And he's confirmed that he will be the first passenger on Virgin Galactic’s maiden flight+ READ ARTICLE
“Mike would have been the first to say that,” Branson told CNN Monday. “Test pilots would say that because they know the risk they’re taking, they know the importance of what they’re doing, we know the importance of what we’re doing.”
And the British entrepreneur confirmed that he would still be the first passenger on Virgin Galactic’s maiden space tourism flight.
“There is no way I would ask others to go on a Virgin Galactic flight if I didn’t feel it was safe enough for myself,” he said.
A spot on the flight will cost $250,000, and 800 passengers have already signed up to join Branson in becoming the world’s first space tourists. Branson said two more people signed up Friday to support the program after the fatal crash.
The company whose rocket exploded in a massive fireball about 200 feet in the air Tuesday is taking a beating on the stock market. Shares for Orbital Sciences are down 15% in early morning trading after the company’s unmanned spacecraft, the Antares, malfunctioned just moments into its attempted journey to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. Orbital stock was trading at about $25.50 around noon.
As TIME’s Jeff Kluger points out, the failed launch could be devastating for Orbital, which has been launching spacecraft for decades. The company is competing fiercely with the likes of Elon Musk’s upstart SpaceX to win NASA contracts to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. Orbital is seeking to extend its contract, and this accident won’t help matters.
The rocket's fortunately fatality-free failure to launch spells trouble for one of NASA's major contractors
The good news—the very, very good news—is that no one was aboard Orbital Sciences’ Antares booster when it exploded just six seconds after leaving the launch pad on Wallops Island, Va. at 6:30 PM EDT on Oct. 28. It was the fifth launch of the Antares and the fourth that was headed for the International Space Station (ISS) on a resupply mission. The booster made it barely 200 feet off the ground.
The bad news—the very, very bad news—is what this means for Orbital as a continued player in the competition to supply the ISS. It was in 2008 that Orbital (which has a long history in the space biz) and Elon Musk’s SpaceX (which had none at all) won a $3.5 billion NASA contract, with Orbital taking $1.9 billion of that for eight flights. Halfway through the contract, the company was looking to re-up, and this will not reflect well on them at the bargaining table.
Orbital was never a serious part of the even more furious competition to take over the manned portion of NASA’s low Earth orbit portfolio. The winners of that battle, named Sept. 16, were SpaceX again, and Boeing—a venerable part of the NASA family and prime contractor of the ISS. Tonight’s explosion would be a lot more worrisome if one of those two—already gearing up to carry people—had been responsible. But for Orbital, it will be bad enough.
Worse for the company is CEO David Thompson’s admission on Oct. 29 that part of the problem could be the AJ-26 engines used in the deceased booster’s first stage. Originally designed by the Soviet Union (that’s not a typo—we’re talking about Russia long before the fall of communism) the engines were later updated and retrofitted for the Antares booster.
It is too early to say if the AJ-26’s were indeed responsible for the explosion, but old hardware is old hardware and in an era in which the likes of Musk are starting with a blank page when they design their engines, taking outdated stuff off the shelf is not the way to inspire confidence. In 2012, a catty Musk made that point, telling Wired magazine:
One of our competitors, Orbital Sciences, has a contract to resupply the International Space Station, and their rocket honestly sounds like the punch line to a joke. It uses Russian rocket engines that were made in the ’60s. I don’t mean their design is from the ’60s—I mean they start with engines that were literally made in the ’60s and, like, packed away in Siberia somewhere.
Musk being Musk, that’s more than a little hyperbolic, but the snark still stung Orbital. It is an especially bad time for any aerospace company to have to be defending the use of Russian-made engines, ever since spring when U.S. sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Crimea led Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin to mock America’s dependence on Russia’s Soyuz rockets to reach the International Space Station. “After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry,” Rogozin said, “I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline.”
More worrisome was Rogozin’s threat to limit sales to the U.S. the RD-180 engines that are used in America’s workhorse Atlas V rocket. That bit of bluster soured politicians on continuing to do space business with Russia at all and kick-started efforts to develop a domestic alternative to the RD-180. Now comes Orbital with an older, far worse Russian engine that just may have caused an entire rocket and its cargo to go up in flames.
A reputation-saving case the company could plausibly make—though it would be suicide to try—is the “stuff blows up” argument. Space travel is notoriously hard and rockets are notoriously ill-tempered. They are, after all, little more than massive canisters of exploding gasses and liquids, with the weight of the fuel often much greater than the weight of the rocket itself. This is not remotely the first time launch controllers have witnessed such a fiery spectacle on the pad and it won’t be the last. Realistically, there will never be a last.
