After nearly a year of orbiting Earth, the current residents of the International Space Station are coming home tonight.
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Roscosmos cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko have been in space for 340 days–“twice the duration of a typical mission,” and the longest anyone has ever stayed on the ISS, writes NASA in a press release. Compared to what could be required to get to Mars, though, it’s a short jaunt. When the astronauts return to Earth, Kelly will go through a series of space sobriety tests–mini-obstacle courses, straight line walks, standing still for three minutes–to see how his body has dealt with the time away from our planet.
NASA scientists will compare these responses and his overall fitness to baseline tests he did before he left, and with data from his twin brother, Mark Kelly, also a retired astronaut.
Kelly told NPR he has missed real sunlight, and that his longtime long view of Earth has made him more of an environmentalist. “It’s just a blanket of pollution in certain areas,” he says. “We can fix that if we put our minds to it.”
Yesterday, Kelly handed over command of the ISS to NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, who will command the next crew of six international astronauts. Today, the duo will say goodbye to their space home, close the hatch, and jet back to Earth, landing in Kazakhstan about half an hour before midnight. Much of this will be livestreamed on NASA TV starting at 4:15 pm. Soon after, presumably, the obstacle courses will start. Welcome back, Earthlings!
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