On Sept. 15, 2015, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will clock in for their 171st day aboard the International Space Station since arriving on March 27. The pair, set to come home March 3, 2016, are spending 342 days in space to help researchers better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to long duration spaceflight.
“I think the legacy of this mission will be based on the science of having us in space for a year,” remarked Kelly in a recent interview. “The great data we collected, what we learned about being in space for this long and how that will help our journey to Mars someday.”
In their almost six months in orbit, Kelly and Kornienko have participated in a range of scientific experiments focusing on seven key areas of human research.
One of the most ambitious studies undertaken so far is Fluid Shifts, which studies what happens when fluids shift into the upper body during weightlessness. This shift may cause changes in vision through increased intracranial pressure and is a major issue that scientists are looking to resolve before humans begin exploring beyond Earth’s orbit. The study uses the Russian Chibis device to draw fluids back into the legs while measurements of the subject’s eyes are taken to track any changes. NASA and Roscosmos are already looking at continuing the Fluid Shifts investigation with future space station crews beyond the one-year mission.
All research gathered from both the American and Russian crew members is shared between the countries, an important step in reducing cost and improving efficiency for future space station research. This has already led to additional agreements between NASA and Roscosmos to expand this collaboration to research outside of the yearlong mission.
Samples for the comparative genetics studies involving Kelly and his identical twin brother, retired NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, continue to be collected with some already returned to Earth. Analysis for the Twins Study will begin at the conclusion of the mission once all samples have been collected.
NASA and Roscosmos are already investigating ideas for future space station missions to prove technologies and techniques necessary for trips deeper into the solar system. The space agencies are evaluating whether to do additional one-year missions and other proposals, like having crew members perform surface simulations on Earth immediately after returning from space.
The station also continues to serve as a test bed for important technologies that will help pave the way for a human journey to Mars. Vital systems including life support, communications, power generation and more are being put through the paces in a spaceflight environment, with newer system generations on the horizon.
The one-year crew mission is the latest step in the International Space Station’s role as a platform for preparing humanity for exploration into deeper space. With the collaborative efforts of the international crew and research teams, the world can watch and benefit from findings that push the boundaries of exploration and contribute to human health.