Tag Archives: scott kelly

A year in space — it really changes your genes

The first results are in from the NASA Twins Study, and they’re pretty worrying.

Mark Kelly (left) and Scott Kelly (right), on Jan. 19, 2015. Image credits: Robert Markowitz / NASA.

Scott Kelly and Mark Kelly are both retired astronauts, veterans of NASA’s space program. The Kelly twins are the only identical twin astronauts in history, representing a unique opportunity to study the effects of spaceflight on the human body.

In November 2012, Scott was selected, along with Mikhail Korniyenko, for the so-called year-long mission (340 days in outer space), while Mark remained earthbound. It was the perfect opportunity for a comparative nature versus nurture study. Aside from Scott’s main mission, NASA wanted to see if any differences had emerged between the two. Thus, the Twins Study was born.

Several different research labs were given different missions regarding this analysis. Carrying out a thorough comparative study, especially when it comes to genetic profiling, is no easy feat. Science takes time, but after two years of research we finally have the first results, and they’re quite interesting.

Most of the changes were temporary. For instance, the telomeres on Scott’s chromosome had lengthened on his mission, but they shortened right back up in just 48 hours after he landed.

[panel style=”panel-success” title=”Telomeres” footer=””]

Telomeres are regions of repetitive molecules at the end of a chromosome, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes. Think of them as the fringes at the end of a rug — and the rug are your chromosomes.

The telomeres themselves are protected by a complex of proteins, as well as by the RNA that telomeric DNA encodes. However, during chromosome replication, the enzymes that duplicate DNA cannot continue their duplication all the way to the end of a chromosome, so in each duplication, the end of the chromosome is shortened.

Essentially, each repetition creates an imperfect copy of itself and, in time, the telomeres tend to become shorter and shorter as we age. They are replenished by an enzyme, telomerase reverse transcriptase.[/panel]

It’s not clear why Scott’s telomeres became longer in space, but it might be due to the very intensive physical regime he had to undertake, as well as the highly controlled diet he was subjected to. But this wasn’t the only difference.

The analysis found a spike in a group of cytokines in Scott’s blood just after his return to Earth that remained elevated for six months, signaling a minor inflammation. Scott’s gastrointestinal bacterial flora was also significantly different, and some helpful bacteria seemed to be absent.

However, the most intriguing (and concerning) aspect is that a full 7 percent of Scott’s genes still showed some sign after alteration six months after landing. It’s not clear exactly what caused these differences — additional results from the study are needed.

This enables us to better prepare for long-term space missions, but also raises significant question marks regarding the overall health of the people aboard these future missions.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly returned to the U.S. 2 inches taller

Astronaut Scott Kelly returned to planet Earth on Thursday, after a landing in which everything went smoothly, as expected. But for Kelly, his mission is far from over – he was involved in a twin study and will now be subjected to constant medical monitoring to see how his body changed following the prolonged period in orbit. The first results are already interesting: he got 2 inches (5 cm taller).

Scott Kelly and Mikhail Korniyenko. Photo by NASA.

Scott is a twin, which made him an ideal candidate for this kind of study. NASA wants to see how the human body adapts to living in outer space, looking specifically at the effects of space radiation, as well as the effect of visual impairment associated with long-duration space flight.

Graham Scott, chief scientist at the National Space Biomedical Research Institute and deputy project scientist for the NASA and NSBRI Twin Study said that eye vision is especially intriguing, as we don’t exactly understand what affects astronauts’ vision in space

“We will be looking at the eyes to see how much visual acuity has been lost,” he said during a phone interview Thursday. The majority of astronauts have to change their eye glasses while in space,” he said. “They bring eye glasses with them and typically change a few months into the mission.”

The Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft is seen as it lands with Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov of Roscosmos near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 (Kazakh time). Kelly and Kornienko completed an International Space Station record year-long mission. Photo via NASA.

Of course, muscles and bones are another issue with space flight. While in space, there’s no gravitational pull which means muscles aren’t really worked properly. For almost a year, Scott Kelly didn’t use his legs to walk, instead just floating from area to area of the Space Station. As a result, his bones became brittle and his muscles became weaker. International Space Station astronauts tie themselves down to a treadmill, strap into a bike and use a resistance device to work out for 2 to 2.5 hours a day, but it’s still not enough.

“The workouts have positively impacted the astronauts’ bones and muscles, and they are coming back in really good shape,” he said. “But some are losing bone and muscle but not as much as we saw in the early days.”

When bones become weaker, they release calcium which can accumulate in the kidneys, creating kidney stones.

But the biggest problem for a long-term space travel like a mission to Mars is radiation.

“If you go on a journey to Mars and get into deep space, there is several hundred times, maybe 300 times the radiation,” he said.

