On March 1, 2015, the culmination of an incredible year long mission took place, when U.S. astronaut, Scott Kelly, along with Russian cosmonaut, Mikhail Korniyenko, touched down in Kazakhstan after a record-breaking 340 days in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS). It was an amazing adventure fraught with a number of potential dangers, but a successful one with numerous experiments and studies that will benefit our space programs and mankind for decades and more to come. Perhaps even more important is what the undertaking represents, when nations overcome any differences they may have and work together to advance science and further our understanding of our world and beyond. The Gore 4 would like to say they are especially proud of Scott Kelly’s bravery and achievement as he was born in Orange, NJ, as was this Gore 4 member, and raised in neighboring West Orange, NJ. This was an accomplishment every New Jerseyan, American, Russian and inhabitant of Planet Earth should appreciate and even be in awe of.
“Everything that you care about and love and is important to you is down there.”
The ISS, which began construction in 1998, and has been continually inhabited since 2000, has been a joint venture between NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency, and the space agencies of Japan, Europe and Canada to conduct experiments in astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics and even psychology. There is an American section, and a Russian section, which are shared by the other nations involved. Since the ending of the U.S. Space Shuttle program in 2011, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft currently serve as the sole means of transporting humans to and from the space station.
This was Scott Kelly’s fourth mission into space, his first going back to 1999 as pilot of the Space Shuttle Discovery on a servicing trip to the Hubble Space Telescope. This time was his longest spent away from his home planet yet. In doing so, he broke two records, that of the longest continuous time spent in space by an American astronaut – 340 days, and the most total amount of time spent in space by an American – 382 days, which included his three previous missions. Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov currently holds the record for the most continuous days in space – at 438, which he spent aboard the Russian Mir Space Station from Jan. 1994 into Mar. of ’95.
Some of the experiments done by Kelly over the past year included growing food, such as lettuce, and other plants. He also performed his third spacewalk, making adjustments and installations to the outside of the station, in December. Kelly took hundreds of breathtaking photos from his unique vantage point of Earth, which he posted on social media, like the stunning image above of an unusual red-tinged aurora. The chief objective of this year-long journey was to study the effects on the human body of such an extended stay in space for both Kelly and his compatriot, Korniyenko. In particular, NASA was given the unique opportunity to conduct genetic observations, by comparing Scott to Kelly’s twin brother, Mark, a former astronaut (and husband to ex-U.S. Congresswoman, Gabby Giffords), who remained on Earth. In fact, when Scott touched down on March 1, he had grown 2 inches due to the elongation of his spinal column caused by the weightlessness in space. But before he was able to take on his brother in a little one-on-one basketball, he had returned to normal height. Just one of the many fascinating discoveries made during this ultimately 3-year long enterprise, including the year of tests before and after the year spent in space.
“Like going over Niagra Falls in a barrel, but while on fire.”
It should be pointed out that while this mission was incredibly successful, it didn’t come without extreme risk and threat of a multitude of hazards. The liftoff, ascent towards and docking with the space station always has the potential for something to go wrong, with so many moving parts and precision maneuvers involved. And the subsequent return to Earth, with scorching temperatures accompanying the spacecraft’s re-entry into the atmosphere, is as frightening as it is perilous. However, the most dangerous time is that spent aboard the Space Station itself, where floating debris as minute as a pea can cause extensive damage, similar to what was depicted in the movie, Gravity. Radiation is also a major concern, as the station’s inhabitants are without the protection of Earth’s atmosphere. Such effects may not show up for years or even decades. Not to be overlooked is what those aboard the Space Station are missing back home, besides loved ones and the food. Kelly spoke of something we often take for granted – the weather, be it the sun shining down on your face or rain falling from the skies. Korniyenko mentioned how he missed certain smells and trees. It was a tremendous sacrifice these men took to provide knowledge for all of us.
“There are no political borders when you look down at the planet. It does look like we are all part of one big team.”
The results of this mission will benefit mankind for decades and more to come, as we better understand the effects spending long periods of time in near zero gravity has on the human body, and the toll it takes on the human mind as well, being away from home and loved ones for such an extended duration. As we look to one day return to the moon, send travelers to Mars and beyond, and, ultimately build civilizations on other worlds, these studies will prove invaluable. Perhaps, though, the most important outcome of this endeavor is that of different nations coming together to further benefit all of mankind. While we may not always agree on everything here on Earth, if we pool our resources and knowledge together, we can achieve the impossible. As Russian cosmonaut Korniyenko hypothesized, “if we could send our two presidents up for two weeks, problems on Earth would get settled.” It is an interesting thought, and while the recent Paris talks on climate change have shown what can be achieved when the international community comes together for the sake of our planet, maybe sending certain leaders away for a spell might show some positive results as well.
Russian cosmonaut, Mikhail Korniyenko and NASA astronaut, Scott Kelly, chilling about the International Space Station
— article written by Brian de Castro