NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will be launched into space for their year-long stay at the International Space Station (ISS) and through Kelly, NASA is looking for answers to a range of questions that will enable it to plan out future manned missions of Mars.
One of the goals of the year-long stay aboard the ISS is to understand how our body reacts to prolonged exposure to zero-gravity. Previous stay aboard the ISS have seen astronauts suffer from weakened muscles and bones, impaired vision among other side effects. Psychological effects are also a big unknown as of now and a series of experiments alongside a constant monitoring of astronauts should help NASA better understand these effects.
Kelly and Kornienko will spend a year on the space station to better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to the harsh environment of space. Data from the expedition will be used to determine whether there are ways to further reduce the risks on future long-duration missions to an asteroid and eventually Mars.
“We’re trying to get to Mars,” said Kelly. “I won’t go, but the next generation has a chance.”
NASA has to face a host of challenges for its manned mission of Mars and funding is just one part of it. Complex vehicles that are capable of safely transporting astronauts to Mars; safe landing gear; space suits that are capable of withstanding the harsh climate conditions of Mars and finally the question of how to bring these astronauts back.
The US space agency has planned hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science — research that impacts life on Earth. Using the data and samples collected throughout the year from a series of studies involving Scott and his twin brother, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, NASA will dig deeper to look for answers to unknowns.
The studies will compare data from the genetically-identical Kelly brothers to identify any subtle changes caused by spaceflight.
NASA has been sending astronauts to live and work on the space station for six months at a time, allowing it to understand some aspects of health conditions, but a year-long stay will enable NASA to take the next step.