Doctors hope that by studying Scott Kelly, and by monitoring the differences from his twin brother Mark (who is also an astronaut) they can device safer conditions for space travelers.

Astronaut Scott Kelly returns home after a year in space

Today is homecoming day for a record-setting crew. Three Expedition 46 crew members from the International Space Station are finishing packing the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft for the ride home today, ending their record-setting mission.

Astronaut Scott Kelly posted this photo taken from the International Space Station to Twitter on Feb. 27, 2016 with the caption, “Of all the sunrises I’ve seen on my #YearInSpace, this was one of the best! One of the last too. Headed home soon.”

In November 2012, NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and their international partners selected two veteran spacefarers for a one-year mission aboard the International Space Station in 2015. Scott Kelly was the perfect candidate: experienced, knowledgeable, and a twin. The twin part was a bonus which will allow doctors to study how the body changes after a year in space and enable NASA to better prepare for longer trips. Part of this research also includes a comparative study on the genetic effects of spaceflight with Scott’s twin brother Mark as the ground control subject.

After handing over command of the International Space Station to astronaut Tim Kopra, Kelly will join Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov for a trip back home. He spent a record-breaking 340 days in space. Upon arrival, they will be monitored by doctors to see how their bodies have adapted to the year in space, and how it will re-adapt to Earth.

Prior to his mission Kelly was asked about what it will be like to command the ISS:

“Certainly as the commander you’re responsible for safety and the health of your people and making sure they have everything they need to do their jobs. I’ll certainly be conscious of those things but we’re all professionals, we all understand what we need to do, and we’re all kind of self-starters and kind of take care of ourselves very well so it shouldn’t be much different than when Doug Wheelock, the previous commander, was in charge.”

Now, after passing command, he seems rather sad and a bit sentimental – not about passing command, but about having to leave space and returning to Earth. After he sees how some things are down here, he might want to return.

Astronaut Scott Kelly Breaks Record for Days in Space, and It’s Important

United States Astronaut Scott Kelly has just beaten the record for the most cumulative days in space (for the US). As of today, he has a total of 383 days and counting, surpassing Mike Fincke, a two-time space station resident, who was the previous record holder at 382 days. This is not only a great achievement for himself and for astronauts in general, but it provides a great opportunity to study the effects of space travel on the human body – as Kelly has an identical twin back on Earth.

Image credits: Scott Kelly, NASA.

You see, out of all the important experiments carried out on the International Space Station, one is especially interesting: Kelly is using his own body as an experiment. NASA wants to compare his health to that of twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who has remained on Earth. This will enable researchers to determine the effects that prolonged periods in space have on the human body – something especially important as NASA is preparing its mission to Mars, which will take over 150 days for one way.

The so-called “NASA twin experiment” will include 10 experiments in four areas: human physiology, behavioural health, microbiology and molecular. This is a rare chance, that two astronauts are twin brothers, with one of them staying for very long periods in space, and NASA wants to seize this opportunity.

‘This is a chance in a lifetime,’ said Dr Craig Kundrot, the deputy chief scientist of Nasa’s Human Research Program. ‘In this case we’ve got two genetically identical individuals and we can monitor what kind of changes occur in Mark in an ordinary lifestyle and compare those to the changes that we see in Scott.’ By staying on the station for 12 months, the astronauts will also provide key information on how an eventual Mars mission – estimated to last three years there and back – might play out.

As for Kelly, he’s enjoying his ride, but wants to see even more from his colleagues.

‘Records are meant to be broken. Look fwd to one of my colleagues surpassing my end 500+ days on our #JourneyToMars,’ Kelly tweeted today.

When he returns back to Earth, he will have spent a total of 522 days in space, an incredible figure! As he orbited above the Himalayas, he posted this dazzling picture of a sunset, filtered through solar panels on the ISS.

Image credits: Scott Kelly, NASA.

We here see only one sunrise and one sunset every day because the Earth is revolving around the Sun. But because the ISS revolves around the Earth, they get to see more sunsets – approximately one every 92 minutes.

scott kelly photos

Mother Earth: photo-documented from space by astronaut Scott Kelly

Veteran astronaut Scott Kelly launched in March, 2015 aboard a Soyuz rocket for a record breaking one-year stay at the ISS. Instead of three to six months, Kelly along with his Russian colleague,  Mikhail Korniyenko, will spend 12 months so scientists can assess how his body responds to the stress. For instance, we know that living in microgravity atrophies muscles and deteriorates vision. Kelly isn’t too worried, though. When not busy operating the International Space Station, Kelly is engaged in one of the most pleasing hobbies (for those of us living back on Earth, that is): space photography. Here are just a couple of his most amazing shots shared by Kelly on his facebook or twitter account. He updates these very frequently, even a couple of times a day, so be sure to tune in for some more gems.

scott kelly photos

“Day 154. Aurora’s purple glow adds mystery to the nightscape.”

