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 space travel

Watch This Vine of Jeff Bezos’ Rocket Taking Off

The BE-3 engine had a test flight on April 29

Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin appears to have had a successful test flight of its New Shepard rocket on April 29, as seen in a Vine posted by the company on Thursday.

The rocket uses a BE-3 engine and has 110,000 pounds of thrust, according to the company. Had any astronauts been on board, Bezos said in a statement, they “would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return.”

TIME animals

Scientists Discover the First Fully Warm-Blooded Fish

The opah lives hundreds of feet deep below the surface

Scientists have discovered another apparent first, according to new research published in Science: a fully warm-blooded fish.

The opah, which researchers say dwells in the cold, dark depths of the ocean, is able to produce heat by constantly flapping its fins like wings as it moves about, keeping its blood warm as it circulates throughout its body. The opah’s warm-bloodedness is advantageous for the fish, as it’s able to keep itself at least 5 degrees Celsius warmer than its surrounding water and move about quickly to prey on other fish.

The researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association said the fish is the first known one to be identified as fully warm-blooded, a characteristic typical to mammals and birds; tuna and shark are only partially endothermic, meaning warm blood pumps to only select organs.

Researchers told the Washington Post on Thursday they were curious about the fish given its large size, big eyes, and agility in cold water.

TIME Environment

Stronger El Niño Could Bring Drought Relief to California

A sign referencing the drought is posted on the side of the road on April 24, 2015 in Firebaugh, California.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images A sign referencing the drought is posted on the side of the road on April 24, 2015 in Firebaugh, California.

Wetter season for the Golden State "on the table," NOAA official says

The El Niño weather phenomenon is expected to be stronger and last longer in the Northern Hemisphere than originally anticipated, U.S. weather forecasters said Thursday — raising the possibility that it could bring much-needed rain to drought-stricken California.

The cyclical weather event has an 80% chance of continuing in the Northern Hemisphere through the end of the year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). El Niño usually lasts several years, beginning with warming in the Pacific Ocean and affecting weather patterns across the globe.

“We’ve seen continued evolution toward a stronger event,” NOAA official Mike Halpert told TIME. “Last month we were calling it weak, now we’re calling it borderline weak to moderate.”

The new prediction make it likelier that El Niño could provide California some relief from its devastating, years-long drought. Five out of six times there’s been a strong El Niño, Northern California has been wetter than average. But forecasters hesitated to say for certain whether it would last long enough to make a difference. “While that’s certainly on the table as a possible outcome we just don’t have enough confidence,” Halpert said.

Australian authorities predicted a “substantial” El Niño event earlier this week. But while a strong El Niño has the potential to improve drought conditions in the U.S. the opposite is true in Australia. Authorities worry that unusual weather patterns caused by the phenomenon would exacerbate the country’s own severe drought with below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures.

“Stronger El Niños interrupt tropical rainfalls. That rain fall shifts and Indonesia and Austrailia become drier than average,” explained Halpert. “They’re not looking forward to El Niño shutting the tap off.”

 

TIME

In The Latest Issue

Pot Science Time Magazine Cover
Photo-illustration by Brobel Design for TIME. Mouse: Getty, Lighter, Joint, Smoke: iStockphoto

The Great Pot Experiment
Legalization keeps rolling ahead. But because of years of government roadblocks on research, we don’t know nearly enough about the dangers of marijuana—or the benefits

ISIS Is a Danger on U.S. Soil
The terrorist group poses a gathering threat

A Disunited Kingdom
Britain’s election could mean an unruly exit from the E.U.

Nepal Digs Out After the Quake
Those in the remote mountains face the greatest challenge

The Panama Canal Gets Grander
More than a century after it was built, the waterway grows to take bigger ships

The Culture

Pop Chart

David Letterman, Infinite Jester
As Late Show ends, its humor has gone viral

Jimmy Kimmel: Watching David Letterman ‘Was More Important Than Sleep’
Saying goodbye to an idol

Dave’s Top 10 Greatest Moments.
Classics from Late Night and the Late Show

Dave’s Top 10 Guests and Sidekicks

Behind the Music in Pitch Perfect 2
How the experts chose the right notes

Mad Max and the Stronger Sex
Eve Ensler lends feminist cred to the new movie

When Graduation Is a Finish Line for Parents, Too
The pomp is pretty—but getting through high school is much, much harder than it looks

