Although it might seem paradoxical, many people return from a long trip in need of a vacation to recover from their time away.
Imagine, then, if your trip had lasted a year, and you weren’t just out of town but out of this world. Literally.
That’s the reality that faced NASA Commander Scott Kelly, a graduate of the University of Tennessee Space Institute, when he returned to Earth from his one-year mission aboard the International Space Station late Tuesday. UTSI is a part of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Engineering.
“I’m going to go home and jump in my pool,” Kelly said during his final press conference from space last week when asked what he would do once his mission was over.
That mission, during which his twin brother Mark stayed on Earth, will help NASA and scientists throughout the world study how long-term living in space can affect the human body by comparing bio-data from the two.
The lessons learned will prove invaluable to any future missions to proposed bases on the moon as well as trips to Mars and one day perhaps even farther.
Physically, Kelly said that the only real changes have been some vision-related issues, which he added that he’d experienced on previous missions.
In a mental sense, he said, it was much tougher near the end of his last voyage because of the shooting involving his sister-in-law, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
“I think the hardest part is being isolated in a physical sense from people on ground that are important to you,” said Kelly. “Certainly a loss of connection with folks on the ground that you care for and love and want to spend time with.
“It’s not like I’m climbing the walls or anything, though.”
But before anyone gets the idea that Kelly is getting stir crazy in his zero-gravity world, he was also quick to point out that he’d have no problem staying longer if asked.
He described the space station as a “magical place” and said his mission was just one of the stepping stones to longer flight.
“Hopefully we’ve learned a lot about longer missions and what it takes to get to Mars,” said Kelly. “A trip to Mars won’t have this much space. As big as the space station is, I still spent most of my time in an area the size of a phone booth.
“Private areas will be key (on longer trips). That’s how you reduce fatigue, reduce stress.”
Aside from the health study he’s involved with, other aspects of his mission that are of particular importance to him related to his perspective on Earth and on the ability of humans to set and achieve lofty goals if we put our “minds and resources behind it.”
He noted that the various images he’s captured of Earth serve as a reminder of how fragile the planet really is, and that he hopes he can do more to protect and help the environment when he returns.
Kelly also was quick to compliment the ingenuity and teamwork it took to get the space station into being, pointing out that people from many nations, languages and even multiple systems of measurement came together to build something “the size of a football field” to travel around in space at 17,500 miles per hour.
As for the future of space flight itself, Kelly was optimistic that we’re only just beginning to realize its potential.
“It’s something I hope more people have the opportunity to do in the future,” said Kelly. “And I think they will. It’s just a matter of time.”
David Goddard (865-974-0683, firstname.lastname@example.org)