Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelly will spend 342 days aboard the spatial laboratory, twice as long as a regular mission on the station. Russia’s Gennady Padalka will stay on board for six-months.
The three astronauts entered the Space Station eight hours after launching from Russia’s space facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. They were welcomed by American Terry Virts and Russia’s Anton Shkaplerov who has been aboard since November, along with Italian Samantha Cristoforetti.
The mission is NASA’s first attempt at a one-year spaceflight. Four Russians have spent a year or more in space, but it happened years ago, on the Soviet-built Mir space station.
The objective is to measure the effects of a extended period of weightlessness on the human body. The stay is regarded as a step toward possible missions to Mars.
Kelly, 51, and Kornienko, 54, will stay on board until next March. During this time, they will go through extensive medical experiments, while preparing the station for the arrival of new U.S. commercial crew capsules, which are due in 2017. Kelly will go on a few spacewalks, something she hasn’t done before.
The two men will supervise the arrival and departure of numerous cargo ships, as well as other Russian-launched space crews. They will also host singer Sarah Brightman, who will be on a “space tourist” trip in September.
Doctors are longing to learn what happens to Kelly and Kornienko once they surpass the regular six-month stay for space station tenants.
Bones, muscles and the immune system are weakened by weightlessness. Body fluids also shift towards the head in zero gravity, pressuring the brain and the eyes, but also impairing vision for some astronauts.
The yearlong stay will allow medics to evaluate whether such conditions are worsened by a long spell in space or whether they reach a point of equilibrium or even taper off.
As space experts look to longer missions, the International Space Station’s future seems to be ensured until at least 2024.
Last year, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin had said that Russia aimed to exit the project in 2020, after tensions between Moscow and Washington erupted over Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine war.
Russian space agency director Igor Komarov said in a news conference in Baikonur that his agency and NASA have convened to continue using the station until 2024.
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