A NASA experiment is aimed at studying how space travel could affect identical twins. Researchers want to study how pairs of twins change as one goes into space, and the other remains on Earth.
Scott Kelly is an active member of NASA's crew of astronauts. His brother, Mark, is a former space traveler, now retired.
When Scott next travels into space, his brother will remain on the ground, being subjected to medical tests before and throughout the flight, as well as after touchdown. Health workers for the agency will search the men to determine how long periods of microgravity can affect space travelers.
Mark Kelly is telling the press he will not take part in the exercise routine his brother will follow, nor will he eat "crappy space station food."
Scott Kelly will launch to the International Space Station in March 2015. Once there, the (then) 51-year-old astronaut will spend a year aboard the orbiting outpost. This will mark the longest time any American has spent in space, a record which currently stands at seven months.
"The goal of the mission is to understand how the human body reacts and adapts to the harsh environment of space. Data from the expedition will be used to reduce risks to the health of crew members as NASA prepares to advance space travel beyond low-Earth orbit," space agency officials wrote on a biography page for Scott.
Valeri Polyakov holds the record for the longest time spent away from Earth, when he spent 437 days aboard the Russian space station Mir from 1994 to 1995. The American record holder is Michael López-Alegría, who spent 215 days aboard the International Space Station (ISS) between 2006 and 2007.
When Kelly heads to space, he will be joined by cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, a 54-year-old former paratrooper.
Scott has volunteered for a number of painful medical procedures to assist data collection during the mission. These will include a pressure sensor drilled into his skull, and a series of spinal taps performed aboard the station. The latter procedures will be performed by a former emergency room medical doctor who will also be a member of the crew.
NASA will study 10 aspects of health in the twins, including a study of gut bacteria, DNA and RNA samples, and possible visual impairment.
Mark collected a total of 54 days in space during his career. If all goes according to plan, Scott will return to Earth with 540 days completed, exactly a tenfold difference. This will allow NASA researchers a rare opportunity to study how spaceflight has affected each member of the pair.
This will be the first study of its kind ever conducted.