U.S. Astronaut Scott Kelly To Spend A Year in Space

On Friday, March 27, U.S. Astronaut Scott Kelly took off from a Kazakhstan launch pad and began a record breaking nearly-year-long stint in space.

According to CNN, Scott Kelly is set to become the record holder for the longest time spent in space for any U.S. astronaut. Kelly's mission is scheduled for a total of 342 days -- just 23 days shy of a full year. The current record for longest time spent in space by any U.S. astronaut was roughly seven months. Astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria is the current record holder.

Prior to Friday's launch, Kelly had taken part in three different space missions (December, 1999, August, 2007, and October, 2010) and logged over 180 days in space. When Kelly's current time in space is combined with the expected duration of the current mission, Kelly will be able to boast of having spent 522 days in space -- more than any other U.S. astronaut. Prior to joining NASA, Kelly was a pilot with the U.S. Navy.

The purpose of this record-breaking mission is to examine the long term effects of space on the human body. To make matters even more scientifically intriguing, while Scott Kelly's body is undergoing constant examination in space, Mark Kelly -- Scott Kelly's identical twin brother -- will be the subject of terrestrial scientific monitoring. NASA scientists plan to use the identical Kelly brothers as the subject of a comparison study in order to gain a better understanding of what challenges humans can expect to face as the prospect of long term space exploration seems to be growing more imminent. Mark Kelly is a retired U.S. astronaut.

Scott Kelly will not be the only one partaking in the year long space mission. Two Russian Cosmonauts also took off from the launch pad in Kazakhstan on Friday. Cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka are currently with Kelly on the International Space Station. As it stands now, Kornienko will also stay up for a year, whereas Padalka will only stay for six months. While Kelly will be the U.S. record holder for most time spent in space, Russia's Padalka will hold the title of the human who has spent the most time in space.

Despite the daunting length of the mission, Kelly is in seemingly high spirits about the whole thing. CNN reports that Kelly has a very realistic outlook about the possibility of adverse side effects from this long term stint in space.

"I'm going to keep a personal journal of the experience... I plan to be completely honest about it... who knows, maybe there are some crazy thoughts I'll have at the end that I wouldn't want to share."
In the end, it is easy to see why this type of mission is necessary. We as humans can predict and speculate all we want when it comes to the long term effects of space dwelling. In the end, however, it takes men like Scott Kelly, who have the courage to actually submit themselves to such an experiment, that will bring about the much-needed answers to the questions posed by long term space life.

[Image credit to NASA]