In a curious experiment that partially mirrors Einstein's famous thought experiment referred to as the twin paradox, NASA will also be conducting an experiment involving twin brothers. Instead of exploring the nature of relativity however, NASA's experiment will focus on the effects of spaceflight on the human body.
The experiment will involve a total of 10 investigations that will explore the effects of spaceflight on humans with the help of twin brothers Scott and Mark Kelly. While NASA and other space agencies have been exploring similar subjects ever since the dawn of the space age, NASA hopes that using a novel approach involving twins will shed new light on an old subject.
"We realized this is a unique opportunity to perform a class of novel studies because we had one twin flying aboard the International Space Station and one twin on the ground," said Craig Kundrot, deputy chief scientist in NASA's Human Research Program. "We can study two individuals who have the same genetics, but are in different environments for one year."
While twin brothers have been chosen for the study, only Scott Kelly will be going up into space. Scott will be spending a year on the International Space Station. Once he completes the study, it will be the longest time that any American astronaut has spent in space. Mark, on the other hand, will be spending his time in his Arizona home.
Mark and Scott are the only twins who have flown to space. Moreover, they are also the only twins in the NASA astronaut program. Both brothers were once Navy test pilots before they became astronauts. The two astronauts have also served as shuttle commanders in their previous missions. However, Mark retired from the astronaut program back in 2011.
"This is a unique opportunity for the agency," said Kundrot. "The investigations are a pathfinder for the agency with regard to the study of astronaut physiology."
Both brothers will be required to give a number of biological samples including stool, saliva, check swabs and blood before and after the mission. The brothers will also undergo a series of physical and mental tests at the same time. By comparing the samples and test results from the brothers, NASA scientists hope to be able to gain more accurate information about the long term effects of spaceflight and microgravity on the human body.
"This pilot project will, for the first time in space, integrate physiology with 21st century -omics techniques currently performed at leading medical schools and hospitals," says Graham Scott, the chief scientist for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) chief scientist.