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.
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
Welcome to #theBrief, the four stories to know about right now—from the editors of TIME+ READ ARTICLE
Here are the stories TIME is watching this Wednesday, May 14:
- 238 Turkish miners are dead and hundreds are still missing after an explosion at a power distribution unit.
- Magic Johnson responds to Donald Sterling’s remarks, saying Sterling is “living in the Stone Age.”
- John Conyers, the second longest-serving lawmaker in Congress, doesn’t make a primary ballot after failing to collect enough signatures.
- Shoppers who footed the bill for Vibram’s toe-shoes could get up to $90 back after a lawsuit alleged the shoes didn’t provide health benefits as the company advertised.
The Brief is published daily on weekdays.