Identical Twin, Former Paratrooper, and Ecologist to Launch Friday Aboard Soyuz TMA-16M (Part 1)

Soyuz TMA-16M will launch on 27 March 2015, carrying (from left) Scott Kelly, Gennadi Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko. Photo Credit: NASA

Soyuz TMA-16M will launch on 27 March 2015, carrying (from left) Scott Kelly, Gennadi Padalka, and Mikhail Kornienko. Photo Credit: NASA

Two sons of Earth are presently enjoying their final hours in terrestrial gravity, before embarking on almost an entire orbit of the Sun, as they prepare to journey to the International Space Station (ISS) on the first year-long mission of the 21st century. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko—together with veteran spacefarer Gennadi Padalka, who will join them for the first six months of their lengthy expedition—are presently scheduled to launch from Site 1/5 (the famed “Gagarin’s Start”) at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:42 a.m. local time on Saturday, 28 March (3:42 p.m. EDT on Friday, 27 March), aboard Soyuz TMA-16M. Upon reaching orbit, the three men will embark on a now-standard six-hour, four-orbit “fast rendezvous” to reach the space station and dock at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the Rassvet module at 7:36 a.m. Baikonur time Saturday (9:36 p.m. EDT Friday). They will begin breaking records within weeks of arrival, and those records will continue to fall like ninepins until the planned return of Kelly and Kornienko to Earth in March 2016.  

Spending a year and more in space is nothing new, having already been accomplished by four Russian cosmonauts. Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov spent 366 days aboard the Mir space station between December 1987 and December 1988, after which Valeri Polyakov established an empirical, single-flight endurance record of 438 days from January 1994 until March 1995—which still stands to this day—and Sergei Avdeyev flew a pair of six-month, back-to-back missions from August 1998 through August 1999, accumulating 379 days in orbit. However, the flight of Kelly and Kornienko is particularly significant, as it marks the first joint U.S.-Russian expedition of such extreme duration, as well as being the first of its kind to the ISS and the first of the present millennium.

Kelly and Kornienko were named by NASA and Roscosmos in November 2012 to the One-Year Mission, whose principal objective was “to understand better how the human body reacts and adapts to the harsh environment of space,” in support of Beyond Low-Earth Orbit (BLEO) exploration. “Data from the 12-month expedition will help inform current assessments of crew performance and health,” NASA announced, “and will determine better and validate countermeasures to reduce the risks associated with future exploration as NASA plans for missions around the Moon, an asteroid and ultimately Mars.”

Scott Kelly will become the first person to spend three Christmases in orbit. He flew aboard STS-103 in 1999 and was in command of the International Space Station (ISS) over the festive period in 2010. His year-long expedition in 2015-16 is also expected to oblige him to spend the holidays away from family and friends. Photo Credit: NASA

Scott Kelly will become the first person to spend three Christmases in orbit. He flew aboard STS-103 in 1999 and was in command of the International Space Station (ISS) over the festive period in 2010. His year-long expedition in 2015-16 is also expected to oblige him to spend the holidays away from family and friends. Photo Credit: NASA

The assignment brought to an end several months of speculation about potential candidates for the mission. Particular emphasis was given to Peggy Whitson, who had stepped down as Chief of the Astronaut Office in July 2012, amid great excitement that she was a likely contender. However, it has been suggested that a temporary medical issue, possibly related to cumulative radiation exposure across her two previous long-duration ISS missions, may have ruled Whitson out of the flight. It was understood that NASA astronauts with previous ISS command experience were being shortlisted for the assignment and Kelly—who was then serving as Chief of the ISS Operations Branch—had completed a six-month stint on Expedition 25/26 in October 2012-March 2013.

