Year in Space Starts This Week - What NASA Hopes to Learn from Twin Astronauts

Tuesday, 24 March 2015 - 2:43PM
Space
Science News
Tuesday, 24 March 2015 - 2:43PM
Year in Space Starts This Week - What NASA Hopes to Learn from Twin Astronauts
In just three days, a rocket will carry astronauts Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko to the ISS for an entire year, the longest-ever residency on the space station and one of the longest spaceflights a human has ever achieved. 



Not only will this be an extraordinary achievement on its own, but NASA will also gain invaluable data on the effects of spaceflight on human physiology. Scott Kelly's identical twin, Mark, a former NASA astronaut, will undergo tests on Earth during his brother's year in space in order to serve as a control group for no less than ten different studies. Here are all the things NASA is hoping to learn from their Twins Study:

Spaceflight's effects on the organs

Two different studies will study the effects of various stressors inherent to life on the ISS on organs such as the heart, muscles, and brain. The studies will provide insights such as whether long-term spaceflight has deleterious effects on the vascular system or whether it causes increased intracranial pressure. This information will be of the utmost necessity if we ever send astronauts to Mars, which would take approximately seven months, or to Europa, which would take several years.

Spaceship fever

NASA appears to be less concerned about physical effects than psychological issues, and it does seem likely that there will be some "spaceship fever": "Imagine if you went to work where your office was and then you had to stay in that place for a year and not go outside, right? Kind of a challenge," Mark Kelly told AP.

As a result of this uneasy possibility, a study called "Cognition on Monozygotic Twin on Earth" will study the comparative psychologies of both brothers over the course of the year, particularly as it pertains to cognitive factors like perception, reasoning, decision-making, and alertness.

The creatures living inside us

Most of these studies observe the effects of long-term spaceflight on humans, but what about our bacteria? Another study will ask how the astronaut diet and other stressors will affect "the organisms in the twins' guts."

Spaceflight turns you into a genetic mutant

Not really, but there are environmental factors during spaceflight that have epigenetic effects, or that essentially turn genes on and off. The researchers from the six different genetic studies will take samples from the twins' blood, saliva, urine and stool in order to assess the genomic effects of stressors like radiation, microgravity, and the long-term confinement to a small space. These studies will likely be the most valuable and conclusive, since they have a unique opportunity to study two men who are genetically identical. 
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