If humankind is to branch out beyond low-Earth orbit (LEO) into deep space, more must be known about what it’s like to live and work in space for extended periods. In 2015, two space explorers from opposite sides of the ocean will have the opportunity to do just that: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Roscosmos cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will launch on March 28 as a “One Year Crew” to the International Space Station (ISS) to complete 12 months of scientific investigations. (They will be joined on Soyuz TMA-16M by commander Gennady Padalka.)
On Thursday, Dec. 18, the two were joined by European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Andreas Mogensen, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Jeremy Hansen to discuss goals for this “long haul” during a Paris press conference.
Kelly was enthusiastic about the science goals intended for the long-duration mission. “What makes this exciting, for me, about this one-year mission flight is everything we’re going to learn about the science, and expanding the envelope on the International Space Station beyond what we’ve currently done. We’re going to go to Mars someday. The International Space Station is really a great platform to learn much more about having people live and work in space for long durations. It’s close to the Earth, and it’s a great orbiting facility,” he related.
NASA’s Orion spacecraft, meant for human-helmed deep space missions beyond low-Earth orbit to asteroids, Mars, and other targets, made its debut with its historic, right-down-the-line, Dec. 5th Exploration Test Flight 1 mission (EFT-1). While that test flight monitored spacecraft systems during flight and a high-energy reentry, this one-year ISS flight will be critical in analyzing long-duration spaceflight effects on humans, as deep space trips may span for years.
He added: “This one-year flight is one of many stepping stones toward leaving low Earth orbit again. It’s part of an effort to reach across international and technological boundaries to enhance our integrated science aboard the space station. We do science everyday on the International Space Station; there are probably 150 different types of investigations going on right now, and have been going on since the space station started flying in 2000, when we had our first crews on board.”
Since that time, over 14 years ago, the ISS has been continuously occupied by international crews consisting of astronauts, cosmonauts, and space travelers. Even though the space station has never been at a loss for personnel, Kelly underscored what makes this mission unique from typical expeditions. Kelly stated: “On this flight, NASA has selected 19 collaborative investigations to evaluate the effects of longer-duration spaceflight on humans. Roscosmos and the Russian space agency selected 14 investigations. Some of those investigations are joint investigations that Misha [Kornienko] and I will be participating in together. As far as the U.S. science is concerned … Our 19 different investigations are broken down into seven different categories, from functional to behavioral health, to visual impairment, metabolic and physical performance, microbial, and human factors investigations.”
Kornienko reiterated Kelly’s points, while also hearkening back to previous studies conducted by Russia’s space agency in the past; his nation is notable for pioneering long-duration spaceflight aboard space stations, dating back to Salyut missions in the 1970s. Mir, the last space station to house a longer-duration mission, was launched in 1986 and deorbited in 2001.
“All that Scott said is very accurate and describes our mission. I would like to add that the ISS is a platform for further exploration to Mars [and] to the Moon. As for further space exploration, it’s an opportunity to push deeper into space, and it can serve as a stepping stone for that,” he said.
Kornienko added: “The last long-term space mission was on the Mir station, and it brought major data for investigations and research about how humans will feel during long-term flights into space. I hope our mission will be an opportunity, as Scott said, for others to follow in our footsteps and take space exploration further. Of course, this is a scientific station; we will carry out many experiments, around 58 to be precise…mainly physical and chemical experiments, looking at processes and how materials react in space. We will also look at experiments involving human physiology and biology. Science is one of the reasons why we are going to be flying to the space station, and it is one of the reasons we are [doing] that for a longer time.”
CSA’s Hansen spoke of his excitement concerning the One Year Crew mission, and what it means for future generations of space explorers. “Personally, I’m very interested in this one-year mission because I think it [represents] something very significant. I find myself in front of young Canadians talking about our space program, and the exciting things in space. I see this mission as signifying future exploration – leveraging our International Space Station to exciting new missions that challenge the human spirit of exploration.
“When I had the opportunity to sit with Scott [Kelly] last night, I was asking him some questions about what it’s like to prepare mentally for a one-year mission. Personally I hope someday, in the future, to be part of some missions to take me beyond low Earth orbit. Some of these missions will require significant periods of time in space. I’m very interested in how one prepares for that: What are some of the concerns a commander has for his crew when setting off on an exciting mission like this? I often tell young Canadians that during my lifetime, I fully expect to see humans walk on Mars… I’m very inspired by this one-year mission, and I wish them the best of luck.”
Kelly will surpass astronaut Michael Fincke’s U.S. time in space record (which clocks in at just under 382 days); he has already spent a combined 180 days in space on STS-102, STS-118, and Expeditions 25/26. The person who has spent the most time in space combined remains cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, who has logged 803 days in space (approximately 2.5 years) across two missions to Mir, two space shuttle missions, and two ISS expeditions.
Another unique facet concerning this one-year mission involves the presence of Kelly’s twin brother, Mark, who is a retired NASA astronaut. The earthbound Kelly twin will also be monitored in a bid to better understand the effects of long-duration spaceflight.
In March this year, NASA announced it had selected proposals to study the Kelly twins. A previous AmericaSpace article stated, “Now, as Scott [Kelly] ramps up for his year-long spaceflight on the International Space Station … spaceflight’s only twins to fly will contribute to our understanding of the effects of space on the human body. NASA has announced that its Human Research Program (HRP) will fund 10 studies investigating these various effects, partnering with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute. The test subjects include both Kelly brothers – of course, one will be in space, while one will remain on Earth.”
Thursday’s press conference took place on the day Scott Kelly’s Time magazine cover debuted, highlighting his upcoming mission. While 2014 was a year of new beginnings in U.S. spaceflight, culminating in Orion’s successful first test flight, 2015 will be the year the U.S. makes strides in better understanding what it will take to fly beyond the confines of LEO.