A Year in Space Begins for Astronaut, Cosmonaut

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will spend about a year living and working aboard the space station to help scientists learn more about how the human body adapts to long periods in zero gravity.

One of the toughest jobs there is -- spending a full year on the International Space Station -- began close to midnight March 27 for NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. Both will spend about a year living and working aboard the space station to help scientists learn more about how the human body adapts to long periods in zero gravity. They arrived after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:42 p.m. EDT that day, NASA announced.

"Scott Kelly's mission is critical to advancing the administration's plan to send humans on a journey to Mars," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "We'll gain new, detailed insights on the ways long-duration spaceflight affects the human body."

A third person, cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, was launched with them and will spend the standard six-month rotation on the station. According to NASA, their mission will focus on seven key areas of human research: "Functional studies will examine crew member performance during and after the 12-month expedition. Behavioral studies will monitor sleep patterns and exercise routines. Visual impairment will be studied by measuring changes in pressure inside the human skull. Metabolic investigations will examine the immune system and effects of stress. Physical performance will be monitored through exercise examinations. Microbial changes in the crew will be monitored, as well as the human factors associated with how the crew interacts aboard the station. Each of these key elements carries a potential benefit for populations here on Earth, from functional improvements for patients recovering from a long period of bed rest to improving the monitoring of immune functions of people on Earth with altered immunity."

An important part of this mission is occurring simultaneously on Earth: Kelly's identical twin brother, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, "will participate in a number of comparative genetic studies, including the collection of blood samples as well as psychological and physical tests. This research will compare data from the genetically identical Kelly brothers to identify any subtle changes caused by spaceflight," according to NASA. "The tests will track any degeneration or evolution that occurs in the human body from extended exposure to a microgravity environment. These new twin studies are a multi-faceted national cooperation between universities, corporations and government laboratory expertise."

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