With a smile and an energetic thumbs-up, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly exited the Soyuz TMA-18M capsule shortly after landing on the remote steppe of Kazakhstan at 10:26 p.m. Central time March 1, 2016. It was the return of the Expedition 46 crew, which included Russian cosmonauts Sergey Volkov and Mikhail Kornienko, the latter of whom shared Kelly’s historic “One-Year Mission” aboard the ISS.
Launched on March 27, 2015 with Expedition 43, Kelly and Kornienko remained aboard Station for 340 days and through four expedition crews, the longest duration spent on the ISS by anyone to date and, for Kelly, racking up a record-breaking number of career days in space (520) among U.S. astronauts.
The extended stay was specifically designed for advanced research on the effects of long-duration missions in space on the body, which is crucial if humans are ever to embark on a journey to Mars.
Excerpted from a NASA news release:
During the record-setting One-Year mission, the station crew conducted almost 400 investigations to advance NASA’s mission and benefit all of humanity. Kelly and Kornienko specifically participated in a number of studies to inform NASA’s Journey to Mars, including research into how the human body adjusts to weightlessness, isolation, radiation and the stress of long-duration spaceflight. Kelly’s identical twin brother, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, participated in parallel twin studies on Earth to help scientists compare the effects of space on the body and mind down to the cellular level.
One particular research project examined fluid shifts that occur when bodily fluids move into the upper body during weightlessness. These shifts may be associated with visual changes and a possible increase in intracranial pressure, which are significant challenges that must be understood before humans expand exploration beyond Earth’s orbit. The study uses the Russian Chibis device to draw fluids back into the legs while the subject’s eyes are measured to track any changes. NASA and Roscosmos already are looking at continuing the Fluid Shifts investigation with future space station crews.
“Scott Kelly’s one-year mission aboard the International Space Station has helped to advance deep space exploration and America’s Journey to Mars. Scott has become the first American astronaut to spend a year in space, and in so doing, helped us take one giant leap toward putting boots on Mars.”
— NASA Administrator Charles Bolden
So what was it like to come back to Earth after nearly a full calendar year in orbit?
“The cold air is amazing,”said Kelly during an interview with NASA commentator Rob Navias after their return ceremony in Kazakhstan. “I don’t mean to say it’s not fresh on the Station but there’s nothing like new, cold air coming in to the capsule.”
Still, the ISS and its crew members became Kelly’s home and family, and leaving them behind surely had its difficulties.
“Leaving the Space Station was bittersweet,” Kelly said. “I’ve been there a long time so while I looked forward to leaving, at the same time it’s a magnificent place and I’ll miss it.”
Watch the full ceremony and interviews with Kelly and the Russian crew below.
Although it will take some time to re-acclimate to “normal” conditions on Earth it appears that Kelly is doing very well!
The data and samples gathered by the Kelly twins over the past year—one in orbit, one on the ground—will be studied by scientists to find out what sort of genetic effects such a long stay in space may have had. Learn more about the One-Year Mission here.
ADDED 3/3/16: PBS has created a fantastic documentary about Kelly’s year-long mission, you can view it in its entirety here. (May be subject to regional limitations.)