After a year in space, astronaut says he could do another
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America's space-endurance champ is Scott Kelly. He is scheduled to return to Earth today. The astronaut has spent nearly a year in orbit. He's been aboard the International Space Station. High on his to-do list when he gets back will be jumping into his pool. And dining at a real table.
Yet he said he could hold out another year in space.
"Yeah, I could go another 100 days. I could go another year if I had to," Kelly assured reporters. He spoke in a video news conference from orbit. "It would just depend on what I was doing. And if it made sense. Although I do look forward to getting home here next week."
Going without running water for a year has made hygiene difficult, Kelly acknowledged. "It's kind of like I've been in the woods camping for a year."
But the hardest part of all? He said it is being separated from his loved ones. It's a situation that will pose even more of a challenge for astronauts sent to Mars.
Kelly took questions on Day 335 of what already is NASA's longest single spaceflight. By the time Kelly rides a Russian capsule to a landing in Kazakhstan, his mission will have lasted 340 days.
The world record for a single spaceflight is 438 days. It was set by a Russian cosmonaut. That was in the 1990s. Even that will pale in comparison to a Mars expedition. It is expected to last two to three years round trip.
Scientists hope to learn much from Kelly's mission. It will help to pave the way to Mars. That mission should be in about 20 years. The scientists will also collect data from his Russian roommate for the past year. He is Mikhail Kornienko.
Kelly is 52 years old. He is a former space shuttle commander. He will undergo a battery of medical and physical tests at the landing site. He will then be hustled home to Houston. There, he will get more tests. And he will have weeks, if not months, of rehabilitation. He must recover from the punishing effects of an extended stay in zero gravity. Those effects include degraded vision and the loss of bone and muscle.
Awaiting his arrival in Houston will be his two daughters and his girlfriend. She works in public affairs at Johnson Space Center. His identical twin is former astronaut Mark Kelly. He will also be there waiting.
The brothers have submitted to similar medical tests for more than a year. They will keep it up in the months ahead. NASA hopes the research on the genetically identical brothers will illuminate some of the more extreme effects of weightlessness on the body.
The Kellys talked often during the mission, more than they did before the flight, in fact. The 250-mile-high space station has an Internet phone. It is capable of calling anyone. Mission Control also arranges regular video conferences between astronauts and their families.
"One of the only real lifelines you have, one of the best ones, is certainly the ability to make a phone call," Mark Kelly said from his home in Tucson, Arizona. He said he and his brother hope to go fishing in Alaska.
Scott Kelly said he was more anxious to return home following his last space station stint five years ago. It lasted 159 days. That was because of the assassination attempt two months earlier on his congresswoman sister-in-law, Gabrielle Giffords. She is Mark's wife.
This time, Kelly said, he didn't focus on the end of his mission but rather on each upcoming milestone. Like the arrival of supplies and crews, major experiments, spacewalks and maintenance tasks. Even so, he said, events from last summer or fall seem like forever ago.
He lightened things up recently by donning a gorilla suit and cavorting through the station. The suit was a gift from Mark.
"Next milestone is coming home," Kelly said with a smile.
He ended the news conference with a slow-motion backflip. It's undoubtedly one of the pluses of space.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is the year in space project so important?
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