Tag Archives: year in space

Scott Kelly To Retire From NASA After Spending A Year In Space

There are many impressive ways to bow out of your job, but perhaps breaking the record for the longest single U.S. spaceflight and becomingone of the first two humans to spend a year aboard the International Space Station (ISS) tops them all.

Yes, NASA has announced that one-year crew member Scott Kelly, 52, will retire from being an astronaut with the agency as of April 1 this year. He will still take part in research related to his year-in-space mission, namely the Twins Study in partnership with his brother Mark, but his days of actually going to space are now over.

This year-in-space mission was a profound challenge for all involved, and it gave me a unique perspective and a lot of time to reflect on what my next step should be on our continued journey to help further our capabilities in space and on Earth, Kelly said in a statement.

Kellys career was glittering, to say the least. In total, he spent 520 days in spacethe most for any American astronaut (so far), across four missions. It was his latest mission that really threw him into the limelight, though, where Kelly became known not only for his prolific tweetingfrom space (700 in total), buttogether with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kornienko, he alsobecame the first to spend 12 months on the ISS. Previous missions lasted just six months.

Missions like this are a vital step towards sending humans to Mars, and NASA has more plans for similar (oreven more ambitious) missions on the ISS in the future. Our universe is a big place, and we have many millions of miles yet to explore, Kelly said in a personal blog post onFacebook.

Kelly is seen here during a spacewalk on November 6, 2015. NASA

His 520-day record wont last forever, though, as NASA astronaut Jeff Williams is set to launch to the ISS on March 18, and on this mission he will reach a total of 534 days.

Nonetheless, Kellys achievements, particularly with regards to setting humans towards Mars, will not be forgotten. When honoring Kelly, perhaps NASA Administrator Charles Bolden summed it up best:

When the first Americans set foot on Mars, they will be following in the footsteps of one of the finest astronauts in the history of the space program, my friend, Commander Scott Kelly. After spending an American record 520 days in space including his Year in Space I can think of no one more deserving of some well-deserved rest and time on the same planet as his family and friends.

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Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/scott-kelly-retire-nasa-after-setting-humanity-course-mars

NASA Might Use ISS Landings For Practice Mars Missions In Kazakhstan

Last week, Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko returned from the first-ever one-year mission on the International Space Station (ISS). Research from the mission is expected to be invaluable for planning missions to Mars, particularlyhow astronauts cope with spending a prolonged amount of time in a microgravity environment.

But dont think this is the end for exciting types of missions like this on the ISS. In fact, it is only the beginning and NASA has some pretty interesting ideas as to what it will use the station for next, including mock Mars missions on the ground in Kazakhstan after a crew returns from the ISS, in addition to more one-yearspace missions, IFLScience can reveal.

Two people is not a full study, its more of a case study, NASAs chief scientist for the ISS, Julie Robinson, tells IFLScience. Ideally we would like to have 10 to 12 subjects that have done that long duration, so we can put all that data together and be more confident in our risk assessment.

The reason for doing these stays is to study the physical effects prolonged spaceflight has on the human body. When astronauts land back on Earth after a stay on the ISS, the time spent in microgravity means they are, at first, almost unable to walk under Earths gravity. The loss of bone and muscle mass from their time in space means they even have to be carried out of their spacecraft by helpers on the ground. But scientists want to find ways to overcome this.

There are a number of ill effects about being in space, said Robinson. Its not about surviving, its about being able to perform on the surface [of Mars], and not have the mission fail.

At the moment, astronauts are not really in a fit state to work when they return to Earth. NASA/Flickr

For missions to Mars, which NASA wants to carry out at some point in the 2030s, this clearly poses a problem. Although Mars has only three-fifths of Earths gravity, the time spent in microgravity during transit to the Red Planet around eightmonths means the astronauts will have suffered some debilitating effects of spaceflight, making immediate surface operations on the ground difficult.

To compensate for this on the ISS, astronauts go through a rigorous training and diet regime, performing 2.5 hours of exercise on high-tech equipment every day. This wont necessarily be possible for Mars missions though.

The exercise equipment on the ISS is way too big to take to Mars, explains Robinson. The space station is like a hotel, and the Mars transit vehicle is going to be more like a minivan, so weve got to have something compact that you can fold away.

