Since the first humans looked up at the sky and comprehended the vast outer space, they have been dreaming about life among the stars, and possibly someday on Mars as well. As governments and private firms race to put together the most cost-effective and resource-effective means of establishing a settlement outside Earth, the question remains, how will mankind physically and psychologically survive outside Earth?
NASA astronaut Scott Kelley has done what few others have, he has spent a year in space. Speaking with The Age, Kelley revealed his experiences on the ISS as well as his return to life on earth.
"Over the past year, I've spent 340 days alongside Russian astronaut Mikhail "Misha" Kornienko on the International Space Station (ISS). As part of NASA's planned journey to Mars, we're members of a program designed to discover what effect such long-term time in space has on human beings," said Kelley.
Returning to Earth after such a long trip was not easy for Kelley.
"Every part of my body hurts. All my joints and all of my muscles are protesting the crushing pressure of gravity. I'm also nauseated, though I haven't thrown up," said Kelley, after his first 48 hours back on Earth.
"Scientists will study the data on Misha and my 53-year-old self for the rest of our lives and beyond. Our space agencies won't be able to push out farther into space, to a destination like Mars, until we can learn more about how to strengthen the weakest links in the chain that make space flight possible: the human body and mind," he continued.
"People often ask me why I volunteered for this mission, knowing the risks: the risk of launch, the risk inherent in spacewalks, the risk of returning to Earth, the risks I would be exposed to every moment I lived in a metal container orbiting the Earth at 28,100 kilometres an hour. I have a few answers I give to this question, but none of them feels fully satisfying to me. None of them quite answers it," said Kelley.
"A normal mission to the International Space Station lasts five to six months, so scientists have a good deal of data about what happens to the human body in space for that length of time. But very little is known about what occurs after month six. The symptoms may get precipitously worse in the ninth month, for instance, or they may level off. We don't know, and there is only one way to find out," he continued.
"During our mission, Misha and I collected various types of data for studies on our selves, which took a significant amount of our time. Because Mark and I were identical twins, I also took part in an extensive study comparing the two of us throughout the year, down to the genetic level. The ISS was a world-class orbiting laboratory, and in addition to the human studies of which I was one of the main subjects, I also spent a lot of my time during the year working on other experiments, like fluid physics, botany, combustion and Earth observation," Kelley said.
"When I talked about the ISS to audiences, I always shared with them the importance of the science being done there. But to me, it was just as important that the station was serving as a foothold for our species in space. From here, we could learn more about how to push out further into the cosmos. The costs were high, as were the risks," he said.
"On my previous flight to the space station, a mission of 159 days, I lost bone mass, my muscles atrophied, and my blood redistributed itself in my body, which strained and shrank the walls of my heart. More troubling, I experienced problems with my vision, as many other astronauts had. I had been exposed to more than 30 times the radiation of a person on Earth, equivalent to about 10 chest X-rays every day. This exposure would increase my risk of a fatal cancer for the rest of my life," Kelley added.
"More than 400 experiments took place on ISS during this expedition. NASA scientists talked about the research falling into two major categories. The first had to do with studies that might benefit life on Earth. These included research on the properties of chemicals that could be used in new drugs, combustion studies that were unlocking new ways to get more efficiency out of the fuel we burnt, and the development of new materials. The second large category had to do with solving problems for future space exploration: testing new life-support equipment, solving technical problems of spaceflight and studying new ways of handling the demands of the human body in space," he said.
"The effects of living in space looked a lot like the effects of ageing, which affected us all. The lettuce we grew was a study for future space travel – astronauts on their way to Mars will have no fresh food but what they can grow – but it also taught us more about growing food efficiently on Earth," Kelley said.
"A few months after arriving back on Earth, though, I feel distinctly better. I've been travelling the country and the world talking about my experiences in space. It's gratifying to see how curious people are about my mission, how much children instinctively feel the excitement and wonder of space flight, and how many people think, as I do, that Mars is the next step," he continued.
"I also know that if we want to go to Mars, it will be very, very difficult, it will cost a great deal of money and it may likely cost human lives. But I know now that if we decide to do it, we can," said Kelley.
June 23 , 2018
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