Scott Joseph Kelly was born on 21 February 1964 in Orange, N.J., together with his identical twin brother, Mark, who was six minutes older, and would also later become an astronaut. Their parents were both police officers in a town which already counted Thomas Alva Edison, Gen. George McClellan, and Whoopi Goldberg as prior residents. “When I was a kid, I always liked to do the things that were difficult,” Kelly told a NASA interviewer, “and as I got older those desires really peaked in me.” As he matured, he aspired to play professional baseball, then drive race cars, before flying took center stage. After schooling in West Orange, Kelly attended the University of Maryland for a year, with hopes of a medical career, but he was ultimately drawn to the U.S. Navy and he transferred to the State University of New York Maritime College to study electrical engineering. “Our grandfather was an officer in the U.S. Merchant Marines and a fire-boat captain in New York City,” he remembered, “so that played a small part in the interest and, having a Third Mate’s license, which I actually still have.” Upon graduation in 1987, Kelly received his commission through the Reserve Officer Training Corps. “I had a desire to fly in the military,” he noted. “I chose the Navy because I thought landing on aircraft carriers would be kind of the most challenging type of aviation in high-performance jets, which I wanted to fly. And I was right.”

He was designated a naval aviator in 1989 at Naval Air Station Chase Field in Beeville, Texas, then reported to Fighter Squadron 101 for initial F-14 Tomcat training. He then undertook overseas deployments with Fighter Squadron 143—“the world-famous Pukin’ Dogs!”—to the North Atlantic, Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea and Persian Gulf aboard the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower. In January 1993, Kelly was selected to attend Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Md., coincidentally in the same class as his brother, who had also pursued a military career in the Navy. He later worked within the Strike Aircraft Test Squadron at Pax River’s Naval Air Warfare Center. During this period, Kelly flew the F-15 Eagle, F/A-18 Hornet, and KC-130 Hercules and was the first pilot to fly the F-14 Tomcat with an experimental digital flight control system and performed high-angle-of-attack and departure evaluations.

Scott Kelly participates in a Soyuz spacecraft training session, ahead of his scheduled 27/28 March launch with Gennadi Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko. Photo Credit: NASA

Scott Kelly participates in a Soyuz spacecraft training session, ahead of his scheduled 27/28 March launch with Gennadi Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko. Photo Credit: NASA

Kelly received a master’s degree in aviation systems from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in 1996. “Being an astronaut became tangible to me when I was working as a test pilot in Pax River,” he explained. “The commanders and pilots of the shuttle are typically military or former military test pilots, so having that background made it much more likely that I would be considered for the job.” Together with Mark, he was chosen by NASA as a shuttle pilot candidate in April 1996 and, after extensive training and technical duties, was named as pilot of the STS-103 mission in March 1999, becoming the first of the brothers to draw a flight assignment. As described by AmericaSpace’s Emily Carney in a recent article, although Mark Kelly has since retired from NASA, both twins will participate in extensive experiments in space and on the ground during the One-Year Mission.

However, despite their intense competitiveness in life goals, neither of the Kellys appeared to have been competitive among themselves. “We certainly encourage each other to do our best,” said Scott in a NASA interview, “but if one person is better at certain things than others, it’s really not a big deal to us.” Although other 1996 astronaut candidates had been assigned before him, the contorted shuttle launch schedule at the end of the 20th century—exacerbated by significant delays to the ISS assembly effort—meant that Kelly was the first shuttle pilot, and the first U.S. member, of the April 1996 astronaut class to actually reach orbit. Launching aboard Discovery on 19 December 1999, he and his six crewmates spent eight days refurbishing the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

In the aftermath of his first flight, Kelly served from June-December 2000 as NASA’s Director of Operations-Russia (DOR), based at the Star City cosmonauts’ training center, on the forested outskirts of Moscow, before being assigned in March 2001 as backup flight engineer to Peggy Whitson on Expedition 5. Teamed with Russian cosmonauts Aleksandr Kaleri and Dmitri Kondratyev, Kelly shadowed the Expedition 5 training for almost the next two years, before being assigned in December 2002 to command STS-118, planned to be Columbia’s first flight to the ISS. The loss of NASA’s pioneering shuttle, just a few weeks later, stalled the fleet for more than two years, but in May 2006 Kelly and most of his original crewmates resumed formal training for STS-118. The 13-day flight took place in August 2007, installed the S-5 truss segment onto the ISS and featured among its crew Barbara Morgan—now a fully-fledged Mission Specialist—who had originally trained as backup to Teacher in Space Christa McAuliffe.

