For the record, my brother is a total doofus, and I’d love nothing better than to catapult him into outer space. So, you can understand my jealousy when I learned that NASA found a way to make it happen!
We know a lot about our anatomy and function on Planet Earth, but in space, the human is a sphinx. Astronauts are subject to all sorts of medical factors. Weightlessness can screw around with the fluid in your spine and change your biometrics. Solar flares emit gamma rays, X-rays, and “energetic particles” that, if exposed to unprotected astronauts, can cause radiation sickness. So how do we get a better handle on studying the medical conditions of our lofty astronauts? To help, NASA has Mark Kelly and Scott Kelly. Both are former Navy captains and both were admitted to the astronaut corps in 1996. And they’re twins!
Next year, brother Scott will spend a year aboard the International Space Station. His brother Mark will stay planetside. Both will participate in medical experiments to see how the human body reacts to long durations in space while comparing to an identical human body on terra firma. This is a fine opportunity for doctors and specialists to add more to the book of space medicine and extra notes for future missions.
For his next trip, Scott Kelly may travel by unconventional means. Since the space shuttles were retired, NASA has bought tickets on Russia’s fleet of Soyuz spacecraft. But relations aren’t exactly civil between our governments at the moment, so NASA could use a backup plan. That’s when SpaceX, the new kid on the block for commercial partnerships, comes into play. On Thursday the company unveiled a passenger variant of their Dragon capsule that, when mated to a rocket delivery system, can ferry seven astronauts with supplies into space. If successful, this vehicle could keep things moving in orbit while NASA develops the next generation of multipurpose spacecraft.
You have to admire the technical minds, teamwork, and overall brilliance that have built and launched spacecraft since the golden days of the Mercury program. It doesn’t matter who makes the next step now, whether government or commercial, for the act of exploration is more important to our species than anything else.