Around 11 p.m. Eastern time tonight, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly will return to Earth after spending almost one full year on the International Space Station — double the time of a usual NASA mission.
Kelly (and his Russian cosmonaut counterpart, Mikhail Korniyenko) will be subject to a slew of tests upon coming home. Sensors will be attached to Kelly’s arms, legs, and chest as he undergoes an obstacle course of sorts (climbing ladders, opening hatches, connecting valves and tubing, and getting back up after falling) to see how 340 days of living in a microgravity environment has affected his body. The data from the sensors will be compared to data collected before Kelly began his space mission. This data will be useful if/when astronauts are sent on longer missions in the future, such as a trip to Mars.
Scott Kelly’s identical twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly (husband of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords), has served as a “control” specimen back on Earth. Because of their identical genetic codes, tests will be conducted on the brothers to see if the UV radiation of space has damaged Scott’s DNA. (The Kellys, by the way, are from the same town as I am! Exciting!)
The #YearInSpace experiment provided information on biological factors such as bone loss and visual impairment, as well as the possibility of growing produce and flowers in space. The mission will also help scientists figure out new ways to treat combat stress and fatigue.
An avid social media user, Kelly used Twitter and Instagram throughout his journey to send messages, videos, and photos back to Earth about his experience in space. He posted about giving himself a flu shot, watching The Martian, making himself a hamburger, and tracking Earth’s blizzards and other inclement weather from the space station. He also had multiple conversations with President Obama via Twitter (with only a 10-minute delay, he noted after the president Tweeted him about it) and a phone call.
Kelly’s final social media photos as he prepares for his return are of the sunrise over Earth — a poignant cap on his time orbiting the planet. We all look forward to welcoming him home!
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