International Space Station Astronauts Return To Earth Breaking Records

International Space Station Astronauts Return To Earth Breaking Records
Photo Credit: Reuters/達誌影像
What you need to know

·US astronaut Scott Kelly has set a new US space flight record of 340 consecutive days in space. ·The returned astronauts spent time conducting experiments intended for future manned missions to Mars.

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By Jeffrey Tsai and Bing-sheng Lee

The International Space Station (ISS) received a change in crew roster as three astronauts left the station headed back to Earth, one of them setting a new US space flight record of 340 consecutive days.

The three astronauts, Scott Kelly, Mikhail Korniyenko and Sergey Volkov, returned after completing their study of the biological and psychological effects of long-term space travel. Kelly and Korniyenko, being assigned the ISS yearlong mission, completed their study in 340 days. Their mission consisted of dozens of experiments completed to see how weightlessness and space radiation affects the human body.

This long-term consequence experiment was necessary because a manned mission to Mars would take an estimated minimum of two years. NASA plans to have missions already launched by 2030.

Remarking on his experience, Kelly says, “The hardest part is being isolated from people on the ground who are important to you.” During his time in space he also grew an additional two inches.

Kelly also witnessed the climate change happening on Earth. “I feel more like an environmentalist since I’ve been up here… There are parts of the Earth that are covered with pollution all the time. I saw weather that was unexpected. Storms bigger than we’ve seen in the past. This is a human effect. This is not a natural phenomenon," he says,

In addition, this mission was an experiment of analyzing any genetic influences from long-term space travel; Scott Kelly would be compared with his Earthside identical twin Mark Kelly to see if there were any genetic changes.

This ISS mission has set several US records, including longest uninterrupted duration at the ISS and US records of most time spent in space, both cumulative and consecutive.

The record for the longest time spent in space is 438 days achieved by Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov in 1995.

Photo Credit: Reuters/達誌影像
The one-year mission continues after astronauts return to Earth

Right after Kelly stepped out of the Soyuz space capsule, several tests and examinations were carried out on him to see how astronauts’ physical conditions are following a lengthy spaceflight.

Emphasizing how difficult and important it is for Kelly to undergo all the examinations as soon as he landed, John Charles of the NASA’s Human Research Program says, ”What I’ve been told is that he completed all the testing, which, in itself, is a real accomplishment because it’s a lot of work to do after a very strenuous — and, I think, harrowing — episode when you land in the Soyuz.“

“So he has continued to perform at very significant levels. He’s been there for all the studies; he’s been a full participant and seems to be doing it by taking it in stride,” Charles adds.

Asked about whether Kelly would be able to work immediately after landing if he were assigned to conduct missions on Mars, Charles answers, ”I get the sense that he could have. That’s my strictly qualitative, nonprofessional assessment having never interacted with the spacesuits myself. But if he couldn’t, I can’t imagine somebody that could have.”

The studies on Kelly and Kornienko will continue after their returning to Earth because the research has to include examinations on the astronauts and data produced by the tests before, during and after flight. Some of the experiments will not generate their final data sets until September.

Moreover, some of Kelly’s blood and urine samples collected during the space mission is still being transported on a SpaceX vehicle in space. They are scheduled to land on Earth in May, which means researchers will not be able to produce results until 2017 or later.

The challenges that astronauts might undergo during a trip to Mars include the psychological impacts caused by the confinement to a small space with the same group of people for an extended period of time, communication delays with Earth, the need for medical care, radiation exposure in the space, and changes to astronauts’ vision, bone integrity, circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycles.

These potential problems have raised concerns about astronauts’ health and safety in the space research field and many anticipate that the efforts made by Kelly and others on this one-year mission and the following research will help tackle the issues.

More space missions and further research will be needed to fully understand how long spaceflights affects the human body. Charles confirms, “NASA’s Human Research Program has requested additional year-long missions on ISS, but all the other aspects of such missions must be considered by all the partner agencies, so no final decision has been made one way or the other."

Edited by Olivia Yang and Eric Tsai

Sources:
“NASA’s Scott Kelly Grew 2 Inches: The Body After a Year in Space" (NBC News)
“Astronaut Scott Kelly is home" (CNN)
“ISS astronaut Scott Kelly returns to Earth after nearly a year in space" (San Jose Mercury News)
“Two Astronauts Return To Earth After Record 340 Days In ISS" (Slashdot)
“ISS crew return to Earth setting space flight record for astronaut Scott Kelly" (The Guardian)
“NASA’s Scott Kelly back on Earth, but mission continues” (The Christian Science Monitor)
“Sore, but no taller, astronaut Scott Kelly adjusts to Earth” (ASIAONE)
“Record-long US spaceflight leaves Scott Kelly feeling sore” (Deccan Chronicle)