Scott Kelly is now safely back on terra firma after nearly a year in space on the International Space Station (ISS). He was welcomed home on March 3rd by his family, friends and notable dignitaries in Houston, Texas. At first glance it looks like his yearlong mission is over, but the research will continue on for another year to see how Kelly is affected by his time in space. Even before he took off for low Earth orbit, he spent just as much time undergoing a barrage of tests to use as a base line for comparison while he was in orbit and after his return. NASA will continue to check in with Kelly over the next year to see how his body and mind have handled and recovered from the alien environment.
Kelly completed his fair share of experiments aboard the ISS during his stay, along with the experiments on himself. The year-long mission was intended to study the effects of extended space travel, looking toward an eventual mission to Mars. While it doesn’t seem so far off, especially after watching The Martian, there are still many barriers to deep space travel. Exposure to radiation is a big one, our atmosphere protects us from the sun’s radiation, but outside the Earth’s protective layer the human body has very little defense. Long exposure to radiation is extremely damaging and will need to be addressed before we venture deep into space.
Another barrier is the body’s reaction to microgravity, instead of fluid settling evenly through our body, it has a tendency to move toward the upper body and brain without the assistance of gravity; this can affect sight as well as internal organs. Psychological issues exist as well, imagine not being able to lay down on a comfortable bed and take a load off, instead you are suspended in the same position you have been in all day. There are no gardens, rain, solid ground beneath your feet nor freedom of movement, all of which can have negative side effects on a person’s psyche as years in space could drive a person mad. Scott Kelly’s year-long mission is helping researchers better understand these problems and derive solutions so that we can someday go where no man has gone before!
Now for the fun stuff. Kelly had a lot of time to take some mind blowing pictures while orbiting the Earth, below are a couple of my favorites.