NASA astronaut Scott Kelly reflected on his past year living aboard the International Space Station on Thursday while he and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko prepare to wrap up their historic space flight next week with a landing in western Asia.
Kelly and Kornienko are packing up their Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft for their journey back to Earth on Tuesday (EST), while also preparing their bodies and their minds for the adjustment back to gravity. No American before has spent one year in space, and Kelly’s mission will offer NASA the answers for how humans will survive during a long duration mission to Mars.
During a final news conference from inside the orbiting laboratory 255 miles above, Kelly provided inside details of his experiences and insight into his health. Kelly, who will handover his command of the space station to American Tim Kopra on Monday, said on Thursday that flying in space is a privilege in a harsh environment.
“The space station here is a magical place it’s a incredible science facility we have… I have been here nearly a year and you don’t feel perfectly normal (here),” Kelly began as he spoke inside the Destiny Laboratory module. “It’s not exactly uncomfortable but it’s a harsh environment, for instance having no running water and then the fact that everything floats makes your daily life just difficult.”
With that said, the Orange, N.J. native stated that “I could go another 100 days. I could go another year if he had to — if it made sense — however I look forward to getting home next week,” Kelly said. He adds that he feels his flight is “another of many stepping stones to us landing on Mars sometime in our future.”
Kelly and Kornienko’s space station-record stay of 340 days will allow medical scientists an opportunity to study down to the atom the biological changes during space travel. For Kelly, his cumulative time in space during four space flights will reach 520 days on Tuesday.
Scott hopes to continue with NASA after his mission is over. This aerospace reporter asked Kelly on Thursday if he will stay on with NASA to assist the Orion Program which is poised to carry Americans to lunar orbit and beyond beginning in 2023.
“I will always try to stay involved in the space program in any capacity that will be allowed,” Kelly commented as the station sailed high above the Atlantic Ocean. “It’s been my life the last 20 years, it’s something I feel strongly about, and want to be a big part of the rest of my life.”
During the last year, Scott’s twin brother Mark Kelly has participated in a joint experiment on Earth to compare and contrast the effects of space flight on the human body. “Biological samples were collected and assessments were performed in order to establish baselines (prior to launch),” NASA spokesperson Dan Hout said on Thursday. “Comparison samples were taken throughout their stay in space and will continue for a year or more after their return to Earth.”
Kelly and Kornienko will be joined by Soyuz commander Sergey Volkov as they depart the station on Tuesday for the nearly four hour voyage home. The trio will first say their goodbyes to Kopra, Briton Tim Peake, and Russian Yuri Malenchenko during an informal ceremony beginning at 4:15 p.m. EST.
Volkov, Kelly and Kornienko will then begin boarding the Soyuz spacecraft 25 minutes later, followed by working with the residing station trio to close a series of hatches and ensure that Soyuz is pressurized for undocking.
After donning their spacesuits, the Soyuz crew will undock from the station at 8:05 p.m., and slowly back away before performing a brief fly around of the complex. Soyuz will later perform a few burn maneuvers followed by the jettison of the Soyuz’s forward and aft segments in preparation for reentry.
Kornienko and Kelly will begin feeling the first traces of gravity 20 minutes after their deorbit burn at 10:32 p.m., which will slow down their craft and drop out of orbit. Landing is scheduled for 11:27p.m. beginning with a micro burst from the Soyuz landing jets and a strong thud upon the desert steep of central Kazakhstan.
Kelly is expected to return to his home near Houston the next day greeted by family and friends at Ellington Field. The Kelly twins will continue their experiments over the next year as NASA scientists research Scott’s medical checks and Mark’s as well.
On March 18, a new crew is scheduled to lift-off to return the space station’s crew compliment back to six. NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka will launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstanto begin a five month voyage upon the ocean of space.