- AstronautScott Kelly spent a year aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to study the effects of space travel on the human body.
- His identical twin brother and former NASA astronaut, Mark Kelly, remained on Earth.
- NASA’s Twins Study confirmed preliminary findings that 7% of astronaut Scott Kelly’s DNA no longer matches his identical twin brother’s after landing two years ago.
- During a Reddit AMA while he was still aboard the International Space Station, Kelly shared some of the more nuanced details about what it’s like to live in space for a year.
What’s it like to not walk on solid ground for a year?
That’s one of the questions NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and companion Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko set out to answer during their year-long mission on board the International Space Station (ISS).
In 2016, the men succeeded in their mission to discover how a long-term, low-gravity environment affects the human body, becoming the first humans to ever spend a year in zero gravity. Their mission was twice as long as typical US missions, and their journey of more than 143 million miles is considered critical in preparing astronauts for future expeditions to Mars. Kelly’s identical twin brother and former NASA astronaut, Mark Kelly, remained as a control subject on Earth.
When Kelly initially returned from space two years ago, he was 1.5 inches taller, slower and less accurate, and his genetic code had changed significantly. While most of that returned to normal, preliminary findings from NASA now show that that 7% of his DNA has not returned to normal after landing and no longer matches his identical twin brother’s.
During a Reddit AMA while he was still aboard the International Space Station, Kelly shared his observations about life in space. Here are some of the most interesting things the astronaut revealed:
Space isn’t as scary as you might think
“I don’t feel alone or afraid. I was up here for six weeks as the only American on the US side of the space station and I was fine. I have been afraid when the ground has called and privatized the audio generally meaning something bad has happened. So I have been a little afraid.”
This is a response to the question, Do you ever feel alone/afraid? If so, how do you combat those feelings?
The Bahamas are just as beautiful from space
“My favorite spot on Earth to see from space is probably the Bahamas. The brilliant and varied colors of the blue water and contrast from here is pretty spectacular.”
This is a response to the question, What is your favorite part of Earth to see from space?
Kelly’s first meal upon returning to earth wouldn’t be fast food
“The first thing I will eat will probably be a piece of fruit (or a cucumber) the Russian nurse hands me as soon as I am pulled out of the space capsule and begin initial health checks.”
This is a response to the question, What will be the first thing you eat once you’re back on Earth?
Microgravity could be good for your body
“It seems blood pressure is lower because it doesn’t have to fight against gravity.”
This is a response to the question, What are the cardiovascular effects of longterm space travel?
“My muscles and joints are a whole lot better up here than with gravity. It’s almost like you are in a bed rest. There is no pressure or pain. I do stretch before I exercise because my muscles aren’t stretched out, they are somewhat dormant.”
Just because it looks easy doesn’t mean it is
“I think a lot of people think that because we give the appearance that this is easy that it is easy. I don’t think people have an appreciation for the work that it takes to pull these missions off, like humans living on the space station continuously for 15 years. It is a huge army of hard working people to make it happen.”
This is a response to the question, What is the largest misconception about space/space travel that society holds onto?
The best pedicure could be space travel
“The calluses on your feet in space will eventually fall off. So, the bottoms of your feet become very soft, like newborn baby feet. But the top of my feet develop rough alligator skin because I use the top of my feet to get around here on space station when using foot rails.”
This is a response to the question, Could you tell us something unusual about being in space that many people don’t think about?
Space smells like burning metal
“Smells vary depending on what segment you are in. Sometimes it has an antiseptic smell. Sometimes it has an odor that smells like garbage. But the smell of space when you open the hatch smells like burning metal to me.”
This is a response to the question, Does the ISS have any particular smell?
Microgravity makes your arms feel weird
“Your arms don’t hang by your side in space like they do on Earth because there is no gravity. It feels awkward to have them floating in front of me. It is just more comfortable to have them folded. I don’t even have them floating in my sleep, I put them in my sleeping bag.”
This is a response to the question, Why do you always have your arms folded?
Peeing in space can get messy
“Recently I had to clean up a gallon-sized ball of urine mixed with acid.
“The acid is added to the urine so the urine doesn’t damage the machinery that moves it through the system. It keeps it from clogging up the system.”
This is a response to the question, What’s the creepiest thing you’ve encountered while on the job?
Common courtesy goes a long way
“I just sneezed twice coming into my crew quarters. And I do what I do on Earth and cover my mouth with my hand. If I didn’t do that, it’s possible the sneeze could be found floating in another module. I generally don’t sneeze into open air on Earth or here in space.”
This is a response to the question, What happens when you sneeze or blow your nose in space? Does it stay on your face like tears?
Getting along with colleagues is especially important
“I think it’s one of the great things about the space station program is that it’s an international program. We get along very well. We have to because we rely on each other for our lives.”
This is a response to the question, What is like to work with members of other nations’ space programs? Do the politics that take place on Earth affect your relationship with them?
Sleeping in space isn’t easy, and the dreams can get weird
“Sleeping here in space is harder than on a bed because the sleep position here is the same position throughout the day. You don’t ever get that sense of gratifying relaxation here that you do on Earth after a long day at work. Yes, there are humming noises on station that affect my sleep, so I wear ear plugs.”
This is a response to the question, What’s it like to sleep in 0G? It must be great for the back. Does the humming of the machinery in the station affect your sleep at all?
“I am not a great sleeper. I don’t think I have ever slept eight hours straight in the last 20 years. I wind up waking up a couple of times. My dreams are sometimes space dreams and sometimes Earth dreams. And they are crazy.”
This is a response to the question, Can you describe your sleep cycle over the last 300 days in space? Always a solid 8 hours? Did you ever get strangely tired or have you consistently felt well rested? Bonus Question: When sleeping, is your dream world mostly in zero-G?
Time is a challenge
“The most challenging thing about being in space for a year is time. A year is a long time.”
This is a response to the question, What has been the most challenging thing about being in space for a year?
But Kelly never gets bored
“I never feel bored up here. There is always plenty to do, and not enough free time to do it. As for lonely, we have pretty good ways to stay connected with people in your life. I certainly miss my loved ones, but I never feel lonely. And connecting to people back on Earth on social media like this helps too!”
This is a response to the question, What do you do to make time pass fast when you feel bored or lonely in space?
Living in space for a year makes you appreciate things
“I will appreciate nature more.”
This is a response to the question, What ONE thing will you forever do differently after your safe return home?
Walking in space can be surreal sometimes
“It is a little bit surreal to know that you are in your own little spaceship and a few inches from you is instant death.”
This is a response to the question, During a space walk what does it feel like having nothing but a suit ([albeit] a rather sophisticated one) between you and space?