Twin Peeks: Astronaut Brothers To Go Under Microscope During One-Year Mission

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly plays with fresh fruit in the Unity node of the International Space Station. This 2010 picture was taken during Expedition 25. Credit: NASA

Identical twin astronauts, one headed to space for a year and the other happily at home. Imagine just how excited health researchers are by the prospect of this situation which yes, is happening for real. Scott Kelly is preparing to blast off on a lengthy mission to the International Space Station in 2015 while his retired twin, Mark, will serve as a control.

The 50-year-old men will do a suite of experiments before, during and after the mission to see how much (if at all) Scott’s body changes from his brother in the long term. This ranges from examining their DNA, to their vision, and even changes in the gut.

“These will not be 10 individual studies,” stated Craig Kundrot of NASA’s human research program at the Johnson Space Center. “The real power comes in combining them to form an integrated picture of all levels from biomolecular to psychological.  We’ll be studying the entire astronaut.”

One experiment will examine telomeres, which NASA says are “molecular caps” that sit on the ends of human DNA. As the theory goes, these telomeres are affected in space by cosmic rays (high-energy particles originating from outside the solar system) — which could speed up the aging process. If Scott’s telomeres change after the mission, this could help determine if space is linked to rapid aging.

Another experiment asks how the immune system alters. “We already know that the human immune system changes in space.  It’s not as strong as it is on the ground,” said Kundrot. “In one of the experiments, Mark and Scott will be given identical flu vaccines, and we will study how their immune systems react.”

Then there are experiments looking at gut bacteria that help digestion, seeking out how human vision changes, and even a phenomenon known as “space fog” — how some astronauts find themselves losing alertness in orbit.

Although the twins have inherent fascination for researchers and sociologists, the Kellys themselves have emphasized that to them, having an identical counterpart is something that always was.

NASA astronaut Mark Kelly peers out a window during the penultimate shuttle mission, STS-134, in 2011. Around his neck is the ring of his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, who was recovering from a gunshot head wound during the mission. Credit: NASA
NASA astronaut Mark Kelly peers out a window during the penultimate shuttle mission, STS-134, in 2011. Around his neck is the ring of his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, who was recovering from a gunshot head wound during the mission. Credit: NASA

“We didn’t know anything differently and, you know, he’s not my clone,” Scott said in a joint 2010 NASA interview with Mark.

“You know, a lot of times people would ask, ‘So what’s it like to be a twin?’ and … the response I would usually give is, ‘Well, what’s it like not to be a twin?’ I mean, it’s just, it is,” Mark added, to which Scott responded, “It’s more like … he’s my brother but we just happen to have the same birthday, to me.”

Scott will leave Earth with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko in 2015 for the first one-year mission in space since a handful of lengthy stays on the former Russian space station, Mir, in the 1990s. Scott will serve as Expedition 43/44 flight engineer and have the distinction of commanding two space station missions, Expedition 45 and 46. (He also commanded Expedition 26 in 2010.)

Source: NASA

Soyuz Lands Safely; Next Crew Launch Delayed

Russian Search and Rescue personnel secure their helicopters before picking up the crew of Expedition 26 that landed in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA


Three members of the Expedition 26 crew landed safely in their Soyuz spacecraft early Wednesday, but their replacements might not launch until mid-April, a delay of a couple of weeks. Commander Scott Kelly and Russian Flight Engineers Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka landed with no problems in the cold and snow of Kazakhstan, concluding their five-month stay aboard the International Space Station. But meanwhile, the Russian Soyuz TMA-21 is experiencing a problem with the communications system, and the new crew was scheduled to launch on March 29. But the launch may be delayed until after the April 12th 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight.

Roskosmos director Anatoly Perminov said technicians were working on a faulty transistor, and if the launch doesn’t take place by about April 9, they would likely be postponed until after the anniversary celebration of the first human to orbit Earth.

The delay could increase concerns about relying solely on Russia for rides to the ISS.

The new crew half of the Expedition 27 crew consists of NASA astronaut Ron Garan and Russian cosmonauts Andrei Borisenko and Alexander Samokutayev. Remaining on board the ISS are Dmitry Kondratyev, now commander and Flight Engineers Catherine Coleman (NASA) and Paolo Nespoli (ESA).

The Expedition 26 trio undocked from the ISS at 12:27 a.m. EDT from the station’s Poisk module, and landed at 3:54 a.m. (1:54 p.m. local time) at a site northeast of the town of Arkalyk.

Working in frigid temperatures, Russian recovery teams were on hand to help the crew exit the Soyuz and adjust to gravity. Kaleri and Skripochka will return to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, outside of Moscow, while Kelly will fly directly home to Houston.

The three returning crewmembers have been in space since Oct. 8, 2010 when they launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, spending 159 days in space.
During their mission, the Expedition 25 and 26 crew members worked on more than 150 microgravity experiments in human research; biology and biotechnology; physical and materials sciences; technology development; and Earth and space sciences.

Soyuz and 3 ISS Crewmembers Return Home

The Expedition 25 crew landed safely in Kazakhstan at 11:46 p.m. EST Thursday (Friday 10:46 a.m. Kazakhstan time). The trio — Doug Wheelock, Shannon Walker and Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin — undocked in the Soyuz TMA-19 at 8:23 p.m. ending their 5-1/2 month stay at the International Space Station. Staying behind on the orbiting laboratory are Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineers Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka.
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