TIME space

ISS Astronauts Do Their Third Spacewalk in Eight Days

They were helping to set up antenna that future space taxis will use to dock with the ISS

Two U.S. astronauts left the International Space Station on Sunday for a spacewalk — the third time they had left the orbiting station in just over a week.

This time, station commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and flight engineer Terry Virts were preparing berthing docks for space taxis being developed by Boeing and SpaceX, reports Reuters.

Their job was to rig more than 122 meters of cables for two sets of antennas that the new vehicles will use as navigation tools before they dock at the station. The mission was completed after just 5.5 hours, less than the seven hours originally planned on.

After the spacewalk, Virts found a small amount of water inside his helmet but said it didn’t pose a risk to his safety.

[Reuters]

TIME remembrance

Check Out an Astronaut’s Tribute to Leonard Nimoy from Space

A touching tribute from a fellow space traveler

Astronaut Terry Virts tweeted a tribute to the late actor Leonard Nimoy from outer space.

Virts, an astronaut currently aboard the International Space Station, photographed the “Live Long and Prosper” hand salute that Nimoy made famous as Spock on Star Trek, framed by the coastline of Nimoy’s home state, Massachusetts.

The actor passed away on Friday aged 83.

TIME space

Why Leonard Nimoy Mattered

The meaning of Spock

If you cared a fig for space travel, it was easy not to care when the first episode of Star Trek aired on Sept. 8, 1966. Just four days later, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon would be lifting off for their Gemini XI mission, which would orbit the earth 44 times in just under three days and set a then-unheard of manned-altitude record of 739 nautical miles (1,369 km). There was still one more Gemini flight to go before NASA could even think of test-flying its Apollo lunar ships—and only a little more than three years left if the U.S. was going to meet President Kennedy’s goal of reaching the moon before 1970.

Against that, a group of actors on a paste-board set pretending to fly in space was pretty small beer. And as for one with the blunt-cut bangs and pointy rubber ears? Please.

But the space geeks and critics and TV execs—so many of whom sniffed at Star Trek during the brief three years it ran—were too smart and too cute by half. And the loss of Leonard Nimoy—who more than any other character captured the romance, the rocket science and the extraordinary wit of the series—is cause again to consider why the show was what it was.

Star Trek’s production values—with its wobbly doors and painted rocks and its lizard-like antagonist with, as a friend of mine once put it, bicycle reflectors for eyes—were entirely beside the point. It was the largeness of the stories Star Trek sought to tell that mattered, and never mind the idea that fever dreams about dilithium crystals and warp drive seemed all wrong for an era in which metal rockets and flesh-and-blood men were actually flying, the timing of the series was perfect.

I was one of those Gemini junkies when Star trek premiered—a 12 year old American boy who built model rockets and learned the names of astronauts and whose very first memory was standing on the front lawn looking for Sputnik when I was only three years old. I breathed rocket fuel almost from birth.

And yes, I was too distracted by the real space program to pay a lot of attention to Star Trek in its original run, but as with so many others, I soon tumbled for it hard. The space program, I came to know and appreciate, was the stuff of increments, of inches (literally when Gemini VI and Gemini VII became the first manned American spacecraft to rendezvous in orbit). It was a thing of fixed speeds—17,500 mph (28,200 k/h) to orbit the Earth and 25,000 mph (32,000 k/h) to escape its gravity. It was a thing of teeth-rattling liftoffs and bone-thumping landings and a dependence on fire—fire!, the fuel of the primitives—to get anywhere at all. And, as well, it was a thing of very real and very terrible deaths—as when some of that fire claimed three of those flesh-and-blood astronauts, or when two astronauts, who had trained hard and competed hard and made the cut and were chosen to fly, died before they ever got the chance, in a routine airplane accident.

Stanley Kubrick, with his huge, brooding 2001: A Space Odyssey, released eight months before human beings even orbited the moon, tried to combine the technology of the what-is with the wonder of what-could-be, and so gave us eternal slo-mo’s of thrusters firing and counter-thrusters responding and astronauts floating and space pods creeping, creeping, creeping toward mother ships. And only then, when you couldn’t take the glacial pace anymore, he blew the whole thing up in a lot of flashing lights and hallucinogenic images about, well, birth or life or death or who knew what and who, after a running time of 160 minutes, cared anymore?

Star Trek didn’t take itself nearly so seriously. It was about warp drive because regular physics is just too strict; it was about beaming up and down, because why shouldn’t the molecules that make you up be infinitely scramble-able and unscramble-able? It was about planet after planet with just the right air and just the right temperature because what’s the point of hiring good-looking actors if you can’t see them for the space helmets? And it was—pitilessly, riotously—about the lieutenant in the red shirt who was inevitably going to die on one of those planets before the first commercial because that was just plain good for the story.

