Astronaut Scott Kelly will begin a mission to the International Space Station next March. The mission will span an entire year, as opposed to the current typical mission of about six months. While astronaut Scott Kelly will be aboard the space station, his twin brother and retired astronaut Mark Kelly will remain on Earth. The study on these twin astronauts, which will be handled through NASA’s Human Research Program, will provide a unique opportunity for data collection.
While NASA had a variety of 40 different investigations from which to pick, ten were chosen for inclusion in this investigation. The analyses will focus on four core areas including microbiology, human physiology, behavioral health, and molecular studies. Microbiology studies will research the differences in the diets of the brothers, one Earthbound and one in space, to see how intestinal organisms are affected. Human physiological studies will include such things as how different organs such as the brain or heart are influenced by the different environments. Behavioral health investigations will look into decision making, alertness, perception, and reasoning differences. The molecular studies will explore the manner in which cell genes are affected by spaceflight and how things such as microgravity, radiation, and confinement might influence a body’s proteins and metabolites.
Not all of these investigations are new. Some of the research is already being conducted on those crews staying aboard the space station for a period of six months. Six month missions are the most typical missions. Only a handful of astronauts have ever lived in space for a full year, all of them being Russian cosmonauts on the space station Mir. With data from studies previously collected from six-month crews and the baseline data from the Earth-based Mark, the year-long voyage will provide new insight about the affects of living in space for longer durations. NASA will be able to study the differences between shorter term flights, longer flights, and no space flights, due in part to the genetic similarities of the twin astronauts.
The studies will begin in March 2015. Because there is only a sample of two people, the investigation will only provide as an initial test of what future studies might show. Both Kelly brothers have previously served as Navy test pilots as well space shuttle commanders. Between them both, they have flown a total of seven space missions since becoming astronauts in 1996. While 50-year old Mark has now retired from NASA, Scott continues to serve.
The ten winning proposals will require the brothers to provide regular blood samples, as well as samples of saliva, urine, and stool. They will have both psychological and physiological testing done before, during, and after the mission completion. NASA will be able to build upon knowledge already gained about the consequences of space flight on the human body. The unique opportunity for NASA to have twin brothers, both of whom are astronauts, both of whom have been space shuttle commanders, is an opportunity that the agency is unwilling to squander. Future research may be based on the results gathered during this investigation.
By Dee Mueller