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Astronaut Scott Kelly sets out to break an American record in space

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Finally, a conversation about an out-of-this-world experience: living in space.

    Astronaut Scott Kelly arrived this weekend at the International Space Station. He will stay there for almost a year, the longest duration an American has ever spent in space. He’s the identical twin brother of former astronaut Mark Kelly. And both will participate in a study to see the effects of living in space.

    After Scott Kelly lifted off on Friday, Jeffrey Brown spoke with a former astronaut, Chris Hadfield, whose final stay on the space station lasted five months.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Chris Hadfield, welcome to you.

    The twin study is especially interesting this time, right, the research on the two brothers, Scott and Mark Kelly, one in space, one on the ground. What kinds of things are being looked at?

  • CHRIS HADFIELD, Canadian Space Agency:

    Yes, it sounds like science fiction, doesn’t it, to have an identical twin on a space ship and another one down on the ground?

    But it’s just luck, but, boy, it sure provides some interesting medical and scientific opportunity. You take two people that are as identical as they can be. You put them in wildly different environments, one of them that is really brand-new for humanity, living in weightlessness off the planet, and then you watch how they change over a year. You measure all of those subtle things, bone density, muscle strength, psychology, vision, blood pressure, blood pressure regulation, all of those, liver function, everything.

    And it is really going to help us not only understand spaceflight for long-term flight, for going from here to the moon and Mars and beyond, but also just understand the effects on the body of flight itself, the subtle changes that happen within the body, and teach us inherently about physiology. It’s a really cool thing. It’s never been done before.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, so, then, of course, there is the length of time. This would be twice as long, I think, twice longer than any American up to this point.

    What’s the — why go longer?  And let’s start to talk a little bit about the new difficulties that that presents in staying up that long.

  • CHRIS HADFIELD:

    I think the big difference, Jeff, is we’re now going from probing space to moving away from Earth, so colonizing space, to leaving Earth permanently.

    This is one of those major steps, not just a one-week- or two-week-long flight or a quick foray to the moon to see if we can do it, but actually a very long-term move away from the planet and see how we do all of the things. So, there is a lot to learn. There are huge suite of things, straight from — from just human physiology. What sort of exercise equipment do we need?  How do you keep somebody psychologically healthy for that length of time away from the world?

    What type of person should you choose?  What’s the right type of person to go to the moon and live on the moon or to go to Mars?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Yes.

  • CHRIS HADFIELD:

    All of those questions are going to get discussed and looked at.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, you know, Scott Kelly has talked about his family, and talked about — he has a 20-year-old daughter in college. He talks about his love of nature, talks about the psychological issues.

    What were the hardest parts for you psychologically?  Start with the psychology of it, to keep from boredom, keep from depression?  What kinds of things did you experience?

  • CHRIS HADFIELD:

    When we first started cooperating with the Russians and sending astronauts to Mir, one of the real problems was, they didn’t have a full plate of activities every day.

    We hadn’t had time to get a full scientific program for them. And, so, it was really tough psychologically. They didn’t feel like there was purpose to what they were doing. It’s not that way on the space station. It’s a busy place. Scott is going to have a plate full of activities every day.

    So, that — you never get in a state of boredom. It’s more a constant scramble to try and keep up with the demands of all of the mission controls around the world. But there is straight physical separation, and there’s a sense of isolation, naturally. And so that requires building your crew as a sense of family, but also a change of how you communicate with your own family, like our soldiers that are overseas, like all of the people that serve a long time away from home.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Let just ask you finally about the physical adjustments as well of spending that much time in zero gravity or on the space station and then the readjustment, the adjustment back to living on Earth.

  • CHRIS HADFIELD:

    Scott has just been up there for a brief period already. There are big changes initially.

    Your body doesn’t have gravity pushing all the fluid down towards your feet. So, you feel like you have the worst sinus headache, like you have been standing on your head forever. Your tongue swells up. You’re also kind of dizzy and nauseous.

    But that passes after a week or so. You get into a regular routine, working out. You get totally adapted to weightlessness, which is actually kind of more fun a lot easier than living under gravity. But you pay the price when you come home.

    You’re squished by gravity. Your body has trouble pumping blood up to your head. You can’t balance. You feel sick. Your bones have probably lost a bunch of density, especially across the load-bearing parts, across your hips. You have to grow your musculature, but even more slowly, you have to grow your bone density back.

    None of that comes for free. Exploration isn’t easy. But the stuff we learn from it, it teaches us right across the board, from making spaceships safer to understanding just how the body builds bone itself. There is a lot to learn. And Scott is right on the leading edge of all that.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, Chris Hadfield, we’re talking about some of the troubles, the psychology, the physical issues, but it’s an amazing experience, right, what you see out there, what you feel?

  • CHRIS HADFIELD:

    Scott is going to be orbiting the planet as it goes all the way around the sun, one whole orbit of the sun.

    He’s going around the world 16 times a day. He will see the entire world go from winter to summer to winter. He will get to know the planet like almost no one in history ever has. And the beauty of it, a sunrise or a sunset every 45 minutes, just the raw power of the nature of the world, it is a mesmerizing gorgeousness that you never get tired of.

    So, yes, he’s doing a lot of science up there. It’s important. But it is such a beautiful, magnificent, personal experience. Scott is a privileged guy to be there as a vanguard for us all.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    All right, quite extraordinary.

    Chris Hadfield, thank you so much for telling us about it.

  • CHRIS HADFIELD:

    Really nice to talk with you, Jeff.

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