"Color palette of the Spanish coast is an appealing morning view."

“Color palette of the Spanish coast is an appealing morning view.”

easter bunny

The Easter Bunny visits the space station.

 "Bahamas, the strokes of your watercolors are always a refreshing sight."

“Bahamas, the strokes of your watercolors are always a refreshing sight.”

 “Sometimes Earth looks like another planet.”

“Sometimes Earth looks like another planet.”

“The thing about abstract art: it appears not of this world. The thing about Earth art: it is our world.”

“The thing about abstract art: it appears not of this world. The thing about Earth art: it is our world.”

"Interesting how meaningless squiggles are until they stand for something else."

“Interesting how meaningless squiggles are until they stand for something else.”

"Sandbars and islands in shallow water. "

“Sandbars and islands in shallow water. “

"Moved our closet (PMM) to this port on Node 3. Likely last picture ever to be taken from this window"

“Moved our closet (PMM) to this port on Node 3. Likely last picture ever to be taken from this window”

" Painted canvas. Good morning from @Space_Station! #YearInSpace "

” Painted canvas. Good morning from @Space_Station! #YearInSpace”

scott kelly astronaut photos

“Good morning from 250 miles above the African desert.”

Another aurora picture.

Another aurora picture.

""Day 114. #Moon #Venus #Jupiter...#Earth "

“”Day 114. #Moon #Venus #Jupiter…#Earth “

""#Goodevening #Japan. Showing @Astro_Kimiya how to take pictures of #Earth at night. #YearInSpace."

“”#Goodevening #Japan. Showing @Astro_Kimiya how to take pictures of #Earth at night. #YearInSpace.”

"A rainbow of Earth's colors."

“A rainbow of Earth’s colors.”

 "Day 135. Milky Way. You're old, dusty, gassy and warped. But beautiful. Good night from the International Space Station!"

“Day 135. Milky Way. You’re old, dusty, gassy and warped. But beautiful. Good night from the International Space Station!”

“Day 97. Good night, Moon.”

“Day 97. Good night, Moon.”

Scott Kelly selfie while juggling fruit.

Scott Kelly selfie while juggling fruit.

NASA to conduct unprecedented twin experiment: one twin will spend a year circling the Earth, while the other stays grounded

It’s something that puzzled me for years now: consider a pair of identical twins; say, one gets a job as an astronaut and rockets into space. The other is also an astronaut, but he decides to skip this one and stay home. After a while, they reunite, but are they still identical? That’s exactly what NASA wants to find out!

In March of 2015, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly will join cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko on a one-year mission to the International Space Station. Their lengthy mission is part of a study which will document the effects of long-term space flight on the human body. But here’s the cool part: Scott Kelly also has a twin brother, Mark Kelly – who is also an astronaut, albeit retired. We wrote about his retirement here. While Scott, the test subject, spends one year circling Earth onboard the ISS, his brother Mark will remain home as a control.

“We will be taking samples and making measurements of the twins before, during, and after the one-year mission,” says Craig Kundrot of NASA’s Human Research Program at the Johnson Space Center. “For the first time, we’ll be able two individuals who are genetically identical.”

So what will they be studying? The ISS doesn’t go at high enough speed for an age difference to be noticeable (according to Einstein’s theory, if you travel at fast enough speeds, comparable to that of speed of light, time will slow down for you – so if this were to happen, one twin would be younger than the other). The main focus will be the subjects’ health.

“We already know that the human immune system changes in space. It’s not as strong as it is on the ground,” explains Kundrot. “In one of the experiments, Mark and Scott will be given identical flu vaccines, and we will study how their immune systems react.”

Another experiment will look at telomeres—little molecular “caps” on the ends of human DNA. Telomeres have been linked to aging, and in space, telomere loss could be accelerated by the action of cosmic rays. Researchers will study if space travel accelerates aging. Meanwhile in the gut, says Kundrot:

“There is a whole microbiome essential to human digestion. One of the experiments will study what space travel does to [inner bacteria] which, by the way, outnumber human cells by 10-to-1.”

Another study will focus on how vision changes in outer space, and on “space fog”—a lack of alertness and slowing of mental gears reported by some astronauts in orbit. But these aren’t separate studies – it’s just a big one with many aspects.

“These will not be 10 individual studies,” says Kundrot. “The real power comes in combining them to form an integrated picture of all levels from biomolecular to psychological. We’ll be studying the entire astronaut.”