But Orbital is supposed to be a senior member of the space community, not one of the freshmen like SpaceX or Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. No exploding rocket is good—especially when contracts are ending and NASA is again looking for free agents. It’s much worse for an outfit that’s been in the game for a while. Final determination of how bad the damage is will await the investigation into the cause of the explosion. But one thing’s certain: you wouldn’t want to be on the company’s Vienna, Va. campus tonight—on what is surely going to be the first of a lot of very long nights to come.
Taliban claims responsibility
Updated: Sept. 16, 2014, 2:51 a.m. E.T.
A suicide bomber attacked a military convoy in Kabul Tuesday morning, killing three NATO soldiers and injuring 16 civilians.
The explosion took place around 8 a.m. local time in heavy traffic on the airport road near the Supreme Court, according to the BBC.
Witnesses said a vehicle from the convoy was completely destroyed in the attack, and injured soldiers were seen receiving first aid soon after.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast, which took place amid uncertainty and controversy over Afghanistan’s recent presidential elections. The elections have been dogged by allegations of fraud.
The nationalities of the soldiers in the convoy are not yet known, reports said.
Ten years after the Beslan school siege, photographer Diana Markosian made these remarkable photographs of former hostages at the site where 330 captives were killed, more than half of them children.
They were dressed in their best, little girls in spotless white ruffled pinafores and boys in freshly pressed dress shirts buttoned to the collar. It was September 1, 2004, the start of school, a cause for celebration throughout Russia.
When the first shots were fired, 11-year-old Zarina Albegava mistook them for fireworks. She is 21 now, but still has trouble talking about what happened next.
“I don’t want to remember,” she says.
Albegava, her sister Zalina, nine, and around 1,200 others were taken hostage during a back to school celebration in Beslan, in the Russian republic of North Ossetia. Two days later around 330 of them were dead, more than half of them children. Zalina was one of the dead.
It was the worst terrorist attack Russia had ever seen, a gruesome footnote to the two wars that Chechnya fought for independence in the 1990s. Even after Russia finally subjugated the Muslim republic in 2000 and installed a loyal warlord to control it, the conflict continued in the form of an Islamist insurgency whose fighters have staged suicide bombings as far afield as Moscow for years. Beslan is considered one of the conflict’s greatest travesties against the innocent. But a decade later the world has moved on. Residents of this little North Caucasus town have not, partly because important questions remain unanswered: How many terrorists escaped? What caused the explosion that lead to the storming of the school?
It was this sense of loss and longing for answers that attracted documentary photographer Diana Markosian to Beslan. Of Armenian heritage, Markosian, who is 25, often confronts the lingering effects of loss in her work, especially childhood losses. Markosian lost her own father and country, in a way, at seven when her mother moved her and her brother from Russia to Santa Barbara, and their father remained in Moscow. They never talked about her father after that and it was 15 years before she saw him again. When a Beslan survivor told her about the split of his life into “before” and “after” she understood.
“When I was separated from my dad, that’s exactly what happened, I had this experience of being torn apart from the life I had always known,” she tells TIME.
Having spent her early childhood in Armenia and Russia, Markosian also understood the significance of September 1. She still has the yellow and green Bambi backpack her father gave her for her first day of second grade. She hadn’t seen him in weeks, but he was there for the first day of school, holding hands with her mother and brother as they all walked to school.
As a young journalist in Moscow, Markosian passed through Beslan regularly en route to Chechnya. Sometimes she stopped at the school. It served as a monument to the siege, a battle-scarred structure filled with uncapped water bottles the children probably needed desperately during captivity. The hostages were corralled in an airless gym booby-trapped with explosives. For most, there was no water or food after the first day. On the second day the Chechen-speaking captors demanded Russia begin to remove its troops from Chechnya. On the third day there was an explosion and Russian forces stormed the building. In the ensuing firefight only one of 30 or so terrorists was captured alive, later sentenced to life imprisonment.
The shadow of Beslan followed Markosian until she decided to revisit the tragedy through her work. She arrived, she says, looking for the remains, “the direct aftermath of the event.”
She found children’s drawings.
They showed her what she couldn’t capture in photos, drawings of their dead fathers. The men were the first to be killed. Around 20 were shot execution style in a room where Russian literature was once taught. The corpses of fathers who had come to celebrate their children’s first day of school were thrown out the window and left to rot in the sun.
“I wanted this body of work to be collaboration,” says Markosian. “This is their story, their experience, and I wanted them to take part in it.”
