NASA Prepares For Flight To Mars

Tomorrow, Friday March 27, at 3:42 pm EDT, Expedition 43 will lift-off from the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan, heading for the International Space Station. On board will be Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka and One Year Crew members Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko. Kelly and Kornienko will stay at the ISS for one-year, the longest time spent by humans at the space station. Padalka will return in September this year.

The Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft has already been rolled out to its launch pad. The space station’s orbit has been lifted in preparation for docking the Soyuz craft. A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship will also be arriving at the ISS on April 12.

The goal of the one-year mission is to prepare for manned spaceflight to Mars, which could take from 12 to 18 months. To that end, scientists will study the effect of a long-term stay in a microgravity environment on the human body and psyche. A series of tests will measure the functioning of the metabolism, motor, visual and cognitive skills, and the behavioral changes during a year in space.

Scott Kelly will also be the subject, along with his twin brother and former astronaut Mark Kelly, of the twins study. This will be able to measure the impact of a long-term stay in space with by comparing the results with an individual who has an identical genetic makeup. In particular it will look at the impact of space radiation on the human body.

As well as the schedule of experiments and maintenance, there will be continuous activity at the ISS during this period. Nine other crew members will complete shorter missions at the ISS. The space station will also host singer Sarah Brightman, who will spend ten days on board. The new expandable space habitat created by Bigelow Aerospace will make its debut flight to the ISS later this year.

The lift-off will be televised live by NASA TV. The Baikonur Gopher, no doubt, will be at hand to see off the crew. If you haven’t yet encountered the furry critter who lives in tunnels under the launch site, check out this video.