As Expedition 42 touched down on a snowy steppe in Kazakhstan on March 11, the crew of Expedition 43 are putting the finishing touches on their preparations for departure. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka will be heading to the ISS on March 27. Kelly and Kornienko will be staying until March 2016, the longest stay at the ISS to date. The year-long mission is seen as a stepping stone to long-distance space travel, as manned flights to Mars and perhaps beyond are on the horizon.
Following completion of their training, the crew and back-ups, Alexei Ovchinin and Sergei Volkov of Roscosmos and Jeff Williams of NASA, visited the Gagarin Museum in Star City, and then attended preflight ceremonies at the Kremlin and Red Square, where they commemorated the pioneers of space flight at the memorial wall.
According to John Charles, associate manager for international science at NASA’s Human Research Program, “The one-year expedition will be a focused effort to reach across international and technological boundaries to enhance integrated science on the station.” The emphasis on international technical and scientific cooperation is a new stage in the history of manned spaceflight.
One of the chief goals of the mission is to study the effects of long-term residence in zero gravity on the human body. Specifically, seven categories of biomedical experiments will be conducted – functional, behavioral health, visual impairment, metabolic, physical performance, microbial, and human factors.
It has been possible to predict and correct some of the problems of living in a zero G environment, like the loss of bone mass and muscle. Extensive and focused exercise regimes while on board, as well as the return to earth gravity can reverse the problem. But other problems that are now being discovered – like ocular degeneration after long periods spent living in zero G – are difficult to correct since vision does not return to normal upon returning to earth.
In addition, the mission offers a unique opportunity for the Twins Study, which will investigate the effects of space travel on the human body, by studying two individuals who have the same genetic makeup. The subjects of the study will be Scott Kelly and his twin Mark, who is also a NASA astronaut but will remain on earth during the mission.