After whirling through space for a year, astronaut Scott Kelly came home this week a temporarily changed man: a tad taller, with poorer eyesight and a slightly smaller heart.
While his unique view of our planet captivated hundreds of thousands of people, it also gave Kelly an insight into the fragility of Earth.
“He’s squished back to normal height”, Mark Kelly told reporters. Lindgren took this photograph of Kelly at work, with the station’s solar arrays visible in the background.
He also highlighted the importance of focusing on space exploration. It was “heartbreaking”, he said. After his previous half-year space station mission five years ago, he wasn’t almost this exhausted or sore.
A day earlier, Cdr Kelly had touched down in a bitterly cold Kazakhstan along with Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergei Volko.
“Needed a little humor to lighten up a #YearInSpace”, Kelly tweeted. “The first people that go there, that will be a big motivation, to be the first people that go to Mars”.
The astronaut, who says that he will “never be done with space”, nodded in the direction of private space companies.
His mission’s chief goal, however, was an experiment in analyzing the physical and psychological effects of long-term spaceflight in anticipation of an eventual manned mission to Mars.
Retired astronaut Mark Kelly remained on Earth during the past year to compare how his genetic makeup would differ from his twin brother’s after the end of a long mission in space. Scientists are studying how the human body fares during long stays in space.
Kelly’s 340-day mission, roughly twice as long as a typical deployment aboard the space station, was part of the pathfinder program, preparing astronauts for missions to Mars that will last more than two years. “You can’t call up to the space station, you can only call down…It might seem like a small thing but I think to him…that’s really important”.
NASA’s specific plans for Mars might become more clear in the next year, as there is now a sense of urgency to create a definitive roadmap before a new presidential administration takes over. He expects first results in a year from now. In the meantime, neither Kelly nor the agency’s doctors can cite any significant physiological changes that might have occurred. His muscles and joints ache much more this time around, he said, and there is a “burning sensation” in his skin from having close contact once again with surfaces and materials.
In addition to the gathered family, Kelly was welcomed by second lady Jill Biden, who brought apple pie and beer for the astronaut.
Kelly’s return to terra firma has been remarkably pedestrian. But that wasn’t at all unusual, he admitted.
Problems re-adapting to gravity show up in virtually all aspects of day-to-day life, he said, and in his experience, it is easier to adapt to space than the other way around. Mostly he will miss “doing something hard and being fulfilled by it when it’s a success”. Busy with medical exams and interviews, Kelly said he’s going through a bit of news withdrawal right now. “I laid cable, fixed the toilet, drew my own blood, we all get pretty good at that”, Lindgren said.