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Astronaut’s record orbit concludes with safe return

March 2, 2016 at 7:36 PM EDT
Astronaut Scott Kelly spent 340 days -- the longest an American has ever been in space -- on the International Space Station before descending into Kazakhstan by capsule Tuesday evening. Kelly’s extraterrestrial sojourn was part of a study on the long-term effects of space on the human mind and body. NASA plans to put astronauts on the two-and-a-half year trip to Mars within two decades.

GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: what’s it like to live in space for a year.

That’s what astronaut Scott Kelly has been doing on the International Space Station. It’s the focus of a special on PBS tonight called “A Year in Space.”

Scott Kelly was actually up there for 340 days before he descended by capsule into Kazakstan yesterday. It was the longest any American has been in space, and part of an effort to see how the body and mind fare over time.

NASA hopes to get astronauts to Mars in another two decades. And it will take 2.5 years to get there. Throughout his mission, Scott Kelly has circled the Earth more than 5,400 times, traveling 143 million miles and witnessed thousands of sunrises, sunsets and other incredible views.

We have put together our own compilation of some of what Kelly’s seen and said from start to finish.

MAN: Do you consider yourself and Mikhail pathfinders of sorts?

SCOTT KELLY, NASA Astronaut: Sure. I guess you could use that term, but I think we all are, you know, all the crew members over the last 15 years and even those who came before that.

You know, flying in space is a process. Exploring space is a process that you take step by step. So, you know, on one hand, you know, Misha and I might be at the front of that right now because we have spent, you know, a pretty significant amount of time up here, but that in no way takes away from anything that all the previous folks have done, you know, towards that future goal of going to Mars.

You know, I’m a big believer in what we’re doing here. I believe in the importance of flying in space. And, you know, the research we do, I believe in exploration, and I will miss being on the front lines of that endeavor, I guess.

You know, on the one hand, I look forward to going home, but it’s something that has been a big part of my life, and I’m going to miss it.

You know, you definitely have a different perspective on the Earth and things that happen down there. I keep probably more in touch with what’s going on, on Earth when I’m in space than when I’m actually on Earth.

And you definitely have a sense of — a heightened sense of empathy and also, you know, notice, you know, the effects of our presence on the planet. It makes you somewhat, if you weren’t already, an environmentalist, and, you know, definitely a feeling that we need to take care of it.

GWEN IFILL: Just spectacular.

You can watch more about Scott Kelly’s mission tonight. “A Year in Space” airs on PBS stations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All I can say is wow.