The Kelly brothers, Scott (left) and Mark (right), will be test subjects aiding researchers in the study of spaceflight's effects on the human body. Photo Credit: NASA

The Kelly brothers, Scott (left) and Mark (right), will be test subjects aiding researchers in the study of spaceflight’s effects on the human body. Photo Credit: NASA

Following STS-118, Kelly re-entered ISS long-duration training and in October 2008 he was assigned as flight engineer for Expedition 25 and commander of Expedition 26, with a targeted launch in October 2010 and a return to Earth in March 2011. Joined by his old Expedition 5 backup buddy, Aleksandr Kaleri, and “rookie” cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, Kelly was launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft and his crew initially formed the second half of Expedition 25, which also consisted of U.S. astronauts Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker and Russia’s Fyodor Yurchikhin. Upon the return to Earth of Wheelock, Walker and Yurchikhin in November, Kelly assumed command of Expedition 26 and was joined in December by the second half of his crew, U.S. astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman, Russian cosmonaut Dmitri Kondratyev, and Italy’s Paolo Nespoli. During their time as a crew, Expedition 26 were off the planet during the January 2011 assassination attempt on Kelly’s sister-in-law, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and welcomed the arrival of Shuttle Discovery on its final voyage, STS-133, in February. When Kelly, Kaleri, and Skripochka returned to Earth aboard Soyuz TMA-01M in March 2011, they brought to a close a mission which had spanned 159 days and completed over 2,500 orbits of the globe.

In the aftermath of his third mission, Kelly served as Chief of the ISS Operations Branch, before his prior long-duration command experience made him a candidate for the One-Year Mission. Rumors of such a voyage entered the public consciousness during 2012, and in November Kelly and Kornienko were officially announced as the prime crew.

Mikhail Borisovich Kornienko was born in the large oil town of Syzran, on the banks of the mighty Volga River, within today’s Samara Oblast, on 15 April 1960. “I was a military brat,” he explained in a NASA interview. “My father was a military pilot and he was flying … rescue helicopters. We lived in the Urals, in a small town, and then space exploration was only starting, and every young boy was dreaming of being a cosmonaut and I was no exception.” Aged only six, Kornienko lost his father in the crash of a Mi-6 helicopter. “He and his crew were over a small city and they were on fire,” he recalled. “They could not land and the helicopter exploded. I tried to go there every day to lay flowers on the site.”

The One Year Crew, from left: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Roscosmos cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. Photo Credit: NASA

The One Year Crew, from left: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Roscosmos cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. Photo Credit: NASA

After his father’s death, Kornienko lived with his grandmother, mother and brother in Chelyabinsk and developed a love of aviation. “When I was studying in Chelyabinsk, in eighth and ninth grade, there was a flight school there, which was called Young Cosmonaut School,” he remembered, “and I joined that school and studied for two years. We were studying navigation and also we were allowed to do some parachute jumping. I was about 16 at the time, and, of course, it made quite a big impression on me to do a parachute jump. I got a special diploma, which said the subjects I studied … and the parachute jumps I performed.” In 1977, he graduated from secondary school and worked initially at a radio equipment plant, before being called to active duty in the Soviet Army in May 1978 and saw service as a paratrooper in Kirovobad—today’s city of Ganja—in Azerbaijan. Completing his spell in the military in May 1980, as a junior sergeant, Kornienko continued as a member of the Moscow Militia through 1986.

At the same time, he attended evening school at Moscow Aviation Institute and upon graduation in 1987 he qualified as a mechanical engineer, with a specialism in liquid-propelled rocket engines. Resigning from the Moscow Militia, Kornienko entered a mechanical engineering design bureau and until 1991 worked at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as a launch equipment specialist. During this time, he worked with Vladimir Barmin, one of the legendary Chief Designer Sergei Korolev’s co-workers, and was part of the post-landing servicing of the Soviet Union’s Buran shuttle, following its one and only mission in November 1988. Kornienko’s next career steps took him into directorial positions within post-Soviet commercial entities and in October 1995 he joined the Energia Rocket/Space Corporation (RSC) as an engineer. During this period, Kornienko developed technical documentation and undertook EVA tests in simulated microgravity conditions and was selected as a cosmonaut candidate in February 1998.

