March 2, 2016 | Latest Photo
Astronaut Scott Kelly recently landed back on Earth after spending nearly a year on the International Space Station with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. The two men lived in outer space for 340 days — the longest continuous stay, according to the Los Angeles Times. In fact, Kelly has now spent a total of 520 days in space, more than any other U.S. astronaut.
That lengthy stay was the point of the mission. Kelly and his identical twin brother, former astronaut Mark Kelly (husband of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords), are part of a scientific experiment to study the effects of long-term exposure to outer space and its zero-gravity conditions. Mark stayed back on Earth while Scott was in space.
“As we prepare to go all the way to Mars in the decade of the 2030s, there's going to be a lot that we're going to have to learn,” Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a former astronaut who spent six days on the space shuttle Columbia in 1986, said in a statement.
Scott Kelly echoed that sentiment in an interview with NASA TV after he landed in Kazakhstan. “I think that expanding our envelope and our ability to operate is something that will take us further from the planet,” he said. “Developing technology to do so is very important for our economy and our way of life.”
During Kelly’s time in space, both brothers provided blood, saliva and urine samples, had ultrasounds and bone scans and even got flu shots, according to Fox News. Once Kelly returns to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, scientists will examine him and collect more samples.
Scientists already know some of the effects that microgravity has on the body. For example, in space, blood gets redistributed, with more accumulating in the upper half than in the lower extremities, according to the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI). For this reason, astronauts usually have a puffy face while in space, and their legs are smaller in circumference.
Brinda Rana, PhD, a molecular geneticist at UC San Diego who is involved in two of the 10 research projects, told the LA Times there are more concerning health issues related to this fluid shift, including the raising of intracranial pressure, visual impairment and inflammation potentially linked to cardiovascular disease.
Other ways living without gravity changes your body:
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