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March 1, 2024

Astronaut embarks on longest space mission

By BARBARA HOLT | April 9, 2015

In August of 1996, U.S. Navy Captain Scott J. Kelly reported to the Johnson Space Center for astronaut training. Nineteen years of service to NASA, three spaceflights and 180 days in the International Space Station (ISS) later, Kelly, 51, begins his most ambitious endeavor yet — a mission to spend an entire year in space. This past Friday, Kelly launched aboard a Soyuz rocket, accompanied by cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka. Kelly is scheduled to return in March 2016 by which time he will have spent more than 500 days in Earth’s orbit. Unlike his cosmonaut colleagues, however, Kelly will provide NASA with a unique opportunity to monitor the effects of a harsh space environment on the human body by bringing his biological twin U.S. Navy Captain Mark E. Kelly into the equation. Mark retired from service in the U.S. Navy and NASA in 2011. Thus, in a near-perfect case study of the “nature vs. nurture” argument, Scott will orbit the Earth, enduring the effects of extended time in space, while Mark remains on solid ground below. This mission holds more significance than satiating mere scientific curiosity. Data collected through observation of the Kelly twins will contribute to the future of space travel as NASA and other space agencies attempt increasingly longer space voyages. In a few decades, this mission may even serve as the bedrock to NASA’s potential missions to Mars. “All of those things really affect the bodies of astronauts,” Julie A. Robinson, NASA’s chief scientist for the space station, said during a news conference in January. “They push them to something not at all unlike aging on Earth, where their balance is disrupted, their hearts are weaker, their immune system isn’t functioning as well, their muscles are weaker and their bones are being lost.” Scott Kelly’s scientific contribution won’t be without its personal drawbacks. While Kelly looks forward to the space station, he also dislikes the confinement. Kelly said that he’ll miss his friends and family, being able to get away from work and going outside. Ultimately, Scott Kelly’s mission is a potent reminder of both what magic lies ahead of us and behind us as we take to the stars.

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