Two Astronauts To Spend Full Year In Orbit

Astronaut Scott J. Kelly, commander, June 1999. NASA image.
Two astronauts, one American and one Russian, will spend a year in outer space on board the International Space Station. NASA scientists say they need to know more about how extended periods in orbit affect the human body, so they can plan for long-haul missions to Mars or other places.

No American has ever spent a continuous year in space, but four cosmonauts have done it, while on board the Russian space station Mir.

But the last one returned over a decade ago, and life in orbit has already changed since then.

For example, astronauts now incorporate lots of muscle strengthening in their workouts, to keep their bones strong in zero gravity.

Julie Robinson is a NASA scientist:

“Originally there was a paradigm that it was mostly about maintaining cardiac fitness. And what we’ve learned is that just treadmill exercise isn’t enough, that you really need high-intensity resistive exercise. And that’s why we’re starting to see crew members coming home with no bone loss, for example, where we’ve really made progress on solving some of these problems.”

NASA chose Scott Kelly for the year-long mission. Scott is the twin brother of Mark Kelly, who is married to former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Kelly has two daughters. He says they love the space program and want him to go on the mission.

“My 9-year-old daughter when I told her on the phone that I was going to spend a year on the space station, she screamed out ‘Awesome!’”

Kelly flew on two shuttle missions, then spent six consecutive months on the space station two years ago.

He says he’ll need to prepare mentally to stay twice as long.

“Life on the space station is also pretty routine, you know. In the morning you wake up you’re at work, when you go to sleep you’re also at work. Imagine being in your office for a whole year and you never get to leave. That is a challenge.”

Kelly says he’s already experienced some of the physical problems associated with long periods in space. For example, his vision deteriorated slightly, but the problem went away once back on earth. His muscles were also sore when he first got back from the space station. But mostly he says he felt good.

“I came back in much better shape than when I left. Because when you exercise twice a day for 159 days you come back in pretty good condition.”

Scientists will study the two men by focusing on seven medical areas. Those will include immune function, radiation exposure, and psychological behavior and mental performance.

Kelly and his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Kornienko, start training in February. But the yearlong mission will not launch until 2015.

From the KUFH Health and Science Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.

 

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...