr. Joseph Perrone, chief science officer at the Center for Accountability in Science, in a statement. “This alarming lack of scientific literacy makes it easier for the public to be duped by the scary headlines and junk science.” You can get the results of the survey here.

Take our quiz to see if you can answer fifth-grade-level science questions.

TIME energy

The Case for Staying Connected

We don't need to ditch the grid. We need to fix the power business

The solar-rooftop revolution has inspired a lot of talk about grid defection, about electricity independence, about firing your utility and freeing yourself from its wires. And this power-to-the-people rhetoric isn’t just coming from hippie-dippy environmentalists. The banking giant UBS recently predicted that as more homeowners produce and store their own electricity, big utilities and their centralized power plants will gradually become irrelevant. The energy company NRG is already shifting its focus from massive fossil-fuel plants to home-energy solutions. “The future of energy isn’t 120 million butt-ugly wooden poles,” says NRG Energy CEO David Crane. Even the Edison Electric Institute, which is run by utilities, has warned that the rise of rooftop solar could disrupt the utility business model.

It’s an exciting concept, with the potential to empower homeowners and save them money while slashing carbon emissions. As solar costs have plummeted and the number of installations has exploded–over half a million Americans became at-home solar-electricity producers over the past five years–I’ve talked big too. I’ve compared the rise of do-it-yourself power generation to the shift from landlines to mobile phones.

Well, as the politicians say, I’d like to revise and extend my remarks. I still think rooftop solar is an incredibly disruptive technology and a serious threat to antiquated utilities. But the solar revolution is not the telecommunications revolution, and I doubt it will usher in a new era of grid defection and electricity independence. Nor should it. Why disconnect from the grid when you can get paid for providing it with stuff it needs? It might feel good to fire our utilities and escape their wires. But it’s in everyone’s interest for us to figure out a way to get along–and for the politicians to write rules making that possible.

After all, most of us will still need the grid in the solar age. Just about everyone has a cell phone, but some rooftops aren’t right for solar. And most homes and businesses that do go solar will still need extra power; energy analyst Hugh Wynne says factories, malls and apartment buildings generally produce less than 15% of their electricity on their rooftops, while single-family homes usually produce less than 75%. You can go off the grid without losing reliability if you get a backup form of home-electricity production, like the gas-fired generators NRG is pushing, or some form of storage for when the sun isn’t shining. But while batteries are getting cheaper–as are electric vehicles, which can function as car-shaped batteries when not in use–they’re still not as cheap as the grid.

The grid, after all, is an awesome form of power storage, constantly moving electrons to where they’re needed from where they’re not so that our refrigerators keep running. It provides an amazing service to all of us by balancing power supply and demand every second of every day; it ought to, given the trillions of dollars we’ve invested in it. Sure, you might be able to declare independence from the grid, just as you might be able to grow all your food in your backyard, but it’s hard to see how that would make economic sense. On the other hand, staying connected should improve the economics of going solar; in peak afternoon hours, when the grid needs more supply to power air conditioners, you should be able to sell excess electricity to your utility at an attractive price, so it doesn’t have to build and operate additional plants to keep the lights on. It should be good for you, the grid and other ratepayers.

The key word is should. Some utilities have declared war on rooftop solar, shrieking that it threatens their business model–and in many states, it does.

Utilities usually get paid for selling more power and building more power plants. When you produce your own power, you cut into their profit margins. That’s why so many utilities are fighting to limit net metering, which lets solar customers sell power back to the grid, while pushing to charge customers additional fees for using the grid. They argue that otherwise, nonsolar customers will have to pay more to make up for their shortfalls.

That’s not entirely wrong–anyone who uses the grid ought to pay for the privilege–but it also encourages solar customers to go off-grid. It would be better for everyone if they stay connected, so they can generate energy for the grid when it’s needed and, if they get electric vehicles, store energy for the grid when it’s not. But that’s going to require an entirely new way of regulating utilities so they get paid for the services they provide rather than the power they sell us.

We don’t need to fire our utilities. We need to fix the utility business.

