TIME space

See a Live View of Saturn’s Rings

The best time of year to view Saturn's rings is this Friday evening

Saturn will come closer to earth this weekend than at any other time of the year, giving us earthbound creatures an incomparable view of its rings. For a closer look, “community observatory” Slooh will train Internet-connected telescopes on the planet during peak viewing hours. The images will be shown as a live, hosted feed online.

The broadcast begins above Friday at 9 p.m. E.T., and will include expert commentary from Slooh astronomer Will Gater and Cornell University planetary scientist Dr. Jonathan Lunine.

TIME A Year In Space

Watch This Stunning Video of Astronauts Docking at the Space Station

It took six hours and 100,000 miles to get there

Commuting to work isn’t easy in space. After Scott Kelly, Gennady Padalka and Misha Kornienko blasted off from Kazakhstan aboard their Soyuz spacecraft in the early morning hours of March 29, it took them six hours to reach the International Space Station.

Six hours doesn’t seem like much—barely a flight from New York to London. But New York to London is a trip of only 3,459 miles (5,567 km). The Soyuz crew had to make four complete revolutions of the Earth–putting a cool 100,000 miles (161,000 km) on the odometer, in a high-speed chase that, at the end, turned into a delicate pas de deux.

NASA has now released the video footage of the final 15 minutes of that approach, shot from the cockpit of the Soyuz. The clip has been sped up here to just two and a half minutes, but even at that rate, it reveals what a precision job a rendezvous and docking is.

The spinning object in the foreground of the image is the Soyuz’s docking radar. The red light that flashes in the window midway through the clip is a reflection from the camera that is recording the approach. What you can’t see are the crewmembers, both in the Soyuz and aboard the station, who were responsible for the cosmic choreography. Their work has to speak for itself—and that work was remarkable.

TIME A Year In Space

Watch the SpaceX Dragon Leave the Space Station

A seemingly routine maneuver is a lot more complicated than it looks

Nothing, absolutely nothing, is easy in space, and that includes leaving it, as the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) will be reminded on Thursday morning, May 21, when the Dragon cargo vessel undocks and heads home—a maneuver TIME will live-stream via NASA beginning at 6:45 a.m. ET. Dragon, the 24-ft. (7.3 m) cargo vehicle built by SpaceX, arrived at the ISS on April 17 carrying 5,200 lbs (2,360 kg) of cargo. It is returning after a five-week stay, bringing home 3,100 (1,400 kg) different lbs. of stuff—some of it trash, but a lot of it scientific samples that are part of the extensive biomedical studies being conducted on astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Misha Kornienko as they spend a marathon year in space.

No spacecraft leaving the ISS can simply cast off and go. Ever since the long-ago joint mission of Gemini VI and Gemini VII, 50 years ago this December, when the two manned spacecraft maneuvered to within inches of each other, NASA has appreciated the delicate dance involved when any two orbiting objects come anywhere near each other. Moving along at a matching 17,500 mph (28,160 k/g), the ships are effectively motionless relative to each other. If one adds even the tiniest bit of speed that the other one doesn’t match—going to, say 17,505 mph—the result can be a fender bender.

For that reason, the Dragon departure will be a process that will consume a whole morning’s work. Before 7 a.m., the station’s 58 ft. (17.6 m) robotic arm will grapple the Dragon, which will decouple from its berth on the station’s Harmony module. The arm will carry the Dragon as far from the station as it can, and Kelly, who will be controlling the operation from aboard, will give the signal for its release at 7:04 a.m. Over the course of the next four hours and 45 minutes, the Dragon will fire its thrusters three separate times, edging further away from the station until, at 11:49 a.m., it reaches the precise spot in its orbit to begin a reentry burn that will carry it to a Pacific splashdown at 12:42 p.m.

The station has been serviced by milk runs like these many times in the 15 years it has been continually occupied and there will be a lot more to come in the decade or so of service it has left to it. It’s a measure of the complexity of the up and down trips that they take so much planning and such deft execution; it’s a measure of the people doing the executing that the maneuvers can actually, after a time, seem routine.

TIME Education

John Glenn Says Evolution Should Be Taught in Schools

Former senator and astronaut John Glenn speaks in Columbus, Ohio on May 14, 2015 photo.
Paul Vernon—AP Former Senator and astronaut John Glenn speaks in Columbus, Ohio, on May 14, 2015

John Glenn says facts about scientific discovery should be taught in schools — and that includes evolution

(COLUMBUS) — John Glenn, who declared as a 77-year-old in a news conference from space that “to look out at this kind of creation out here and not believe in God is to me impossible,” says facts about scientific discovery should be taught in schools — and that includes evolution.

The astronaut, now 93 with fading eyesight and hearing, told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he sees no contradiction between believing in God and believing in evolution.

