340 Days Later, NASA’s One Year Mission Concludes


Kelly and Kornienko on Terra Firma Credit: NASA

Kelly and Kornienko on Terra Firma
Credit: NASA

Overnight, Scott Kelly returned from his 340 day mission aboard ISS, landing safely in Kazakhstan along with crewmates Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov. Although considerably less American media attention was directed his way, Kornienko’s stay aboard the station was the same as Kelly’s as part of a joint mission.

The complete NASA.gov story is included below, but a couple of additional points bear consideration.

First, it would have been nice if the pair had actually stayed 365 consecutive days in space, rather than 340, allowing for at least one occasion on which the hype matched the reality. See “Journey to Mars” for countless other examples.

That being said, perhaps the most remarkable fact about the mission was how unremarkable it is, but in a good way. Thanks to the long term availability of ISS as opposed to short duration Shuttle flights, we now have more than enough examples to assure us that humans can endure the six month journey to and from Mars in weightless conditions without suffering long term, debilitating results. The primary challenge now lies in learning how to minimize the re-adaptation to gravity through diet and exercise. Here too, the station is invaluable, and it is reasonable to assume that by the time we finally get around to actually going to the Red Planet, the science will be much better understood.

The real question however, is why it is necessary in the first place. Somewhere along the way, if NASA really is serious about the “Journey to Mars” it will be time to begin testing artificial gravity through rotation on a human scale. After all, two very different situations come into play when considering the ill effects of zero-g on returning (or arriving) astronauts. One is on Earth, where barring a badly botched landing, a historic level of resources will no doubt be immediately at hand. The real issue is Mars, where there will be no medical or support staff waiting, and the need to perform physical exertion with high dexterity immediately on arrival could be critical. But where is the data on how long it take to adapt to the 38% gravity on Mars compared to the 100% standard of Earth? Given the disparity, it may not be much of an issue at all, but we simply cannot know until we can test it.

As Innerspace has noted several times, departing Cygnus cargo vessels which are destined for destruction anyway, would be a great place to start.

From NASA.Gov:

NASA astronaut and Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kornienko returned to Earth Tuesday after a historic 340-day mission aboard the International Space Station. They landed in Kazakhstan at 11:26 p.m. EST (10:26 a.m. March 2 Kazakhstan time).

Joining their return trip aboard a Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft was Sergey Volkov, also of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, who arrived on the station Sept. 4, 2015. The crew touched down southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan.

“Scott Kelly’s one-year mission aboard the International Space Station has helped to advance deep space exploration and America’s Journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Scott has become the first American astronaut to spend a year in space, and in so doing, helped us take one giant leap toward putting boots on Mars.”

During the record-setting One-Year mission, the station crew conducted almost 400 investigations to advance NASA’s mission and benefit all of humanity. Kelly and Kornienko specifically participated in a number of studies to inform NASA’s Journey to Mars, including research into how the human body adjusts to weightlessness, isolation, radiation and the stress of long-duration spaceflight. Kelly’s identical twin brother, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, participated in parallel twin studies on Earth to help scientists compare the effects of space on the body and mind down to the cellular level.

One particular research project examined fluid shifts that occur when bodily fluids move into the upper body during weightlessness. These shifts may be associated with visual changes and a possible increase in intracranial pressure, which are significant challenges that must be understood before humans expand exploration beyond Earth’s orbit. The study uses the Russian Chibis device to draw fluids back into the legs while the subject’s eyes are measured to track any changes. NASA and Roscosmos already are looking at continuing the Fluid Shifts investigation with future space station crews.

The crew took advantage of the unique vantage point of the space station, with an orbital path that covers more than 90 percent of Earth’s population, to monitor and capture images of our planet. They also welcomed the arrival of a new instrument to study the signature of dark matter and conducted technology demonstrations that continue to drive innovation, including a test of network capabilities for operating swarms of spacecraft.

Kelly and Kornienko saw the arrival of six resupply spacecraft during their mission. Kelly was involved in the robotic capture of two NASA-contracted cargo flights — SpaceX’s Dragon during the company’s sixth commercial resupply mission and Orbital ATK’s Cygnus during the company’s fourth commercial resupply mission. A Japanese cargo craft and three Russian resupply ships also delivered several tons of supplies to the station.

Kelly ventured outside the confines of the space station for three spacewalks during his mission. The first included a variety of station upgrade and maintenance tasks, including routing cables to prepare for new docking ports for U.S. commercial crew spacecraft. On a second spacewalk, he assisted in the successful reconfiguration of an ammonia cooling system and restoration of the station to full solar power-generating capability. The third spacewalk was to restore functionality to the station’s Mobile Transporter system.

Including crewmate Gennady Padalka, with whom Kelly and Kornienko launched on March 27, 2015, 10 astronauts and cosmonauts representing six different nations (the United States, Russia, Japan, Denmark, Kazakhstan and England) lived aboard the space station during the yearlong mission.

With the end of this mission, Kelly now has spent 520 days in space, the most among U.S. astronauts. Kornienko has accumulated 516 days across two flights, and Volkov has 548 days on three flights.

Expedition 47 continues operating the station, with NASA astronaut Tim Kopra in command. Kopra, Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) and Yuri Malenchenko of Roscosmos will operate the station until the arrival of three new crew members in about two weeks. NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Russian cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka are scheduled to launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on March 18.

The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that enables us to demonstrate new technologies and make research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. It has been continuously occupied since November 2000 and, since then, has been visited by more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. The space station remains the springboard to NASA’s next giant leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars.

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