MORE: How Leonard Nimoy Almost Wasn’t Spock

The genius of Star Trek was that it saw the high stakes and high price and punishingly hard science of a real space program and forgave us all that. It let us quit the real while still keeping it in sight, to live in a world in which it takes six years to fly from here to Pluto and glimpse a world in which it takes six seconds to reach Alastria, a Delta Quadrant planet that you can get to only with the help of a spatial trajector—whatever that was.

And it was Nimoy as Mr. Spock—half-human and half-Vulcan, part-brain and part-savage—who was the literal embodiment of that duality. Spock’s mind would have had no truck with the liberties the Star Trek series took. But his heart would have loved them.

We’re better, dreamier, more hopeful spacefarers for having spent time with Star Trek. And we’re better too for having had the wise corrective of Nimoy’s Spock to keep us honest while letting us dream.

TIME space

See The 10 Best Space Selfies Ever Taken

The space selfie phenomenon is not new, astronauts have been turning the camera on themselves since 1966

TIME space

This Is How Incredible (and Terrifying) Space Looks in Virtual Reality

New first-person space exploration game takes you far above the Earth

Soon you’ll be able to float around in space…in virtual reality. Design studio Opaque Multimedia unveiled on Tuesday a trailer for Earthlight, an upcoming first-person space exploration game. Using Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that is expected to debut this year, and Microsoft Kinect 2, a motion sensor, Earthlight lets you play an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, 268 miles (431 km) above the Earth you’re actually standing on. It looks like a startling, if slightly disorienting, experience.

TIME space

Loving Earth Can Sometimes Require Leaving It

See the borders? That's because there aren't any.
NASA; Getty Images See the borders? That's because there aren't any.

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

In a new book, astronaut Ron Garan calls for a better approach to making the world a healthier, more peaceable place

It’s a good thing you can’t see human suffering in infrared wavelengths. That kind of pain is something seen in the visible, felt in the viscera. If it showed up in the infrared it would mean that with the right instruments, you could see it from space, and that would change everything. There’s not a person who’s ever left the planet who hasn’t commented on the transcendent beauty of the blue, green, white Earth hanging in what otherwise appears to be a void. But what if Syria glowed scarlet like the open wound it is? What if West Africa went dark and cold to reflect the Ebola deaths that are still happening there?

Astronauts are spared such sights—or at least most of them are. But Ron Garan saw them anyway. Garan spent two weeks aboard the space shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station in 2008, then returned to space for a five-and-a-half-month stay aboard the station in 2011. That last tour of duty included the month of August—most significantly August 24, the day Tripoli fell during the Libyan civil war. Garan happened to look out the window that day and snapped a picture that included Libya—a place that was beautiful from orbit but bleeding up close.

The experience, along with many others others like it during the collective 179 days Garan spent in space, changed a great many things for him. Life on Earth, he came to realize, is experienced two-dimensionally—with all of the distortion that that implies. The people and things close to you obscure the ones farther away; objects shrink as they approach the horizon—dwindling in both size and significance. One Ebola death in the U.S. galvanizes our attention. Ten thousand in Africa barely move us.

Such a blinkered view is impossible from orbit, where you take in whole sweeps of the borderless globe in a glance. Garan, accordingly, returned home to write a book, The Orbital Perspective, that movingly explains the impact of such a perspective shift—one that by no means occurs for every astronaut.

The late Jack Swigert, command module pilot of Apollo 13, once observed that the very things that qualify astronauts to go to space—a mission-first, get-it-done pragmatism that doesn’t allow for a lot of rhapsodic silliness—often disqualifies them to feel or describe their experiences terribly deeply. Garan was the rare exception and is now devoting himself to working for a world that functions the way it appears to function from space—as an organic whole, not a fragmented collection of continents, nations, communities and sects. The book’s foreword is written by Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist who won the 2006 Nobel Peace prize for pioneering the concept of microloans—making very small amounts of money available to people who would otherwise not qualify for credit so that they can start businesses or otherwise become self-sufficient.

A fair bit of the book is devoted to exploring similar kinds of work done by similar kinds of social entrepreneurs. There is Amanda Lindhout, the Canadian journalist who spent 460 days in captivity after being kidnaped by Somali extremists in 2008 and then, after being released, went home to found the Global Enrichment Foundation, in support of education in Somalia. There is Engineers Without Borders (EWB), a group dedicated to bringing solar power, food-preservation systems and other technological essentials to underserved parts of the world.

