Identical Twin Astronauts a Scientific Gift to NASA
In the spring of 2015, astronaut Scott Kelly will embark on a yearlong space flight, setting the record for the longest flight taken by an American. But this mission will be notable for another reason as well; his identical twin brother Mark, a retired astronaut, will be undergoing tests on Earth in order to provide a control group for a NASA study on the effects of prolonged weightlessness. As they are genetically identical, data gathered from medical testing both brothers before, during, and after the flight will be invaluable.
Scott has no second thoughts about his decision to take the record-setting journey to space. "I'm actually getting kind of excited about the whole idea as we get closer," he told Associated Press. Not only are his nerves calm, but he is also more than willing to undergo painful and invasive treatment for the sake of the simultaneous study. He offered to allow NASA to drill a pressure sensor into his skull and to perform regular spinal taps on him during the flight.
He explained, "As a test pilot, I like to push the envelope on things and, in this case, I feel like I'm maybe trying to push the envelope on data collection as well."
The Kellys and mission specialist Ron Garan:
NASA scientists insist that none of those procedures are necessary. They are simply thanking their lucky stars that this opportunity has presented itself to them in the first place. Not only are the Kellys identical twins, but they have followed the same career path, which controls even more of the variables for the study. By the end of Scott's next flight, he will have 540 days in space, while Mark will have 54, exactly ten times as many. This allows for further calculation of the effects of prolonged exposure versus short-term exposure to weightlessness.
Not all of the variables will necessarily be controlled, however, as Mark declined to faithfully imitate his brother's diet of "crappy space station food," and when asked if he would mimic Scott's 1.5 to 2 hours of exercise every day, he sarcastically replied, "Sure, I'll try. No problem."