Markosian had been resisting the constraints of traditional photojournalism, the distance between subject and photographer. The brutal, simple pictures made by the children in the tragedy’s aftermath combined with her own images allowed her to bridge the gap. Images of barely clothed men, women and children holding bottled water remain as unchanged as the rooms they inhabit in Markosian’s photographs, rooms decorated with bullet holes and peeling paint. On a picture of a sixth grade class she has the survivors write messages to their deceased classmates.
The children, now young adults, journeyed with her back to the school, sometimes for the first time since the tragedy. In silence, with their eyes shut, they remembered. Then they shared those memories with Markosian: the window through which their mother was shot, the spot next to them where their sister died, the classroom where they studied.
Markosian captures the survivors’ visual discomfort at being trapped in a place they have never been able to escape through portraits taken in the school. Other shots show the artifacts the dead left behind, a new shoe, a bloodied undershirt, a child’s untouched bedroom. For Beslan time has not provided resolution.
“The idea that time heals does not hold true for these families,” says Markosian. “Time heals? No, it doesn’t.”
Diana Markosian is a photographer based in Chechnya. Her previous photo essay, also published on TIME LightBox, Inventing My Father will be exhibited at Blue Sky Gallery in Portland in January 2015. See more of her work on her website.
Katya Cengel is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @kcengel.
A new study makes it possible for you to hold one of astronomy's great mysteries in your hands—and understand it better too+ READ ARTICLE
People alive in 1841 understood the Eta Carinae nebula better than we do. They were the ones who were actually around to watch when an enormous star weighing about 130 times as much as our sun erupted more than 7,500 light years from Earth. Maybe if modern astronomers had been on the scene they could have figured out what caused the blast—and specifically why the vast cloud of dispersing matter that makes up the nebula assumed its signature peanut shape.
Still, the good thing about those modern astronomers is that when they put their minds to something, it’s never too late to get some answers. An international team of researchers has just announced that they have done just that, publishing a new study in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society that may at last unravel the Eta Carinae mystery.
The investigators did their work with the help of the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), conducting elaborate cross-sectional observations of Eta Carinae. These allowed them not only to develop a solid theory about how the star blew, but to create a 3D-printed model of the two-lobed space cloud that came from it.
The model is not much to look at—two irregularly shaped balls of plastic that resemble extracted molars as much as anything else. Still, NASA has made the program necessary for printing your own version of Eta Carinae publicly available. Whether you think it’s display-worthy or not, the model tells a complex story.
The star at the center of the Eta Carinae nebula is actually two stars—a binary pair in perpetual orbit around each other. That had been known for a while, but how—or if—they worked together to shape the nebula was never clear. The international team now believes that the eruption occurred when the smaller star—which measures about 30 solar masses—was at the closest point in its orbit to the larger one. It does not appear that a collision triggered the explosion. That seems to have happened on its own, with the blast beginning at one of the poles of the 130-solar-mass star and propagating across its entire body to the other pole.
But the close approach of the smaller star does seem to have had a powerful influence on shaping the eruptive cloud that resulted—and that star had a lot of material to work with. The larger star, which still exists, is now thought to weigh in at just 90 solar masses; the missing material—about 40 times the mass of our sun—is what we see when we look at the huge cosmic peanut.
Why does any of this matter? Well, it doesn’t, if you take “matter” to mean influencing the well-being of the human species responsible for the finding. But if you mean making that species smarter, explaining to it how some of the universe’s most extraordinary and violently beautiful formations came to be, then it matters indeed—and quite a lot, in fact.
Take a glimpse at the making of the film+ READ ARTICLE
Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, features plenty of action and explosions to make for some exciting behind-the-scenes footage.
But it sounds like things didn’t always go smoothly—earlier this month, Blunt appeared as a guest on Conan and talked about the time she almost killed Cruise while driving a stunt car.
Take a look above at what happened on the set of the movie TIME called “a furiously time-looping joy ride and the smartest action film of the early summer season.”
The eruption was so bright that for a while it was one of the most luminous stars in the Milky Way+ READ ARTICLE
Ever wonder what an exploding star looks like?
NASA has released this incredible time lapse video showing the enormous explosion of a red star called V838 Monocerotis, located some 20,000 light years away.
The breathtaking images were captured by NASA’s Hubble telescope over a four-year period.
What makes this starburst even more fascinating is that its origins remains a puzzle, as scientists still don’t fully understand why the explosion occurred. Initially, astronomers thought it was a nova – which is a relatively more common outburst – but more recently, they came to the realization that it was something quite different.
“The outburst may represent a transitory stage in a star’s evolution that is rarely seen,” says the Hubble website. “The star has some similarities to highly unstable aging stars called eruptive variables, which suddenly and unpredictably increase in brightness.”
Don't try this at home.+ READ ARTICLE