Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Space station crew to spend a full year in orbit

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A NASA astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut will expand the knowledge base on the effects of long term space travel on the human body beginning in 2015.

Space flight veterans American Scott Kelly and Russian Mikhail Kornienko will begin a full year in space in March 2015, as they live and work aboard the International Space Station.

The flight will also mark the longest space flight by an American.

"The one year increment will expand the bounds of how we live and work in space," NASA's head for human exploration Bill Gerstenmaier said on Monday. "(it) will increase our knowledge regarding the effects of microgravity on humans as we prepare for future missions beyond low earth orbit."

Kelly has spent 180 days in space during two space shuttle flights and aboard the space station, including as station commander in 2011.

Kelly and Kornienko will launch from western Kazakhstan atop a Russian Soyuz rocket, docking six hours later to the orbital outpost 260 miles high. The duo will be visited by four expedition crews arriving and departing during their stay.

The typical time in space for a station crew is five months. NASA and the Russian Space Agency are looking for data on the human body extending out another seven months as the two nations look toward long voyages to the moon or even an asteroid.

Much is known regarding the short duration effects on a space flyer such as bone and muscle loss, and the harmful radiation levels as strong solar wind passes through the thin shell of the space complex and through the astronaut's body.

There is an even greater unknown for time exceeding six months in space.

"The goal of their yearlong expedition is to understand better how the human body reacts and adapts to the harsh environment of space," stated Josh Buck at NASA Headquarters on Monday. "

The United States Department of Labor's Operational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has their own rules regarding space flight to keep radiation exposure low. OSHA has warned since the 1990's that space flights should not last greater than six months due to levels of radiation dosage from our Sun, and the Van Allen Radiation Belt located around earth.

NASA has it's own internal guidelines regarding radiation dosage levels using the Sievert (Sv) scale during a 365-day period, and that one should not exceed 0.2 Sv while in space. Kelly and Kornienko will begin a complex training schedule in January.

Kelly is the twin brother of former space shuttle astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science & technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

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