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November 27, 2012

NASA Announces Crew for Year-Long Space Station Mission

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) have selected two men to make a one year stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015. NASA has selected Scott Kelly while Roscosmos selected Mikhail Kornienko for a mission to collect scientific data for planning long-duration space missions around the moon, to an asteroid and Mars.

Kelly and Kornienko will go to orbit aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in spring 2015 and return to earth in spring 2016. The goal of the year long trip is to understand better how the human body reactions and adopts to the zero-gravity environment of space. Data from the 12 month expedition -- can you say lots of blood draws and medical tests -- will help inform assessments of crew performance and help and provide insight and validate countermeasures to reduce risks of biological changes from a lack of gravity.

Twelve years of humans on the International Space Station have provided data on the effects of microgravity on bone density, muscle mass, strength, vision and other aspects of human physiology. A year long stay should provide greater analysis of these effects and trends. One surprise that has cropped up is vision effects, with expansion of fluid spaces around the optic nerve, flattening of the back of the eyeball and bulging of the optic nerve. The effects are attributed to intracranial hypertension, possibly caused by fluid accumulation due to a lack of gravity. Astronauts get bloated faces while orbit since there's no gravity to pull liquids "down."

Kelly, a U.S. Navy captain, served as a pilot on space shuttle mission STS-103, commander on STS-118, flight engineer on ISS Expedition 25 and commander of Expedition 26. Brother of retired astronaut Mark Kelly, Scott has logged more than 180 days in space between space shuttle and space station missions. Korniekno is also no stranger to space flight, logging more than 176 days in space as a flight engineer on Expedition 23/24 in 2010.

Long-duration spaceflight is going to get a harder look as NASA and its partners build data and an experience base for moving beyond low earth orbit operations. NASA would like to put an outpost at the L-2 gravity point on the far side of the moon to gain experience in remote operations before launching an asteroid exploration mission by 2025.

Ultimately, humans need to figure out a way to have people travel for up to six months between Earth and Mars. Astronauts traveling to Mars would have to be robust enough to handle re-entry and have enough strength and bone mass to be functional upon arrival on the surface. Hopefully, the mission will provide insight into ways humans can manage zero-gravity exposure without serious penalty.

Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli
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