Paired with fellow cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, he initially served on the backup crew for Soyuz TMA-10, which launched in April 2007 and carried Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov to the ISS on Expedition 15. Following this assignment, Kornienko was assigned—together with cosmonaut Aleksandr Skvortsov and U.S. astronaut Tracy Caldwell-Dyson—as the prime crew for Soyuz TMA-18, which roared into orbit in April 2010 and saw the trio spend almost six months aboard the space station. They initially formed the second half of Expedition 23, joining Oleg Kotov, NASA astronaut Timothy “T.J.” Creamer and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi, before rotating into the “core” of Expedition 24 and subsequently welcoming three new crew members, Fyodor Yurchikhin and U.S. spacefarers Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker. During his first mission, Kornienko performed an EVA of six hours and 42 minutes, with Yurchikhin. In September 2010, Skvortsov, Kornienko, and Caldwell-Dyson returned safely to Earth, after 176 days in orbit.

Mikhail Kornienko displays fresh tomatoes, brought to the International Space Station (ISS) by the visiting STS-132 crew during Expedition 23 in May 2010. Photo Credit: NASA

Mikhail Kornienko displays fresh tomatoes, brought to the International Space Station (ISS) by the visiting STS-132 crew during Expedition 23 in May 2010. Photo Credit: NASA

Announced as Russia’s One-Year crewman in November 2010, Kornienko and Kelly and fellow cosmonaut Gennadi Ivanovich Padalka most recently served as backups to Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova, and Barry “Butch” Wilmore on Soyuz TMA-14M, who concluded a six-month mission to the ISS earlier in March 2015. And Padalka’s assignment to this mission is an interesting one, for he will remain aboard the ISS for only half of the One-Year Mission, returning to Earth in September 2015, to be replaced for the second half of Kelly and Kornienko’s expedition by cosmonaut Sergei Volkov. Moreover, Padalka was not initially assigned to this mission at all, but rather took the position following the surprise resignation of Soyuz TMA-16M’s original commander.

Padalka’s five-mission career is an interesting one for his first spaceflight almost did not happen at all and assignment to his fifth came unexpectedly. As detailed in an earlier AmericaSpace article, he now stands as the fourth most experienced spacefarer in the world, with a cumulative total of more than 710 days, across his four previous missions. Five weeks after Padalka launches, on 3 May, he will surpass cosmonaut Sergei Avdeyev at 747 days, to enter third place, and on 25 May will exceed Aleksandr Kaleri at 769 days to enter second place. Finally, on 28 June, Padalka will eclipse the incumbent record-holder, veteran cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, at 803 days. By the time Padalka returns to Earth on 11 September, he will have accrued 878 days of time across his five missions, which represents about 2.4 years of his 57 years of life.

Yet, by his own admission, Padalka grew up with no definitive dream of becoming a cosmonaut. Born on 21 June 1958 in Krasnodar, on the Kuban River, about 90 miles (150 km) north-east of Russia’s Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, he was three years old when Yuri Gagarin embarked on his pioneering mission, but space exploration enthralled him. “It was an incredible decade for all mankind, and I think at that time each boy dreamed to become a cosmonaut,” he said of the 1960s. “So did I. And then, maybe, I forgot about my dream, but I was fascinated with aviation.” He entered Eisk Military Aviation College in 1975 and majored in engineering, graduated four years later, then served for a decade as a pilot and senior pilot in the Soviet (and later Russian) Air Force, reaching the rank of colonel and performing more than 300 parachute jumps.

In mid-2009, Padalka (right) became the first commander of a six-person ISS crew. On his forthcoming mission, he will become the first person to lead as many as four ISS Expeditions. Photo Credit: NASA

In mid-2009, Padalka (right) became the first commander of a six-person ISS crew. On his forthcoming mission, he will become the first person to lead as many as four ISS Expeditions. Photo Credit: NASA

Early in his career, Padalka met Alexei Leonov—the world’s first spacewalker—whilst the latter was heading up a medical commission, looking for potential cosmonaut candidates. It was Leonov who suggested that Padalka should apply for training. He applied, and was selected as a cosmonaut candidate in January 1989, upon which he left active air force duty and completed two years of basic training. Until 1994, he worked as an engineer-ecologist at UNESCO’s International Center of Instruction Systems and later participated as an investigator on the U.S.-funded Advanced Diagnostic Ultrasound in Microgravity (ADUM) experiment to apply diagnostic telemedicine techniques to spacefarers.