FOR MORE ON NEW ENERGY, GO TO time.com/newenergy

TIME space

Scientists Find Giant Black Hole Inside One of the Tiniest Known Galaxies

Artists view of M60-UCD1 Black Hole
Artists view of M60-UCD1 Black Hole NASA, ESA, STScI-RCC14-41a

According to NASA, it's one of the densest known galaxies, with 140 million stars fitting inside its 300-lightyear diameter

NASA said Wednesday that astronomers have found one of the smallest known galaxies ever using the Hubble Space Telescope–but the mini-discovery came with a surprising twist. The tiny galaxy has a massive black hole at its center, nearly five times the size of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Inside the galaxy, at least 1 million stars are visible to the naked eye, according to a NASA press release. To put that in perspective, consider that from Earth we can only see about 4,000 stars in the night sky. The galaxy reportedly has a diameter 1/500th of the size of ours, with 140 million stars that fit inside. Astronomers think the galaxy is proof that “dwarf galaxies” are parts of larger galaxies that were broken up by collisions with other galaxies.

“We don’t know of any other way you could make a black hole so big in an object this small,” University of Utah astronomer Anil Seth said in the NASA statement. Seth is the lead author of an international study on the dwarf galaxy published in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

TIME space

Experts Say Fireball Above Rockies Was Russian Spy Satellite

It's a meteor, it's an unknown celestial body... it's a Russian spy satellite?

A fireball that broke apart in the sky above the Rocky Mountains on Sept. 2 was not a meteor, as witnesses first believed. It was likely a Russian spy satellite.

What was originally described as three “rocks” glowing red and orange as they moved slowly northward across the night sky between New Mexico and Montana was in fact Russia’s Cosmos 2495 reconnaissance satellite, experts told the Associated Press. A meteor would have burned too rapidly and couldn’t have been seen over such a wide swath of the United States, said the American Meteor Society’s operations manager Mike Hankey. The fragments were big enough to be registered as a weather event on radar near Cheyenne.

The Russian Defense Ministry appeared to deny that its satellite had burned up in the atmosphere, with a spokesman saying its military satellites are operating normally. “One can only guess about the condition representatives of the so-called American Meteor Society were in when they identified a luminescent phenomenon high up in the sky as a Russian military satellite,” said the spokesman, Igor Konashenkov.

[AP]

TIME space travel

Boeing and SpaceX Win Major NASA Space Taxi Contract

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Unveils The Dragon V2 Space Taxi
Seats rest inside the Manned Dragon V2 Space Taxi in Hawthorne, California, U.S., on Thursday, May 29, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

NASA will rely on them to send astronauts to the International Space Station

Updated at 5:26 p.m.

NASA awarded Tuesday aeronautical firms Boeing and SpaceX with contracts totaling $6.8 billion to launch astronauts into low Earth orbit under its Commercial Crew Program.

Proposals by Boeing and NASA were selected by NASA to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), with the goal of certifying crew transportation capability by 2017, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a news conference.

Boeing was awarded a $4.2 billion contract, while SpaceX was awarded a $2.6 billion contract, said Kathryn Lueders, Program Manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

“These contracts highlight what commercial companies can accomplish and we are counting on them to deliver our most precious cargo: the crew who will perform vital science research on the ISS,” Lueders said. “Two contracts give us the necessary mechanisms to assure we’re on the right track.”

The contracts are subject to the completion of safety certifications and development efforts for Boeing’s CST-100 capsule and SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, according to Lueders. Specifically, both Boeing and SpaceX will conduct five certification milestones: a baseline review, a design review, a flight test readiness review, an operational readiness review, and certification review.

Once NASA approves that Boeing’s and SpaceX’s systems meet its requirements, the systems will be certified for two to six human missions to deliver cargo and a crew of up to four to the ISS. The missions will enable NASA to nearly double today’s scientific research potential, Lueders said. The capsules will also serve as a “life boat,” capable of holding crew members safe up to 210 days in the event of an emergency.

Bolden emphasized that the contracts are intended to end by 2017 America’s sole reliance on Russia, whose government charges the U.S. $71 million a seat for rides to the ISS. NASA had previously been able to transport crew to the ISS with its Space Shuttle, but retired the vehicle in 2011. Its replacement craft, the Orion, isn’t set for manned missions until after 2020.

A third contender in the space race, Sierra Nevada, did not secure a piece of the deal with its winged spacecraft, the Dream Chaser. Boeing, with its decades of experience supplying parts and expertise to NASA, was widely considered a favorite among the three companies vying for the NASA contract. SpaceX founder and billionaire Elon Musk had previously criticized Boeing for being too close to NASA.

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