Earthlings celebrated a remarkable milestone this month: two astronauts returned safely to earth after spending an entire year in space.
They resided at the International Space Station (ISS), a microgravity laboratory in space.
American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko returned to earth on March 1, 2016. It was the longest ever continued episode in space.
In the course of their year on ISS, Kelly and Kornienko were joined by 13 astronauts representing seven different nations. They performed three spacewalks for various tasks of station upgrade and maintenance.
More info here about their year in space.
Crews of men and women from numerous countries have occupied this station since November of 2000. Often it is a crew of six who live and work here for months at a time.
The International Space Station is 357 feet (108m) long, about the size of a football field. It weighs almost one million pounds, about the equivalent of 320 cars.
It travels at five miles per second and orbits the earth every 90 minutes.
In some places on earth we can see the ISS in the sky, apparently it looks like a very fast airplane or bright star. Click here to learn if you can spot the ISS from where you live.
Our local PBS station televised “Year in Space” and many of the photos here were captured from our television. (The other photos are from a NASA tour I enjoyed in 2014.) This program is a collaboration between PBS and Time, and is a two-part series; the second part will air in 2017. More program info here.
For images from space taken by Scott Kelly click here. Take a look at our amazing planet, captured from above.
ISS residents get fresh food only when new supplies arrive. This, as you can imagine, is a big deal.
On the one year mission there was some food rationing that occurred when two consecutive ships carrying supplies met with disaster. But the third try, a spaceship launched from Japan, was a success. It safely arrived with 4.5 tons of supplies.
Kelly described the smell of space as “burning metal.”
There is an enormous physical impact that the human body endures in space. Extended weightlessness and increased radiation (to name a few) can cause many health problems for individuals who have lived in space. More info here.
Although there have been extensive studies done on the health hazards over the years, a unique aspect of Astronaut Scott Kelly’s year in space will be to follow the effects of his body in comparison to his identical twin brother’s body, Mark Kelly, a now-retired astronaut.
When it was time to return to earth, Kelly said entering Earth’s orbit was “like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel while you’re on fire.”
I am happy to live on earth and spend every glorious day here. But I find it a fascinating exploration and am grateful to our space pioneers.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander except where noted
Statistics from nasa.gov.