One-year ISS mission reaches milestone
For the first time, a NASA astronaut is spending a full year in space. On Sept. 5, Astronaut Scott Kelly, who has been in space since late March 2015, took command of the International Space Station (ISS) for Expeditions 45 and 46, marking the halfway point of his stint aboard the orbiting laboratory. The Expedition 45 crew are Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. Kelly and Kornienko launched with Expedition 43 on March 27, 2015, and will land with Expedition 46 in March of 2016.
Tuesday, Sept. 15, will mark the halfway point of the one-year mission. On Monday, Sept. 14, the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., will host a televised event to discuss the expedition at 529 14th St NW. Kelly’s identical twin brother, Mark, will attend. Mark Kelly commanded STS-134, the final flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, in May of 2011, shortly after his wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, had been shot during a town hall meeting in Arizona.
One of the objectives of the mission is to test the effects of a year of weightlessness on one twin and compare it to the physiology of the other on Earth. Astronaut Terry Virts, who returned from the ISS in June, will also participate. The event will air live on NASA TV from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.
On Wednesday, Sept. 16, the ISS will pass over a network of ground-based telescopes. At that time, Slooh, a robotic telescope service that provides Flash images that can be seen with a web browser, will transmit images of the Space Station’s flyover. Slooh is a NASA partner. Its name is derived from the word “slew”, which is the motion of a telescope.
The typical tour aboard the ISS is four to six months. The one-year mission enables scientists to study much longer-term effects of weightlessness on the human body, yielding information that will be critical if NASA pursues President Obama’s plan to send a mission to Mars by the 2030s. This information will also provide medical research to help patients recovering from long periods of bed rest, and also improve monitoring for people with compromised immune systems.
For the first six months of their mission, Kelly and Kornienko served under Commander Gennady Padalka, working with Oleg Kononenko, Kjell Lindgren, and Kimiya Yui. As Commander, Kelly will work with Kornienko, Kononenko, Lindgren, Yui, and Sergey Volkov. Padalka returned to Earth on Friday, Sept. 11, aboard Soyuz TMA-18M with visiting cosmonauts Andreas Mogensen and Aidyn Aimbetov.
Although the one-year mission is a milestone for NASA, it is not the first time humans have spent a year in space. From January of 1994 to March of 1995, Cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov spent 437 days aboard the Russian space station Mir. Polyakov, a medical doctor, experienced far less bone loss than predicted, and recovered quickly after returning to Earth. After landing, Polyakov’s first words were, “We can fly to Mars.”
The International Space Station has been continually inhabited since Nov. 17, 2000. Presently, the ISS is scheduled to be deorbited in 2024, though it may be extended to 2028. The Station’s future depends at least partially on what the Russians decide to do, as President Vladimir Putin has announced the intention of withdrawing from the ISS in 2024.
Collin R. Skocik has been captivated by space flight since the maiden flight of space shuttle Columbia in April of 1981. He frequently attends events hosted by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, and has met many astronauts in his experiences at Kennedy Space Center. He is a prolific author of science fiction as well as science and space-related articles. In addition to the Voyage Into the Unknown series, he has also written the short story collection The Future Lives!, the science fiction novel Dreams of the Stars, and the disaster novel The Sunburst Fire. His first print sale was Asteroid Eternia in Encounters magazine. When he is not writing, he provides closed-captioning for the hearing impaired. He lives in Atlantic Beach, Florida.