10 Questions With Penelope Leach
The British child-care guru has written a parenting guide for one difficult experience

Milestones

Chris Burden
Performance artist

Briefing

Catching Criminals With the Cloud
How better software can help the police

No State Left Unturned for Clinton
The campaign is focusing on all states, red and blue alike—for now

Tragedy on the Rails
The Amtrak derailment in Pennsylvania prompts a debate on infrastructure and passenger rail travel

Gobbled Up
Verizon’s buy

Obama Struggles to Soothe Saudi Fears As Iran Talks Resume

Strength and Fortitude

 

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 animals

More Than 40% of Bee Hives Died in Past Year, Survey Says

Some states saw more than 60 percent of their hives die since April 2014, according to the survey

(WASHINGTON) — More than two out of five American honeybee colonies died in the past year, and surprisingly the worst die-off was in the summer, according to a federal survey.

Since April 2014, beekeepers lost 42.1 percent of their colonies, the second highest loss rate in nine years, according to an annual survey conducted by a bee partnership that includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“What we’re seeing with this bee problem is just a loud signal that there’s some bad things happening with our agro-ecosystems,” said study co-author Keith Delaplane at the University of Georgia. “We just happen to notice it with the honeybee because they are so easy to count.”

But it’s not quite as dire as it sounds. That’s because after a colony dies, beekeepers then split their surviving colonies, start new ones, and the numbers go back up again, said Delaplane and study co-author Dennis van Engelsdorp of the University of Maryland.

What shocked the entomologists is that is the first time they’ve noticed bees dying more in the summer than the winter, said vanEngelsdorp said. The survey found beekeepers lost 27.4 percent of their colonies this summer. That’s up from 19.8 percent the previous summer.

Seeing massive colony losses in summer is like seeing “a higher rate of flu deaths in the summer than winter,” vanEngelsdorp said. “You just don’t expect colonies to die at this rate in the summer.”

Oklahoma, Illinois, Iowa, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Maine and Wisconsin all saw more than 60 percent of their hives die since April 2014, according to the survey.

“Most of the major commercial beekeepers get a dark panicked look in their eyes when they discuss these losses and what it means to their businesses,” said Pennsylvania State University entomology professor Diana Cox-Foster. She wasn’t part of the study, but praised it.

Delaplane and vanEngelsdorp said a combination of mites, poor nutrition and pesticides are to blame for the bee deaths. USDA bee scientist Jeff Pettis said last summer’s large die-off included unusual queen loss and seemed worse in colonies that moved more.

Dick Rogers, chief beekeeper for pesticide-maker Bayer, said the loss figure is “not unusual at all” and said the survey shows an end result of more colonies now than before: 2.74 million hives in 2015, up from 2.64 million in 2014.

That doesn’t mean bee health is improving or stable, vanEngelsdorp said. After they lose colonies, beekeepers are splitting their surviving hives to recover their losses, pushing the bees to their limits, Delaplane said.

TIME space

Bill Nye Wants Your Help to Build His ‘Revolutionary’ Solar Spacecraft

Watch the video featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson

Bill Nye the Science Guy wants to make space exploration more accessible for everybody, but he wants your help to make it happen. This week he launched a Kickstarter campaign for a LightSail, a very lightweight CubeSat (cube satellite) that relies on energy from the sun to get around instead of the heavy fuels typically used by spacecraft.

“Photons (particles of light) have no momentum, but they are pure energy, and they have momentum,” Nye explained in a recent Reddit AMA. “So, in the vacuum of space, we can design a very low mass spacecraft with a very large reflective area, and it will get a continuous push.”

More than 2,700 backers have so far donated close to $160,000 to the project, which has a goal of $200,000 and met its half-way point within 24 hours of its Kickstarter launch. If the campaign successfully reaches its goal, LightSail will be launched from the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket next year.

“We are advancing space exploration by lowering the cost of sending space crafts way out into space,” Nye says in the video, which also features physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. “This democratizes space…one your’e up there you can fly to the moon or beyond to other planets.”

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.

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