The crew members of Expedition 43 launch to space today, and two of them will spend a full year aboard the International Space Station. Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko won't walk the Earth again until March of 2016, and their 342-day stay will break the old ISS record held by Michael Lopez-Alegria and Mikhail Tyurin — both of whom spent seven months on the station between 2006 and 2007. Kelly and Kornienko will be joined by cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who will return later this year after he breaks the all-time record for time spent in space.
The 336-ton Soyuz-FG rocket they will ride will get them to the ISS in just five hours. The entire process, from the launch to the opening of the hatch aboard the station, will be televised live by NASA TV, which is embedded above. Live coverage begins at 2:30PM ET, and the crew is scheduled to lift off at 3:42PM ET from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
We've been sending astronauts into space for nearly half a century now, and much has been learned about the effects of weightlessness on the human body. But more must be learned if we ever hope to explore beyond Earth's orbit. To do that, part of the mission will take place here on Earth. Kelly's twin brother Mark — a retired astronaut himself — will act as a sort of control group, which will help NASA further understand the changes to Scott Kelly's physiology at a genetic level. (NASA is careful to say that the research performed will be observational in nature, because Mark Kelly's environment and living habits will not closely mimic Scott's.)
NASA hopes to use the mission to learn more about things like intracranial pressure (swelling of the brain) in microgravity, the effects of isolation on the body's overall health and performance, the body's response to radiation exposure, bone and muscle loss, changes in the sensorimotor system, and changes to nutritional status.
Scott Kelly will return with a record 522 total days in space
This isn't Kelly's first trip off-planet; he's already spent almost 200 days aboard the space station across a number of missions. When he returns next year, his 522 total days spent in space will break the US record previously held by astronaut Mike Fincke. That kind of time spent away from our world takes more than a physical toll, and Kelly spoke to Esquire in December about the mental challenges of being in space for just six months at a time.
If you want to keep up with Scott Kelly throughout the year-long adventure, he can be found on most major social media. Twitter has become a popular tool for the astronauts aboard the ISS (where he can be found at @StationCDRKelly), he conveniently joined Vine last night, and President Barack Obama basically demanded that Kelly use Instagram during this year's State of the Union. Mark Kelly is also on Twitter (@ShuttleCDRKelly). NASA has been publishing plenty of its own content in the run up to the launch, and Time Magazine is doing a documentary series that will last throughout the mission.
The astronauts currently aboard the ISS — Anton Shkaplerov, Terry Virts, and Samantha Cristoforetti — will return to Earth in May. They will be replaced by the Expedition 44 crew a few weeks later, and the Jedi crew who make up Expedition 45 will reach the station in the fall.
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