Kelly and Kornienko Begin One-Year ISS Mission

Kelly and Kornienko Begin One-Year ISS Mission

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are spending their first full day aboard the International Space Station (ISS) today, the beginning of a one-year mission to study the long term effects of spaceflight on humans in preparation for longer trips to Mars.  Kelly is the first American to attempt a one-year mission.  Kornienko will be the fifth Russian to achieve that distinction.

The two lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan along with crewmate Gennady Padalka at 3:42:57 pm EDT yesterday (March 27) and docked with the ISS about six hours later at 9:33 pm EDT.   The hatches between their Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft and the ISS opened at 11:33 pm EDT and they were greeted by the three current ISS crew members:  NASA’s Terry Virts, the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Samantha Cristoforetti, and Russia’s Anton Shkaplerov.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.  Photo Credit:  NASA

The ISS typically is occupied by six crew members who come and go in threes because the Soyuz spacecraft — the only vehicle now available to take crews to and from ISS — holds three people.  Crews rotate on roughly six month schedules.  For short periods of time, when one crew returns to Earth and their replacements are awaiting launch, only three are there.

This routine ballet of rotating crews will continue for the next year, but Kelly and Kornienko will remain on board through two shifts, while others come and go.  Since the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle, all the Soyuz seats have been required for crew members from the ISS partners — the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and 11 European countries through ESA.   Since Kelly and Kornienko will not need two of the seats on the next rotation, Russia is able to resume sending “spaceflight participants” (or “tourists”) to ISS.  A Soyuz launch scheduled for September 2015 (Soyuz TMA-18M) is slated to include singer Sarah Brightman.

Michael Lopez-Alegria holds the U.S. record for the longest single mission in space:  215 days (he spent a total of 258 days in space over the course of four spaceflights).  Kelly will break that record on October 29.

Four Russians have spent a year or more in space on a single mission.  Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov were the first, jointly spending 366 days aboard Russia’s Mir space station in 1987-1988.  Next was Valery Polyakhov who spent 438 days aboard Mir from 1994-1995, the current record. Interestingly, he made a previous long-duration flight to Mir when Titov and Manarov were aboard.  A physician, he monitored their health during the last months of their record-breaking mission and then remained aboard after they returned to Earth, a total of 240 days.   In 1998-1999, Sergei Avdeyev spent 380 days aboard Mir.  In all those cases, as with Kelly and Kornienko, other cosmonauts came and went on routine crew rotations so there was a constant turnover of personnel.

Polyakhov may hold the record for longest consecutive mission, but even with his two long duration flights (240 days and 438 days), he does not have the longest cumulative time in space.  Sergei Krikalev accumulated 803 days of spaceflight over six missions.  Gennady Padalka, a member of the crew that launched yesterday, is on his fifth space mission and will break Krikalev’s record on June 28.

The Kelly-Kornienko mission is billed as “one year” in space, but it actually is scheduled to last 342 days, not quite a year.  They are expected to return on March 3, 2016.   The purpose of extending mission duration to one year or more is to understand how humans react physically and psychologically to spaceflight conditions since sending humans to Mars is a long term goal for NASA and others.  Kelly has an identical twin, Mark Kelly, a former astronaut himself.  A “twins study” composed of 10 separate investigations will be conducted of the two men.

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