Some have suggested that one way to counter the effects of microgravity would be to have a rotating section on the transit habitat to Mars, using the centrifugal force to create an Earth-like gravity environment something similar to the spacecraft seen in The Martian.Robinson, though, says this might not be a solution.

There are a couple of problems with that, she said. The first is that it makes the habitat much larger and heavier than it would otherwise be. The more things weigh, the harder it is to get to Mars. Were very weight-limited with the Mars mission.

The other thing is you have to design your engineering systems to deal with all that spinning the entire time, or what if the mechanism breaks, and they have to work in a microgravity environment.

The preference is for a non-rotating spacecraft.

NASA is apparently not favoring a rotating spacecraft, like this one seen in “The Martian,” to get to Mars.20th Century Fox

Instead, NASA seems keen to focus on simply providing astronauts the optimal diet and exercise they need to make surface operations on Mars feasible. And one way to prepare for that might be to perform mock Mars missions in Kazakhstan, after a crew has landed, as it does at the moment on Soyuz missions.

One thing weve talked about with Russian colleagues is the possibility you could simulate a full Mars mission [on Earth], Robinson explains. You could go to ISS for nine months, or a year, and then you could come back down and do a variety of mission activities. You could even do a re-launch [to the ISS, to simulate launching from Mars].

Its not clear what this would be yet whether they would live isolated in a habitat on Earth for several weeks, for instance and Robinson readily admits such an idea is very much in its early stages. But its something NASA has been testing the water with via their Field Test Study, which involves returning crew performing activities on the ground akin to a Mars mission, including putting together equipment and completing an obstacle course.

When would this be done? Well, Robinson didnt have a firm estimate on dates. At the moment, the ISS is only funded until 2024, so obviously it would be before then maybe even in the next couple of years. However, she noted that while the ISS is only funded until 2024, its operational lifetime could be longer.

The space station extension in the U.S. to 2024 is really just about the budget, she said. Really it could go as long as 2030, based on its engineering life, and thats assuming the engineers werent conservative, and you know how conservative engineers can be.

Robinson says the ISS could run until 2030 at least. NASA

And thats not the only exciting development for the ISS. Next month, a new module called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is being launched to the station on a SpaceX rocket. This module is unlike the others on the station, described as aluminum tin cans.Instead, it launches in a compact form and has a soft outer shell, so that it can be inflated on the space station. The actual date for inflation has not been set yet after launch.

The BEAM module is like a balloon, said Robinson. Well put it up there, check it out, then well expand it, keep it sealed, see if it holds pressure, and see what happens if little pieces of space debris hit it by taking measurements on the inside.

This type of module could be used as part of a Mars mission, but Bigelow itself has its own goals. They want to potentially connect some of these modules together in orbit, away from the ISS, and create some sort of orbiting space laboratory, or space hotel. Theyre very open about it, said Robinson. They want some day to operate facilities [in orbit] that normal people can go visit in space.

Bigelow is not the only private company NASA is partnering with for orbital operations, though. Beginning next year, SpaceXs Dragon spacecraft and Boeings CST-100 Starliner are scheduled to start taking astronauts to the ISS, the first private companies to do so. With each able to seat four astronauts as opposed to three used on the Soyuz at the moment this opens up new options for crew configurations on the station.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft could increase the operational capacity of the ISS to seven. NASA

Right now, the reason we have six crew [on the ISS] is because the Soyuz serves as our lifeboat, explains Robinson. If the crew needed to abandon ship, those can each only hold three people [and only two are docked at once].

But the commercial vehicles that the U.S. will be flying hold four crew members, and so that lets us add one permanent crew member to the space station, because they can use the four-person life boat, and well have seven crew in orbit all the time. By having that one extra crew member, essentially they will do nothing but research every day on the ISS, and that will allow us to double our throughput on the U.S. side of the vehicle.

So, if you thought the conclusion of the year in space meant it was back to business as usual on the ISS, youd be wrong. There are exciting plans ahead for the space station, and it could all prove vital for missions to Mars.

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Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/nasa-might-use-iss-landings-practice-mars-missions-kazakhstan