Astronaut Scott Kelly is back after 340 days on the International Space Station (ISS), but NASA already thinks humans can go longer than a year in microgravity.
Associate Manager for International Science for NASA’s Human Research Program John Charles said in a Reddit AMA that one of the key learnings from the mission is that “year-long missions are not the limit,” indicating the condition of Kelly and fellow one-year-mission participant Mikhail Kornienko is promising for longer space flights.
Kelly “looks great,” Charlies said, and indeed he was walking shortly after landing back on Earth and seemed in good health and spirits, despite living in relative isolation in a weightless environment for nearly a year.
Kelly and Kornienko set the record for the longest time aboard the ISS in a mission largely designed to see how long-term space living effects the human mind and body, in preparation for a journey to Mars.
The amount of time they spent in space is roughly how long it would take to get to the Red Planet, so the mission will provide critical data about how the body fairs in space, how well humans adapt to living in isolation for so long, how effective NASA’s countermeasures to space living are, and whether astronauts can land on Mars and begin working right away.
It won’t be easy
NASA’s Human Research Program has already requested more year-long missions, though nothing is set in stone yet.
The optimism for future long-term missions isn’t without concern for how the human body fairs in microgravity and the logistics of making a long-term mission happen.
One of the primary objectives of the year-long space missions is looking at how fluid shifts effected Kelly and Kornienko’s vision. Some astronauts have experienced permanent vision loss in space as a result of fluid shifts in the body: the fluid floats upward, basically putting pressure on the eye and causing damage.
There’s also the nuts and bolts of a long-term mission to consider: while things in space went relatively smoothly, NASA said that “one of the biggest challenges we had was …in our support from Earth.”
“We had several cargo launches that didn’t make it and we had to replan the research a lot,” TKTK said. “The crew was doing great, but we had to be really smart to keep the research and support cargo flowing. Helps you think about how much [harder] a Mars mission would be logistically.”
While the one-year mission is, by early indicators, a success, NASA said that even if it had a ship ready to take people to Mars, it wouldn’t be ready to do so.
We’ll learn more about Kelly and Kornienko’s in briefings throughout the day.