An Astronaut Hits the Ground

After falling continuously for an entire year, Scott Kelly is ready to hit the ground.  With the goal of studying the long-term effects of microgravity on humans, his year is space has been something to keep an eye on.  Always in good spirits, he is probably excited to come home, albeit apprehensive due to the dangers of returning to gravity after such a long time.  Next Tuesday, March 1st, he will experience significant forces once again as he undocks from the ISS and is ferried home by the Soyuz capsule.

Scott Kelly in the ISS Cupola. Credit: NASA

Like wearing a weighted suit, coming home will be an adjustment.  After spending a year in orbit his bones will be brittle, his muscles atrophied, and his vertebrae weak.  He will be prone to injury, and will likely feel exhausted for days as his muscles work to adapt to the constant pull of the Earth.

His time in orbit will end, but his days as a guinea pig are just beginning.  The first half of his study is to spend the year in orbit, but the second half is to compare him to his twin brother Mark, who has been on Earth for the past year.  It gives scientists a rare chance to compare two people with the same genetic code to understand the effects of microgravity at the cellular level.  NASA scientists will continue to monitor both Scott and Mark for the next year to gain as much insight as possible.

This morning, Scott will give a media briefing – his last – from orbit, before returning to Earth next Tuesday.  He won’t be alone though, as Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will also be returning to Earth after completing the same year-long mission in space.

The data gathered from this mission will enable NASA to prepare for humanity’s next great frontier – sending humans to Mars.  Since the trip to the red planet will take 8 months, the mission will be more than a year, most of which will be spent in microgravity during travel between the planets.  Keeping astronauts safe during this trip will enable them to make the most of a mission to Mars, and ensure safe return.  Getting to Mars isn’t hard, it’s getting home safely that’s tough.

Good luck Scott and Mikhail.  Welcome home!

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