American astronaut Scott Kelly, 52, and Russian astronaut Mikhail Kornienko, 55, have landed back on earth after a year in space. The duo and their Soyuz capsule landed in barren Kazakhstan on Wednesday, 340 days after their journey to the International Space Station began last March.
This is the longest single spaceflight for an American and is said to be a stepping stone to travelling to Mars. According the News, Kelly and Kornienko traveled 232 million kilometers in space, circled the world 5,440 times, and experienced 10,880 orbital sunrises and sunsets.
Despite spending a year in space and drinking gallons and gallons of recycled urine, Kelly and Kornienko were in great spirits. When Kelly emerged from the capsule that he had left the space station in three hours earlier, he had a thumbs up and a fist pumped. He was quickly surrounded by doctors and photographers despite the freezing cold weather.
Stepping onto earth and breathing fresh air for the first time in 340 days was exhilarating for the space pair. “…the air feels great out here,” Kelly said. “I have no idea why you guys are all bundled up.”
The two spacemen were faced with a series of medical tests upon touchdown. NASA is trying to determine what happens to a human body in space with zero gravity for a year. According to ABC, Kelly’s body will be compared to that of his identical twin brother to learn the long term effects of weightlessness and space travel on the body.
Mark Kelly who is a retired astronaut, offered himself to NASA as a medical guinea-pig. Researches can now study the differences between the genetic doubles when one has been in space for a long period of time and the other has remained on earth. The Kelly brothers both provided blood, saliva, and urine samples, underwent ultrasounds and bone scans, got flu shots, and a plethora of other tests in the name of science.
With this one-year mission in space, Kelly has “helped us take one giant leap toward putting boots on Mars,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. Kelly confided that he did not physically feel any much difference compared to his five-month station mission five years ago, but realized just how long a year away in space is.
“[We]have been up here for a really, really long time…A year now seems longer than I thought it would be.”
Although the trip was not quite a year — NASA gained a lot of valuable information from the pair’s 340 days in space and are gearing up for more one-year trials before human expeditions head to Mars in the 2030s.
“It’s incredibly important that we all work together to make what is seemingly impossible, possible.” Kelly said.
Kelly was an avid social media contributor during his 340 days in space and posted more than 1,000 spectacular pictures of Earth from his Twitter and Instagram accounts. He continued to tweet right up to the moment he left the space station and descended to earth saying, “I gotta go! The journey isn’t over. Follow me as I rediscover #Earth!”
Kelly was quick to thank the whole team that helped make his year in space possible. He acknowledged each of the 13 U.S., Russian, European, and Japanese space flyers whom he and Kornienko lived with during the past year, including Sergey Volkov who piloted the Soyuz capsule back to earth.
“Teamwork makes the dream work in spaceflight, and spaceflight is the biggest team sport there is,” he said.
Kelly and Kornienko are due to split up after a year together. Kelly will head back to Houston with two flight surgeons and several other NASA representatives and Kornienko will return to his home in Russia. Both have daughters and families to return to.
[Photo by NASA/AP]