Astronauts Make Huge Sacrifices for Year-long Mission

Astronaut Scott Kelly Takes a Space Selfie from the International Space Station. (Scott Kelly/NASA)

Astronaut Scott Kelly Takes a Space Selfie from the International Space Station. (Scott Kelly/NASA)

Astronauts Make Huge Sacrifices during Year-Long Mission

Imagine being trapped in one place for an entire year. You’re not allowed to leave. The lighting never changes. The smells and sounds are the same. You can’t even step outside for a breath of fresh air. This is your home. This is your life. For an entire year.

That’s pretty much what American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko have been experiencing for the past six months on the International Space Station.

Twice as Long in Space

As their nearly 12-month mission passes the halfway mark, Kelly and Kornienko are studying ways in which astronauts can be better-protected for long periods of time in space. The data they’re collecting and the experiments they’re conducting will help scientists as they continue to determine how humans can physically survive the voyage to Mars.

Kelly and Kornienko’s stay on the International Space Station is “about twice as long as a typical extended stay on the station, so compared to typical astronauts, they’re spending twice the time away from friends and family, twice the time in weightlessness, and twice the time exposed to space radiation—experiencing twice the dose of physical and mental stress,” reports.

“I feel pretty good overall,” Kelly told NASA TV earlier this week. “I definitely recognize that I’ve been up here a long time and have just as long ahead of me. But I feel positive about it.”

This graphic gives an overview of how 12 months in space will affect astronaut Scott Kelly's body. (NASA)

This graphic gives an overview of how 12 months in space will affect astronaut Scott Kelly’s body. (NASA)

Drinking Urine and Witnessing Sunsets

NASA has devoted an entire section of its website to charting the progress of the one-year mission, which includes a graphic outlining everything that’s happening to Kelly’s body while he’s in space.

During his 342 days on the International Space Station, Kelly will witness a total of 10,944 sunrises and sunsets, while those of us who are earthbound will be privy to only 684. For nourishment, Kelly will drink 730 liters of recycled urine and sweat, and he’ll log over 700 hours of exercise, running 648 miles on a specialized treadmill.

As the graphic notes, “At that rate it would take him more than 216,000 years to run to Mars, which is 140 million miles from Earth.”

Kelly will receive a good deal of radiation exposure as well, the equivalent of flying 5,250 times from Los Angeles to New York.

Unknown Impact on Their Bodies

Earlier this week, the astronaut acknowledged the unknown impact 12 months in space could have on his body, saying, “Physically, I feel good…but there are a lot of effects of this environment that we can’t see or feel, like bone loss, effects on our vision, effect on our genetics—DNA, RNA, and protein…”

Of course, there’s also mental strain.

“This is a very closed environment. We can never leave. The lighting’s always pretty much the same — the smells, the sounds, everything’s the same,” Kelly said.

Not even the occasional spacewalk is a substitute for what he’s missing at home, he added.

I think even most prisoners can get outside occasionally in a week. But we can’t. And that’s what I miss, after people.”

For more information on Kelly’s year in space, please visit NASA’s official website or you can track their progress on Twitter, hashtag #YearInSpace.

Are you following Kelly and Kornienko’s year-long mission in space? Do you think this mission will help us make progress in sending astronauts to Mars? Join the discussion! Comment, share on Facebook and find us on Twitter, hashtag #DMTalk.

Pete Fernbaugh


Pete Fernbaugh is an experienced freelance writer, editor, and journalist who has worked primarily in the healthcare field for the last five years. He is also the co-host of Scapegoats & Straw Men, a podcast devoted to discussing in an entertaining and informative way the many logical fallacies that permeate our culture and dialogue. Pete has a passion for the mysterious and unknown, and he believes that nothing should be completely dismissed or completely accepted until the evidence is solid and credible.

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