Astronauts Launch On Record-Setting Trip In Space

Scott Kelly, left, and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko walk at the sending-off ceremony before boarding their Soyuz TMA-16M rocket. (Photo: Sergei Ilnitsky, European Pressphoto Agency)
Scott Kelly, left, and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko walk at the sending-off ceremony before boarding their Soyuz TMA-16M rocket. (Photo: Sergei Ilnitsky, European Pressphoto Agency)

Astronaut Scott Kelly’s year in space has begun.

Imagine being given a year to float free of gravity, to gaze down at Earth and its changing seasons, to observe the heavens from space as few ever have.

But during that time you cannot take a breath of fresh air, hug a loved one or hear the sound of falling rain. And you are confined to the office that affords those spectacular views.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will attempt to balance those realities during a nearly year-long mission aboard the International Space Station. They blasted off at 3:42 p.m. ET Friday in a Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Less than 10 minutes later the crew was safely in orbit. Cameras showed Kelly giving a thumbs up during the ride.

“The space station is a magical place,” he said, discussing the mission earlier this month. “But you never get to leave.”

They reach their home for the next year — roughly 250 miles above Earth — less than six hours later.

Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, commander of the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft who will visit for a standard six-month expedition, joined them on the ride up.

By doubling that mission duration for two crew members for the first time on the International Space Station — four cosmonauts lived for at least a year on Russia’s Mir station — NASA and its partners hope to learn more about the issues astronauts might face on even longer voyages to Mars.

An eventual mission to Mars would last at least 500 days.

“The world is excited about your mission,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told the crew before it departed for the launch pad. “It’s the beginning of a new phase of exploration between our two countries … and takes us a little bit farther on the journey to Mars, and that’s really important for us.”

The space agencies are discussing assigning more astronauts to yearlong missions.

Kelly, a 51-year-old father of two daughters ages 20 and 11 who spent nearly six months on the station ending in early 2011, was not enthusiastic about the idea at first.

“I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t all that interested,” he said. “After mulling it over, talking to my family, friends, girlfriend, I decided that the challenges that staying in space for a whole year presented was appealing to me even considering the sacrifices.”

Kornienko’s wife cried upon learning about his second long spaceflight — this time for an entire year — but later supported the decision. The 54-year-old grandfather will fly with pictures of his family and his deceased parents.

“We have the chance to be the first to spend a whole year on the space station, and it will be of great use for future generations for science and for those who might fly further to Mars and to outer space,” he said through a translator.

Kelly does not conceal how difficult he expects living on the station for nearly a year — 342 days, to be precise — to be. But he hopes he’ll experience nothing like the family crisis he confronted during his first expedition.

Halfway through that flight, he learned about the shooting of his sister-in-law, then-Rep. Gabby Giffords, who is married to his twin brother, former astronaut Mark Kelly. Giffords continues to recover, but that day both Kellys endured early media reports that she had died.

Mark Kelly came to Central Asia to see his brother launch.

Researchers will take advantage of a twin’s involvement in the mission to study spaceflight’s long-term effects. They’ll compare how Scott Kelly responds during the year in microgravity to Mark Kelly, a four-time shuttle flier, back on the ground.

Months in space are known to cause loss of bone and muscle mass, weakened immune systems and impaired vision, but the upcoming mission will track those health effects over more time and with better medical technology than was available during Russia’s previous year-plus missions.

“That’s one of the reasons why we’re doing this flight and flying for longer than we have before, to better understand some of these effects and how to mitigate them for our future exploration goals,” Scott Kelly said.

Based on experience and advice from cosmonauts who have flown longer — the longest single trip lasted 438 days — Scott Kelly expects his biggest challenge will be pacing his workload to avoid burnout.

Appropriately, the mission patch for his Soyuz crew features marathon runners.

“I hope I get six months into this and I have six months of energy left in the battery to get to the end,” he said. “I think I will.”

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SOURCE: Florida Times
James Dean

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