How are identical twin brothers relevant to NASA research? At first, NASA decided they weren’t, and rejected the first proposal from brothers Scott and Mark Kelly, both astronauts. Now, it seems NASA is having second thoughts, and have officially approved the proposal to observe the biological states of each brother while one brother, Scott, will be working in space on the International Space Station for an entire year while his brother, Mark, who retired from NASA almost two years ago, will continue living on Earth.
What’s the point, you ask?
NASA explained its recent report that the study will “center on established plans for blood sampling on the flying twin at regular intervals before, during and after the one-year ISS mission, and will obtain corresponding samples from the non-flying twin, who will otherwise maintain his normal lifestyle.”
In layman’s terms, NASA wants to understand if there are side-effects to spending a substantial amount of time in space, particularly genetic mutations, protein levels, and biological molecules–to name a few.
One of the brothers, Mark, is already quite well-known through his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, democratic Congresswoman who was shot in the head after an assassination attempt in Tucson, Arizona in 2011. While six others died during the shooting, Giffords survived and has recovered since the incident; the shooter was arrested immediately after the event took place.
As far as similar studies on the effects of prolonged time in space goes, NASA has conducted studies on the health and biological states of astronauts before, during and after flights in space, but this study, on two individuals who are genetically identical, is a first.
While the actual study will not commence until 2015, TheVerge.com explains that, “NASA said that it will be issuing up to 10 awards for research proposals to study the brothers, each worth up to $50,000, and the winners will be announced by January 2014.” The deadline for researcher applications is September 14th, just two weeks away.
In a 2010 interview, the identical twin brothers shared aspects of their lives both as brothers and as individuals. When asked which brother first decided he wanted to become an astronaut, Scott said, “My recollection, it was me, but because he [Mark] was a year ahead of me in college, he actually was in the Navy first and flew first but that’s just my recollection.”
Mark added, “I actually looked at even going, hate to say this but for a while I looked at going into the Air Force and actually considered it, took the test and they offered me an option of going to Air Force Flight School. But certainly, I’m pretty convinced I took the right path there. Nothing against the Air Force people out there, but…” he trailed off.
When asked if they recall the first landing on the moon with Apollo 11 and Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, Scott responded, “I do have a recollection of it. I can remember being in our living room and our parents, you know, sitting us in front of the television and having us watch it and, but as far as did that influence me? You know, certainly being an astronaut was something that, like many kids, I was interested in but, you know, I really never thought it would be a possibility.”
When each asked what are their most memorable contributions to their work in space travel, Mark said, “Well, I think for me, I was the Commander of STS-124 which installed the Japanese laboratory on the space station which was a significant piece of the Japanese space program, to get the opportunity to do that, work with Japan, have a Japanese crew member on board, have a great crew, successfully accomplish that mission is certainly, is the highlight now and I hope STS-134 goes as well and we successfully get AMS and our other payloads installed and transferred, but, you know, having the opportunity to command the space shuttle two times is certainly going to be the highlight of my career.”
Scott then explained his own most memorable contribution, “My goals for Expedition 26 are [my most significant], primarily we don’t hurt anyone and we don’t break anything and we complete all the mission, primary mission objectives, and if I can do those three things, you know, I’ll be satisfied and that to me’ll be the highlight of my career as an astronaut to date.”
Until 2015 arrives, researchers based on applications submitted will be chosen and studies will be outlined and further fine-tuned as the brothers prepare to spend one year of their life apart and yet inarguably connected for the sake of mankind’s self-education around space travel.
Written by Ginger Vieira