Teamed with fellow cosmonaut Sergei Avdeyev, Padalka initially served on the backup crew for Soyuz TM-26, to the Mir space station, which flew from August 1997 through February 1998. They were then cycled into the prime crew for Soyuz TM-28, although Russia’s severe economic downturn in the latter half of the decade led to some speculation over whether the mission would fly at all. With the first components of the ISS scheduled to launch in the fall of 1998, the United States was pushing strongly for the Russians to deorbit Mir, but Padalka, Avdeyev and politician Yuri Baturin were launched in August 1998. Baturin remained aboard Mir for a week, then returned to Earth with the previous crew, whilst Padalka and Avdeyev pressed on with their 198-day mission. As circumstances transpired, Avdeyev would stay for two back-to-back expeditions, but Padalka returned to Earth in February 1999.

He was next assigned as backup commander for ISS Expedition 4, together with U.S. astronauts Steve Robinson and Mike Fincke, and in March 2002 Padalka, Fincke, and cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko were assigned as the prime crew for Expedition 9. At the time of the Columbia tragedy, early the following year, the plan was for them to launch aboard shuttle mission STS-119 in January 2004 and return to Earth the following July. However, with the suspension of shuttle flights, the ISS crew was decreased to a rotating stream of two-man “caretaker” crews and Padalka and Fincke eventually launched aboard Soyuz TMA-4 in April 2004. With them was European Space Agency (ESA) Andre Kuipers, who remained at the ISS for about a week, before returning to Earth with the previous crew, and Padalka and Fincke remained aboard the station until October, completing a 188-day mission.

Gennadi Padalka has performed seven EVAs, spanning over 32 hours. Photo Credit: NASA

Gennadi Padalka has performed seven EVAs, spanning over 32 hours. Photo Credit: NASA

More recently, Padalka became the first person to command two consecutive ISS Expeditions, when he launched with U.S. astronaut Mike Barratt and Spaceflight Participant Charles Simonyi in March 2009 to lead Expedition 19. Although Simonyi returned home after a week, the Expedition 19 crew subsequently expanded to six members, who rotated into and out of the ISS throughout the year, and as a result Padalka also commanded Expedition 20, before returning to Earth in October, after 199 days. His fourth and most recent mission began in May 2012, when he launched with cosmonaut Sergei Revin and U.S. astronaut Joe Acaba aboard Soyuz TMA-04M, to form the second half of Expedition 31 and rotated into the command of Expedition 32. By the time Padalka returned home in September 2012, he had spent 710 days in space, completed over 11,000 orbits of Earth and executed seven EVAs, with a total duration of 32 hours and 24 minutes. A fifth mission became a distinct possibility in the fall of 2013, when Soyuz TMA-16M’s original commander, veteran cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov, controversially resigned from the crew.

When Padalka, Kornienko, and Kelly reach orbit on Friday, they will have accrued a total of 11 missions between them, tying with the Expedition 1 crew and making them the joint second most experienced Soyuz crew of all time, falling just shy of the 14 missions accumulated by Yuri Usachev, Jim Voss, and Susan Helms when they entered orbit on Expedition 2, way back in 2001. With a combined 1,066 days of space time between them on launch day, Padalka, Kornienko, and Kelly will also become the most flight-experienced single crew in history.

“When I was a boy, it looked like maybe a game, like adventure,” Padalka said of flying into space, “but I understand that it is very serious. It’s a risky profession.” And therein lies one of the reasons why he continues to do it, even after four previous missions, and closing in on 57 years of age. This year, he will celebrate a fourth birthday in orbit, as well as becoming the first person to command as many as four ISS Expeditions, with the intent that he will lead Expedition 44 when U.S. astronaut Terry Virts and his crew return to Earth in May. “I should be an example,” Padalka once told a NASA interviewer, “not only teach, but show.”

 

The second part of this One-Year Mission preview article will appear tomorrow.

 

 

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