On Friday, two astronauts, one from Russia and the other the US, commenced a full year in space, living and working aboard the International Space Station.
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:42 pm EDT and the crew entered the Space Station safely at around 11.32pm.
The object of the gruelling year in space is to help scientists better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to the harsh environment of space. The trip won’t break the record for longest time spent in Space, currently held by Russian Valeri Polyakov who spent 437 consecutive days in space between 1994 and 1995.
“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.”
Launching with Kelly and Kornienko was cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who will spend a standard six-month rotation on the station.
The arrival of Kelly, Kornienko and Padalka returns the station’s crew complement to six. The three will join Expedition 43 commander, Terry Virts of NASA, as well as flight engineers Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) and Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, who have been aboard the complex since November.
Virts, Cristoforetti and Shkaplerov will return home in May. At that time, Padalka will take command of Expedition 44, becoming the first person to command four station crews. Padalka will return in September, while Kelly and Kornienko will remain aboard until March 2016.
The full year in space 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.
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During their year in space, the physical performances of Kornienko amd Kelly 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.
Data from Kelly and Kornienko’s 342-day expedition will be used to determine whether there are ways to further reduce the risks on future long-duration missions necessary for deep space missions, such as to Mars.
Subsequent to the launch Russian space agency Roscosmos and NASA announced they have agreed to build a new space station after the current International Space Station (ISS) expires in 2024.