“I don’t see that I’m any less religious by the fact that I can appreciate the fact that science just records that we change with evolution and time, and that’s a fact,” said Glenn, a Presbyterian. “It doesn’t mean it’s less wondrous and it doesn’t mean that there can’t be some power greater than any of us that has been behind and is behind whatever is going on.”

Glenn — the first American to orbit the Earth, a former U.S. senator, a onetime Democratic presidential candidate, flier of combat planes in two wars, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom — ruminated on many other topics in the interview last week with the AP, including:

— Possible reasons why he never got assigned to another space flight after orbiting Earth in Friendship 7 in 1962 (until his 1998 trip into space, that is).

Glenn said he was eager to get back into space after his 1962 flight and pestered Bob Gilruth, the director of NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center, every few weeks for a year and a half.

He didn’t learn until decades later — from reading Richard Reeves’ biography of President John F. Kennedy — that he had been intentionally grounded by NASA after his orbital flight, an event that generated intense excitement and public attention.

“Kennedy had indicated to NASA that he would just as soon that I was not assigned to another flight,” Glenn said. “Now, whether it was because of the impact if I got killed on the second flight would that reflect politically, I never knew. I never discussed that with anybody. All I knew was I didn’t get reassigned to another flight.”

He doesn’t plan to stump for or endorse any candidates in 2016, despite past backing that has been pivotal to Democrats’ efforts in Ohio. “That’s in the past,” said Glenn, who has weathered a year of health difficulties, including a small stroke after a 2014 heart-valve operation, and has lost half his vision and some hearing.

He and his wife, Annie, 95, will devote their energies to ramping up the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State University. The growing college announced last week that it will manage Ohio’s first-in-the-nation, state-specific social studies content for the website iCivics.

“This is not going to be a Republican college or a Democratic college. Quite the opposite of that,” Glenn said. “It’s going to be what we hope will be the best college of studies of government and policy of any place in the country.”

He still disagrees strongly with the decision to dismantle the space shuttle program but is optimistic that humans will return to space through technology currently in development.

Of all his experiences, his military service in World War II and Korea stands out, including his plane being hit by fire. “Nothing compares to actual combat,” he said.

His age: “I need all the godspeed I can get,” Glenn joked about the famous line from 1962, spoken by fellow Mercury 7 astronaut Scott Carpenter. With Carpenter’s death in 2013, Glenn became the last survivor of the famous team. He last saw Carpenter about a year before he died.

TIME space

The Story of Hubble’s First Photo — 25 Years Later

On the right is part of the first image taken with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope's (HST) Wide Field/Planetary Camera. It is shown with a ground-based picture from Las Campanas, Chile, Observatory of the same region of the sky.
Ground Image: E. Persson (Las Campanas Observatory, Chile)/Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington; Hubble Image: NASA, ESA, and STScI On the right is part of the first image taken with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope's (HST) Wide Field/Planetary Camera. It is shown with a ground-based picture from Las Campanas, Chile, Observatory of the same region of the sky.

There were a lot of reasons that first picture was so unremarkable

It ain’t much, is it? For all of the jaw-dropping, eye-popping, gobsmacking images the Hubble Space Telescope has sent home over the years, the smudgy, black and white picture above right is in some ways the most important. That’s because it’s the first picture the telescope took, on May 20, 1990—a quarter century ago.

The subject of this first-ever cosmic screen grab was the binary star HD96755 in the open cluster NGC 3532, about 1,300 light years away. HD96755 is the vaguely snowman-shaped object at the top of the image; the smaller one, below it and to the right, was a stellar bystander that simply photo-bombed the image. NASA released the picture along with a second one, top left, taken of the same objects by a ground-based telescope in Chile’s Atacama Desert, to show that the $2.5 billion Hubble could do a better job. Which it did. A little.

There were a lot of reasons that first picture was so unremarkable—and they had little to do with Hubble’s famously warped mirror, a flaw that engineers would discover only slowly and that NASA would not confirm and announce until nearly a month later. Rather, the initial shot of HD96755 was intended simply what’s known as a first light test.

“First light implies that the light goes all the way through the optics and makes its way to the detectors,” says Dave Leckrone, who was a Hubble deputy project scientist at the time and was the senior project scientist from later in 1990 to 2009. “It’s only when that happens that you can say first light has been achieved.”

That flushing of the pipes typically happens away from the eyes of the press, since first light images are notoriously lousy. In the case of Hubble, the disappointment would be even keener, because the telescope had been so highly touted for so long that anything less than a full-color glimpse into the very heart of the universe was bound to disappoint.

But an overzealous public affairs officer invited the media to be present at the Goddard Space Center when Hubble first opened its eyes, and the press obliged, filling the visitors’ center where a viewing screen was in place. “The astronomers groaned when the media was invited,” recalls Leckrone. “And everyone was a little perplexed and uncomfortable when the image came in because it was so out of focus. Someone said ‘Is that the way it’s supposed to look?'”

NASA didn’t help matters by releasing the picture with the boast that it was 50% sharper than what the Chilean telescope could do. That was a decidedly minor accomplishment that seemed all the worse since it required an exposure 10 times as long—30 seconds for the telescope in space compared to just three seconds for the one on the ground.

Hubble engineers promised the pictures would get better as they calibrated the telescope’s instruments, and they had a lot of tricks to try—including adjusting 24 pressure pads that lined the back of the primary mirror to compensate for any change in shape caused by going from the 1 g of Earth to the zero g of space. But nothing the space agency tried worked and it would not be until December of 1993 that the space shuttle Columbia would ride to the rescue, bringing Hubble a set of corrective optics that would restore its vision to what it was supposed to be.

Those three and a half years seemed like a long time to wait back then. But they turned out to be nothing compared to 25 years worth of images that have resulted—and the dazzling look they’ve given us billions of years into the universe’s past.

TIME space

Russian Rocket Carrying Mexican Satellite Fails After Launch

Almost all the debris burned up in the atmosphere

(KIEV, Ukraine)—A Russian rocket carrying a Mexican satellite malfunctioned Saturday shortly after its launch—the latest mishap to hit Russia’s troubled space industry, whose Soviet-era glory has been tarnished by a series of launch failures.

The rocket, a Proton-M, was launched from the Russia-leased Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan. Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, said a problem involving steering engines occurred in the rocket’s third stage about eight minutes into its flight, 161 kilometers (97 miles) above the Earth. The agency said the rocket and Boeing-constructed satellite did not reach their planned orbit and almost all of the debris from the two burned up in the atmosphere.

Authorities in eastern Siberia still searched for any possible debris in the Zabaikalsky region that borders Mongolia and China, Russian news agencies reported. There was no word if any was found.

The last failed launch of a Proton-M occurred exactly a year ago, also causing the loss of a telecommunications satellite. Since then, there have been six successful flights.

The Interfax news agency quoted industry sources saying the crash could result in the suspension of all upcoming Proton-M launches, including the next one in June for a British satellite.

In a separate space failure Saturday, Roscosmos also reported that a Progress spaceship attached to the International Space Station failed to ignite its engine, thus failing to adjust the orbit of the space station. The agency said it was looking into why that happened but added the space station’s crew was not in any danger from the incident.

Russia’s space program has seen a string of launch failures in recent years. Space experts say the program has been hampered by a brain drain and a steady erosion of engineering and quality standards.

“It seems that the Russian space industry is disintegrating with cosmic speed,” Yuri Karash, a leading space scientist and member of the Russian Academy of Space Science, told the Interfax news agency. Due to low pay and a lack of new projects, those working in the space industry are “far from the best specialists and have no interest in cobbling together cosmic stools such as rockets developed a half-century ago.”

In April, an unmanned Russian cargo ship carrying 3 tons of supplies failed to dock with the International Space Station after it went into an uncontrollable spin after the launch.

That failure prompted Roscosmos to delay both the landing of some of the space station’s crew and the launch of their successors. Roscosmos space agency chief Igor Komarov said the April 28 launch failure was caused by a leak of fuel tanks in the Soyuz rocket’s third stage. Left in low orbit, the Progress cargo spaceship fell to Earth over the Pacific on May 8.

Due to that failure, a Russian official said three of the orbiting space station’s six-person crew, who had been scheduled to return to Earth in early May, were asked to stay in orbit until early June and the launch of their replacement crew was pushed back from late May to late July.

TIME space

SpaceX Invites You to Mars With These Throwback Travel Posters

The space transportation company makes light of its ambitions to take humans to Mars

TIME A Year In Space

What Sarah Brightman’s ‘Postponed’ Mission Says About Space Tourism

Not so fast: Brightman at a March press event announcing her now-postponed mission
Dave J Hogan; Getty Images Not so fast: Brightman at a March press event announcing her now-postponed mission

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

You need more than international fame and a very fat wallet to fly

Here’s betting you’d like to fly in space—almost everybody does. Here’s betting you’ll never actually do it—almost no one does. Those two facts are more than casually connected. The news today that Sarah Brightman—the internationally celebrated soprano who paid $52 million to spend 10 days aboard the International Space Station (ISS)—has backed out of the mission helps illustrate why.

Space flight has never been a safe or easy or, most of the time, even terribly fun thing to do. The training is brutal, the rockets are dangerous, the spacecraft are cramped, the living conditions are spartan, and as for the one thing you think you’d enjoy the most—the weightlessness? Odds are you’d spend a fair bit of your time aloft doing little but throwing up—which you could jolly well do back home.

MORE: See The Trailer For TIME’s Unprecedented New Series: A Year In Space

Astronauts and cosmonauts know this, and so do the people who train them to fly. There’s a reason the Americans and Soviets chose test pilots in the early days of their space programs. There’s a reason too that, during the shuttle era, even astronauts who were going to fly as mission specialists—meaning they would not be piloting the spacecraft—did themselves a favor if they were licensed pilots too. If you’ve got the ice-water blood necessary to take a plane aloft and not lose your marbles when an engine quits, or the weather turns surly, or the ground’s rushing up at you fast and you’ve got exactly three seconds to get things under control before you come to a very messy end, you’re likelier to have the cool to handle yourself when a stack of engines generating 7.3 million lbs. (3.4 million kg) of thrust ignite underneath your back and hurl you to space at an eventual speed of 17,500 mph (28,200 k/h).

The late Jack Swigert, command module pilot for Apollo 13—a man who clearly knew what it felt like when everything falls to pieces around you—once reflected on why lunar astronauts never spoke terribly lyrically about their journeys, often describing what they saw with off-the-shelf adjectives like “awe-inspiring” or “incredible.” The explanation, he said, is that you can either go to the moon, or you can appreciate the going, but not both. The very thing that qualifies you to make the trip—a coolness, a detachment in the face of the deadly and improbable place you find yourself—disqualifies you to describe it in terribly resonant terms. So fighter jocks fly and poets stay home and they both do what they do best.

But that has all changed in the last decade—or at least there has been an attempt to change it. We live in the era of space tourism, of the citizen astronaut, of the multi-millionaire buying a seat on a Russian Soyuz rocket for mid-eight figures, or plunking down a quarter of a million dollars for a quarter of an hour popgun flight on Richard Branson’s SpaceShipTwo. We chatter about the one-way trip to Mars and the inflatable hotel in Earth orbit and Jeff Bezos doing who knows what with his secretive Blue Origins aerospace company, which promises that it’s “opening the promise of space to all,” though to date it’s gotten nowhere close.

Brightman, in parlaying great wealth and existing fame to a chance to fly to the ISS, was attempting one of the most hair-raising space feats of all. With the shuttle grounded, the only way to get to the space station is Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, a three-person pod so tiny that passengers fly in a semi-fetal position, lying on their backs with their knees drawn up to their chests. At best they stay that way for six hours after liftoff, assuming they launch at the right moment to chase down the station in just four orbits. But, launch at a different moment and it can take as long as two days to execute the same rendezvous.

On both the way up and the way down, the crew can pull more than 4 g’s, and that’s only if everything goes well. In 2008, cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and astronaut Peggy Whitson were coming home aboard a Soyuz when the rear part of the spacecraft—the service module—failed to separate as it was supposed to. That sent them on what’s called a ballistic reentry of 30 degrees, causing them to pull a tortuous 8 g’s. The near-fatal plunge took 23 minutes to unfold. Even the best Soyuz reentry has been described by astronaut Scott Kelly, who is aboard the ISS for a marathon one-year stay and had been looking forward to Brightman’s visit, “like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel—that’s on fire.”

Brightman didn’t even begin her training until Jan. 19, according to sources at Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, which would have given her less than eight months to get ready for her early September launch—a fraction of the years of preparation a professional astronaut may put in before flying. And she had skipped out on the training altogether after April 22, according to the same sources. A request for comment from Brightman’s team has not been returned.

Space Adventures, the Virginia-based space tourism company that serves as travel agent for trips to the ISS, did put out a statement announcing that Brightman was “postponing her plans to launch” due to “personal family reasons.” But the odds are good that that postponement will become—or already is—a cancellation. There may well be family problems responsible for the scrub. Or maybe Brightman just got a clear-eyed look at what she was doing and gave a thought to the lost crew of Challenger in 1986, the lost crew of Columbia in 2003, the lost crew of Soyuz 11 (three cosmonauts who died during reentry in 1971 when their spacecraft sprang a pressure leak), the lost crew of Apollo 1 (three astronauts who died in a launch pad fire in 1967) and reckoned that maybe, just maybe, space isn’t for dilettantes.

There’s no shame in not being fit to fly in space; that describes the overwhelming majority of us. And there’s no harm in working toward the day when space really is something for everybody, when tourists can go and settlers can go and adventurers can go—all traveling with the right machines and the right training and the right sense of humility and respect. “Space tourism,” for now, is a deadly oxymoron. If Brightman chose not to go because she recognized that, she showed a particular kind of candor and courage that deserves its own applause.

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 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 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.”

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com