NASA astronaut Scott Kelly didn’t take long to settle into his new home – 200 miles above the Earth. The Irish American launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on March 27, along with Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka, sending photos via Twitter of the spectacular view from his window over the weekend.
Kelly is at the starting point of his year in space – a year for which his identical twin brother, Mark, and he have offered themselves up as guinea-pigs in ground-breaking research on the effects on the human body of a prolonged time in space. Throughout his 365 days floating above the planet, Scott will break the US record for the greatest cumulative time spent in space.
He won’t be the only record-breaker, however, as his companion for the first six months, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, will leave ISS as the record-holder of the most cumulative time spent in space by any human being.
While Scott observes the Earth from above, retired astronaut Mark, husband of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, will act as the “control” in the research, keeping his feet firmly on the ground, while they both undergo comparative genetic tests over 400 experiments planned throughout the year.
The research, originally proposed by the twins themselves, is set to help NASA prepare for further long-term deep-space expeditions and possibly even an eventual mission to Mars. The research will involve 10 three-year studies that will range from experiments regarding the effects of space on the digestive tract and the immune system to how genes react as a result of orbiting the Earth for a prolonged period. The project will cost $1.5 million, according to the Irish Independent.
“This is a unique opportunity. We can study two individuals who have the same genetics but are in different environments for one year,” said Craig Kundrot, deputy chief scientist of Nasa’s human research program.
Speaking to the New York Times, Dr. Andrew Feinberg, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and one of the investigators in the project said, “They have a very long-term vision. It’s kind of amazing.”
The Irish American twins – the only identical twins to ever have flown in space – trace their Irish heritage through their father, Richard Kelly, a retired police captain. IrishCentral’s sister publication, Irish America magazine, profiled the twins in 2006 when it was revealed that the pair were determined to journey into space from an early age.
Their father said that the boys were as young as eight when they told their Irish grandmother in Orange, NJ, that they would be going up in space someday.
The brothers, now aged 50 and retired United States Navy captains, will tweet about their experience throughout the year. You can follow their work at @StationCDRKelly for Scott on ISS and @ShuttleCDRKelly for Mark on solid ground. This ability to stay in contact with the ground below is something that makes such long stints on ISS easier than it used to be, according to Scott, with access to email and telephone communications as well as entertainment programming, exercise equipment and good air quality.