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An Entire Year In Space

February 26th, 2015

Astronaut Scott Kelly heading to space for one year. Photo credit: Scott Kelly on Instagram/Twitter

It’s not exactly a space race, more like a space marathon. Astronaut Scott Kelly is heading to space … for an entire year!

It will be the longest  time an American has spent in space.

He recently left for Kazakhstan where he will catch a ride up to the International Space Station (ISS) with Russian cosmonauts. They launch March 27th.

Kazakhstan in red. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Normally, visits to the space station don’t go past 6 months so this year-long mission is a big deal. Why go for a year? Double the time.

Because we want to start making trips farther and deeper into space than we currently go. The International Space Station is in low earth orbit — in space, but not too far from Earth. And we want to go to places like Mars (and beyond!). We’ve sent spacecraft to Mars, but never people. A flight to Mars and back could take three years.

Space Station flying over Africa. Photo courtesy: NASA

But before we do that, we need to know what being in space (and in weightlessness) for longer periods of time does to the human body. Is it safe?

For starters, astronauts grow taller in space. Your spine is free to expand. Bones lose some of their density. Fluids in your body travel around differently than on earth where they tend to go downward because of gravity. Then there’s radiation, lots of it in space, which is generally not so good for us. We know the effects of many of these factors after six months, but not a year.

Here’s NASA’s interactive guide for how space exploration affects the human body.

What’s really cool about studying Scott Kelly and his year in space, is that he has an identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, who’s staying here on Earth. They’ll study him as well and compare them after the year (and beyond). And since they’re the most like each other of anyone, it works out really well. It also helps that Mark Kelly used to be astronaut. (They are the only sibling astronauts … but they never went to space together at the same time).

And because they have this opportunity, scientists also want to study whether being in space has an effect on a person’s genetic structure, their DNA. In the interview below, Scott Kelly jokes that they’re identical, except that his brother got the “mustache” gene! ha.

Kelly has said that he’ll to try to send a Tweet every day while he’s up there to let people know how he’s doing.

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