Garan, in fairness, had an inclination toward good works even before he first flew in space—founding the Manna Energy Foundation to help address the developing world’s need for fresh water, renewable energy, access to communications and other basics. He has since worked with EWB and NASA’s Johnson Space Center to further the group’s work. But his trips to space provided him a certain authority—and urgency—he lacked before.

There’s an undeniable wonk appeal to Garan’s approach to the business of saving and improving lives. He finds metaphorical power in a hunk of hardware most people have surely never heard of: the Apollo-Soyuz docking module, an ugly 4,400 lb. (2,000 kg) piece of metal that made the first joint U.S.-Soviet spaceflight possible, in 1975, allowing two incompatible spacecraft—from two incompatible cultures—to link-up in orbit. He describes the Apollo 13 rescue less as the gripping tale of survival it surely was than as the world’s “first hackathon.”

He sees, similarly, more than a feel-good story in the successful international effort to save 33 trapped Chilean miners in 2010. Instead, he sees it as a template for global cooperation, one that came complete with group cheers and team shirts to foster a feeling of mission and camaraderie among the rescuers. “There have been disasters of similar or greater scale where countries decided to go it alone,” Garan writes, “leading to less desirable outcomes.”

Astronauts have a long tradition of going to space and then coming home to write about their adventures. But in those cases, the books generally explore what the astronauts themselves saw and felt and did and how they put those lessons to use later in life. In Garan’s case—and perhaps Garan’s alone—the message is how the rest of us can put his lessons to use. The Orbital Perspective may not be the most cinematic tale ever told from space, but it could wind up being the most important.

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 space

NASA Thinks There May Be Life on Jupiter’s Moon

Scientists may soon head to the icy surface of Europa to search for evidence

David Bowie once speculated about life on Mars, and now NASA scientists are wondering the same thing about Jupiter’s moon Europa.

A potential mission may soon be sending NASA scientists to the small, icy moon to search for signs of alien life, Space.com reports. NASA officials held a workshop Wednesday at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley to discuss the matter.

“This is our chance,” said NASA science chief John Grunsfeld. “I just hope we don’t miss this opportunity for lack of ideas.”

Specifically, scientists plan to search the plumes of water vapor, first spotted by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 2012, that blast from the moon’s south polar region. This will allow researchers to sample the liquid hidden beneath Europa’s icy surface.

Plans for a Europa mission have been in the works for years, but NASA got closer to making it a reality when the White House allocated $30 million for a Europa mission in its 2016 budget request.

[Space.com]

TIME space

These Rare Vintage NASA Photos Show the Golden Age of Space Travel

A selection of prints from a previously unseen private collection of vintage NASA photos will be auctioned in London

TIME space

Black Hole Emits ‘Fierce Winds’ That Prevent New Stars Forming

Supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies blast out radiation and ultra-fast winds, as illustrated in this artist's conception.
JPL-Caltech/NASA Supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies blast out radiation and ultra-fast winds, as illustrated in this artist's conception.

Shouldn't have eaten that entire galaxy

Researchers say that new data from a black hole 2 billion light years away indicate that it emits powerful winds in all directions that help to regulate its growth as well as the growth of the galaxy around it.

The research, based on observations from a NASA and a European Space Agency space telescope, was published in the latest issue of the journal Science. NASA released an artist’s conception of the radiation and winds emitted by a black hole.

The study found that the black hole, labelled PDS 456, sustains winds blowing up to a third the speed of light that carry more energy per second than the amount emitted by a trillion suns. These winds, produced as the black hole sucks in matter, push gas outward and thereby help restrict both the growth of the black hole and the formation of stars in the galaxy.

 

 

TIME space

Alien Star Had a Close Call With Our Solar System

About 70,000 years ago

A red dwarf known as Scholz’s star passed through the edge of our solar system less than a lightyear away from the sun about 70,000 years ago, according to a new paper.

In the paper, published in the journal The Astrophysical Journal Letters, scientists write that they believe the Scholz’s star and its brown dwarf companion passed through the far part of our solar system called the outer Oort Cloud. There is no other known star that has come so close.

The scientists who spotted it needed to determine whether it was coming toward the solar system or flying away from it. Through their calculations, they were able to determine that the star is 20 light years away, BBC reports, and that it passed the solar system and is heading away. They estimated the flyby likely happened around 70,000 years ago.

There were concerns that the star could have affected with the gravitational orbits of the comets that reside in the Oort Cloud, but researchers concluded that its impact was “negligible.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser