TIME space

Window on Infinity: Pictures from Space

From Martian vistas to NASA's #GlobalSelfie, here are the month's best photographs from space

TIME SpaceX

SpaceX Unveils Next Generation Spacecraft

Elon Musk's bid to build NASA's new space taxi

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Billionaire Elon Musk revealed Thursday a new state-of-the-art spacecraft that will carry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

“SpaceX’s new Dragon V2 spacecraft is a next generation spacecraft designed to carry astronauts into space,” said SpaceX in an official statement.

NASA has been relying on Russian spacecraft to get American astronauts to and from the space station since the agency retired its shuttle fleet in 2011. Russian flights, however, come at a hefty price: more than $70 million per seat. SpaceX hopes that its latest project, Dragon V2, will be the first commercial crew capsule to carry U.S. and partner astronauts to and from the space station, limiting American reliance on Russia.

TIME space

Watch Elon Musk Unveil SpaceX’s Dragon V2 on This Livestream Tonight

The state-of-the-art Dragon spacecraft will carry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space system

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SpaceX CEO Elon Musk will unveil a brand new Dragon spacecraft, which will be responsible for ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station, on this livestream at 10 p.m. ET Thursday, May 29.

“SpaceX’s new Dragon V2 spacecraft is a next generation spacecraft designed to carry astronauts into space,” said SpaceX in an official statement.

NASA retired its fleet of shuttles in 2011. It has since been using Russian spacecraft to reach the ISS, paying Russia $71 million per person per trip. This puts NASA in a precarious situation as Russia could cease service at will — the country’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Roxine, tweeted such a threat from his Twitter account in April, stating “After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline.”

Musk replied:

SpaceX’s current Dragon design has been used to shuttle cargo to the International Space Station three times.

TIME space travel

SpaceX Dragon Capsule Returns to Earth With Space Station Research

SpaceX Dragon
In an image from video provided by NASA, the SpaceX commercial cargo ship Dragon prepares to leave the International Space Station on May 18, 2014. NASA/AP

The commercial cargo ship touched down in the Pacific Ocean Sunday with research samples that could help improve astronaut health. The Dragon, which arrived in the Pacific Ocean, will be retrieved by boats and taken to Los Angeles, then to SpaceX's McGregor, Texas facility

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo ship returned safely to Earth Sunday afternoon, NASA announced shortly after its arrival in the Pacific Ocean. Dragon touched down packed with more than 3,500 pounds of scientific samples and other cargo from the International Space Station.

Dragon will be retrieved by boats and taken to Los Angeles, California, then eventually to SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas facility. Some of its cargo, including frozen research samples, will be returned to NASA by Tuesday.

“The science samples returned to Earth are critical to improving our knowledge of how space affects humans who live and work there for long durations,” NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations William Gerstenmaier said in a statement. “Now that Dragon has returned, scientists can complete their analyses, so we can see how results may impact future human space exploration or provide direct benefits to people on Earth.”

The research materials carried by Dragon could help scientists to understand why antibiotics aren’t as effective in space as they are on Earth.

TIME Environment

How I Almost Got to Decide the Next XPRIZE

XPRIZE CEO Peter Diamandis
XPRIZE CEO Peter Diamandis takes the stage at Visioneering Donald Norris for XPRIZE

Some of the smartest and most influential people gathered in outside L.A. this weekend to brainstorm the next great innovation contest

Pro-tip: if you’re trying to pitch a winning concept for an XPRIZE contest, get NY1 news anchor Pat Kiernan on your team. I’m pretty sure Kiernan’s presence — and his smooth, TV-honed baritone on stage — was the main reason why the idea designed by Pat, myself and TIME’s Siobhan O’Connor made it to the finals here at XPRIZE Visioneering. We didn’t win — in what I would describe as grand larceny, we lost out to a contest focused around developing forbidden sources of energy. But for three journalists with pretty much zero experience in the digital innovation field, I’d say we did pretty well.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I was in sunny Palos Verdes in southern California for XPRIZE Visioneering. It’s a now annual summit that brings together some of the smartest and most influential people in the world — and a few journalists like myself — to brainstorm what could become the next multi-million dollar XPRIZE concept. XPRIZE was founded in 1995 by the engineer, entrepreneur and relentlessly positive futurist Peter Diamandis, to incubate prize-driven contests meant to inspire innovation. The first XPRIZE is still the most famous — the Ansari XPRIZE, which offered $10 million to the first privately-financed team that could build and fly a three-passenger vehicle 62 miles (100 km) into space twice within two weeks.

It took 26 teams investing more than $100 million dollars for eight years before the prize was won by Mojave Aerospace Ventures, which completed their flights in the custom-built SpaceShipOne. Private space travel was a dream before Diamandis established the XPRIZE — today, the industry is worth more than $2 billion, as entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and his SpaceX company successfully put satellites in orbit without NASA’s help. “It used to be only governments and big companies that could play on a scale like this,” Diamandis has told me before. “But times have changed and accelerated in the direction where agents of change are small entrepreneurs who are enabled by new technologies to do extraordinary things.”

As you might be able to tell from the buzzwords, XPRIZE is extremely Silicon Valley. The contests the foundation has formulated unleash digitally-empowered entrepreneurs on some of the very problems where the government has failed, like ocean health and oil spills. Diamandis himself isn’t shy about the scale of his ambitions. “This is where we imagine the future and create the future,” he told the audience at the opening of the Visioneering conference. “We’re living in a world where you can solve ideas and not just complain about them.” It’s a vision where doing good also means doing well, where an intractable problem like child poverty isn’t a failure of global will, but a market failure. Those who can innovate successful solutions won’t just help the world, they’ll be helping themselves — starting with the multi-million dollar checks that come with an XPRIZE win.

But such contests actually aren’t new. Before centralized government and corporate R&D boomed in the post-WWII era, one of the best ways to encourage innovation was through a prize contest. Some group or person — the government or an individual tycoon — would set out a challenge with a cash reward. The British government did this back in 1714 with the Longitude Prize, to be awarded to the first person who could develop a way for a seagoing ship to measure longitude. The prize was won not by a navigator or ship’s captain — the class of experts who had been trying and failing to discover a solution — but by a clock maker named John Harrison. The 25-year-old Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris in 1927 in order to win a contest established by a hotelier named Raymond Orteig. (It was the Orteig Prize that directly inspired the Ansari XPRIZE for space travel.) Lindbergh took home the $25,o00 winnings — and everlasting global fame — but more importantly, the prize kicked off global air travel, seeding an industry of vastly greater value. “Within 18 months of the contest, air passenger traffic had gone up 30 times,” says Chris Frangione, the vice president of prize development at XPRIZE. “This is why prizes are so powerful — they leverage resources.”

The point of the Visioneering conference was to brainstorm the next contest. No one thought small. Bill Gross, the CEO of Idealab, urged the audience to try to solve Beijing’s killer air pollution problem. Shaifali Puri, the executive director for global innovation at Nike, told us to aim for a “moon shot for girls,” to find a way to ensure that tens of millions of girls around the world received the education and protection they needed to flourish. Ratan Tata, one of India’s richest men, said we should focus on the malnutrition and housing woes that still hold back the developing world. “It’s not just tech and it’s not just start-up companies,” he said. “It’s making a difference for disadvantaged people.”

To do that, we needed ideas, and we slotted ourselves into different tracks for brainstorm sessions. I took the future of cities on the first day, where New York University’s Paul Romer, who told us that “cities are where the action is.” We were broken into groups and asked to devise, bit by bit, a new contest that could produce an innovation that would improve life in cities, for the poor and for the rich. Once we’d completed that task — a process that used a lot of Post-It notes and whiteboard space — we pitched our ideas to the larger group, and voted on which one would move to the next stage. I should have known that my group’s idea — loosely centered around finding a way to provide infinite water to urban households — might be in trouble when we began debating whether to play Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” during the pitch. (Our title: “What a Watterful World.” I know.) We did not advance.

But that experience was useful for the next day’s session, on disaster prediction and response. The seismologist Lucy Jones — whom Los Angeles residents know as the “Earthquake Lady” for her ubiquity on TV every time a temblor strikes Southern California — told us the unsettling fact that the next big quake that strikes the San Andreas Fault could essentially cut off water to L.A. for months. We were broken into groups again, and tasked with designing a contest that would help cities prepare and bounce back from the next big natural disaster.

I roped in Siobhan, who had come to Visioneering as my guest, and NY1’s Kiernan, who had also come as a guest and who had only landed in L.A. that morning. None of us were disaster experts, unless you can count living through Superstorm Sandy in New York City. But between the three of us — though sleep-deprived and inexperienced — we managed to come up with a pretty decent idea. We’d called it Web in a Box: to win our proposed contest, a team would have to design a piece of technology capable of providing backup internet service on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis in the event of a sustained blackout following a disaster. Our rationale was that the Internet is now the most important communication hub we have, as vital a resource in the aftermath of disaster as food and water — and not just because you can’t tweet about a disaster if you can’t get online.

We honed our pitch and made it through the initial stages, where the entire Visioneering conference is brought together to vote on different ideas. We were even one of the five pitches that went up against each other in the finals on Saturday night—but no fault of Pat’s, we eventually went down in defeat, as the entire conference cast their votes in what felt a bit like a high school election contested by very rich and powerful people. The winner was a contest that offered $20 million to anyone who could prove an effective, entirely new form of energy. Ambitious, but I still say we were robbed. (We also came out behind a contest that offered prize money to develop a water cleaning system capable of filtering out the microscopic amounts of prescription drugs that are now found in our drinking water. This pitch memorably featured the actress Patricia Arquette asking the audience if they’d taken Viagra that day.)

The winning Visioneering idea won’t automatically become the subject of the next contest, but it will get automatic consideration by the foundation’s board as they decide the subject of the next XPRIZE. The winners also received a trophy created by a 3D printer, which might be the most XPRIZE thing that happened all weekend. We live in a strange age where we seem beset by enormous problems that seem to have no realistic solution: climate change, global inequality, the Alzheimer’s epidemic. As a society, we seem helpless in the face of those ills, gridlocked before looming catastrophe. Sometimes it’s hard to share Diamandis’s relentless optimism. And yet, he’s not wrong: the spread of information technology and education has made it possible as never before for anyone to put forward their solutions — and to be heard. “There is no problem that can’t be solved,” Diamandis said at the close of the conference. “We are heading towards an extraordinary world.” That’s a prize we can all share.

TIME space

Window on Infinity: Selfies, Star Clusters and Hard Work on Mars

The universe is unfathomably huge, but sometimes the most interesting thing in it is a tiny drill hole—less than an inch across—in a rock on Mars. While the Curiosity rover labored on the Martian surface, spacewalking astronauts worked in Earth orbit, and galaxies and star clusters everywhere danced their eternal dance.

TIME space travel

SpaceX: Controlled Falcon 9 Soft Landing a Success

The Falcon 9 rocket used a powered descent to soften its landing in the Atlantic Ocean, the first time the technique has been used on a mission. Controlled descents could greatly reduce spaceflight's costs by removing the need to manufacture new rockets for each launch

A SpaceX rocket successfully completed a soft landing in the Atlantic Ocean this week, company CEO Elon Musk said Friday. The Falcon 9 rocket, however, may not be recoverable because of damage sustained in rough seas.

The landing was notable as the Falcon 9 used a powered descent to soften its landing after a resupply trip to the International Space Station. SpaceX has tested the soft landing procedure before but had not, until this week, used it as part of an actual space mission.

Musk, who is also the CEO of electric automaker Tesla, said Friday afternoon that the information relayed from the Falcon 9 during its descent into the Atlantic showed that it completed a stable upright landing.

“We have sensors on each individual leg [of the rocket],” Musk said, and “GPS units. They all agree [that it landed stably]. If we recover it from the ocean it’ll probably take a couple of months to refurbish for flight.”

Controlled rocket descents could greatly reduce spaceflight’s costs by removing the need to manufacture a new rocket for each launch. “You don’t have to keep rebuilding your rockets, there’s certainly a sustainability element there,” Musk said.

Here’s what it looks like when SpaceX successfully soft-lands a Falcon 9 rocket, as seen in earlier test footage:

Musk also announced Friday that SpaceX is filing suit against the U.S. Air Force to encourage competition for national security-related rocket launches. A joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin provides all rocketry for USAF space launches. Musk said that arrangement is expensive, outdated and doesn’t allow new independent bidders to compete for procurement deals.

“This is not SpaceX protesting saying these launches should be awarded to us. These launches should be competed, and if we compete and lose that’s fine,” Musk said.

The suit was filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

TIME space travel

Space Station Gets Special SpaceX Easter Delivery

Space Station
In this April 20, 2014 image made from a frame grabbed from NASA-TV, the SpaceX Dragon resupply capsule is birthed on to the International Space Station at 10:06 a.m. EDT. NASA/AP

SpaceX company's space capsule Dragon delivered two tons of food, gear, experiments and care packages to the six men aboard the International Space Station on Sunday. Dragon chased the space station for two days following its Cape Canaveral launch

While children looked for Easter eggs on planet Earth, astronauts aboard the International Space Station received a gift from the Easter Dragon on Sunday.

Dragon, the name of the SpaceX company’s space capsule, delivered two tons of food, gear, experiments and care packages to the six men aboard the station, the Associated Press reports. Dragon chased the space station for two days following its Friday launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla. before astronauts captured it with a robotic arm.

“Gentlemen, the Easter Dragon is knocking at the door,” NASA’s Mission Control said as the capsule was locked into place.

The capsule will remain docked at the space station until May, when it will be sent back home full of samples from experiments the astronauts are conducting onboard.

[AP]

TIME

SpaceX Launches Rocket Into Orbit

The SpaceX Flacon 9 rocket launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida NASA

After a delay Monday due to a helium leak, the privately-owned company's spacecraft was launched Friday on a cargo supply mission to the International Space Station. The Dragon 9 rocket is carrying food, science experiments and other supplies

SpaceX launched its cargo mission Friday at 3:25 p.m. EDT afternoon to supply innovative equipment to the International Space Station from the Launch Complex at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The Dragon 9 rocket launched by the privately-owned company (headed by Tesla’s Elon Musk) is carrying food, science experiments and a set of legs for Robonaut 2, a humanoid NASA robot on the space station. Its Falcon spacecraft is carrying a total of 5,000 pounds of supplies.

TIME NASA

Helium Leak Delays SpaceX Rocket Launch

NASA hopes to finally launch the rocket on Friday afternoon, weather permitting, after Monday's supply mission that would have brought 5,000 pounds of food and other supplies to the six astronauts aboard the International Space Station was scrubbed

SpaceX cargo mission was forced to delay its launch scheduled for 1:58 p.m. Pacific time Monday due to a helium leak. NASA announced over Twitter that because of a helium leak, the launch won’t happen until Friday afternoon. NASA is trying to launch SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft carrying 5,000 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).

The planned launch by the privately-owned Space Exploration Technologies Corp. — which is headed up by Tesla’s Elon Musk — was already off to a rocky start, when NASA announced over the weekend that there was a failure in one of the space station’s backup computers that helps land the cargo ship. The mission managers said on Sunday that they would proceed with the take-off from Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Monday. They said the primary system was running well, and the glitch would not harm the mission.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Dragon’s capsule contains “food, science experiments, and even a set of legs for Robonaut 2, NASA’s humanoid robot aboard the space station, designed to help astronauts with tasks in space.” The supplies will be used by the six astronauts aboard the ISS, including three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese.

The next available launch time is Friday at 3:25 p.m. EST, but that date could be scrapped as well if the weather doesn’t cooperate. Once completed, the mission will be the third of SpaceX’s 12 planned launches for NASA as part of the company’s $1.6 billion contract with the space agency.

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