PHILADELPHIA, PA - American astronaut Scott Kelly has his schedule filled up for the next year. On Friday, he will blast off toward the international space station, preparing to spend an entire year outside of Earth's atmosphere.
The marathon mission is part of a groundbreaking study. During Kelly's year in space, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania will study Kelly, along with his twin brother Mark, back on Earth. Mark Kelly is the husband of former congresswoman Gabriel Giffords, who barely survived an assassination attempt in 2011. Mark is a retired astronaut, himself.
The goal of the study is to get a better idea of the long-term effects that space-travel has on the human body. Studying identical twins will allow researchers to separate the impacts of genetics versus environmental factors.
After months in space, astronauts can suffer from weakened bones and muscles, impaired vision and immune function, and psychological tolls. The brothers will even take cognitive tests to compare their brain function during the next year. No one is pretending that studying one set of twins will reveal any profound findings, but the results could serve as a benchmark for future studies on space travel.