There are two reasons the next visit to the International Space Station is historic. First, the mission will be the first to spend a whole year in space. And second, the NASA astronaut picked for the job, Scott Kelly, has a twin who’ll remain on Earth.
After Kelly returns home from the One-Year Mission in March 2016, NASA will study and compare Kelly to his earthbound twin, Mark – a former astronaut – to see how space both changes a person’s genetic makeup and how that controls the body’s physiology, Kelly explained to Click2Houston. This study is particularly for the benefit of astronauts on long-duration flights.
“The space environment does have some negative health effects, whether it’s bone loss or muscle loss. There are effects on our immune system, and it’s not a positive effect. Recently, we’ve discovered an effect on our vision. And we’re trying to understand those things, some of which – like bone loss and muscle loss – we’ve got a pretty good handle on.”
Because Mark and Scott are genetic equivalents, NASA will be able to notice the tiny changes in DNA between the spaceman Scott and the earthling Mark. The differences between two unrelated people would be far more significant and harder to measure, Craig Kundrot, deputy chief scientist of NASA’s Human Research Program, told Voice of America.
“We are not going to be surprised by surprises.”
NASA will pay attention to seven different areas of research when they examine Scott Kelly and his brother, NASA explained. They’ll monitor their performance of specific tasks, their cognition and sleep patterns, metabolism, bone and muscle health, and microbial changes in the digestive system.
Most interesting, perhaps, is how space affects the eyes, which Scott admitted is not yet fully understood. Studies have shown changes to astronauts’ eyes and vision, particularly in those who’ve been on missions that last over six months. According to NASA, the problems may be caused by increased pressure on the skull or the fluid in the head and spine, and changes in the body’s fluid and how it is distributed.
All this makes Scott Kelly a bit of a guinea pig. He said his latest trip to NASA’s International Space Station will be a far cry from what he’s experienced on past missions – which, consequently, have been about half the length.
“I think I am going to have to have a whole different pace or perspective on the whole thing this time than I did last time.”
Kelly launches into space in a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan on March 27, alongside Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko.
[Photo Courtesy Bill Ingalls/NASA]