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On Oct. 29 astronaut Scott Kelly will set a new record for the longest continuous stay in space for an American. (Russian astronaut Valeri Polyakov holds the world record for longest space flight at 437.7 days.) Late Monday President Barack Obama tweeted a conversation he had with Kelly to congratulate him on this achievement.
Kelly began his stay in March, when he and his identical twin brother, Mark, embarked on an experiment for NASA. Mark stayed on the ground while Scott took to the stars so NASA researchers could see how an extended stay in low-gravity would affect the body. Because Mark and Scott have identical sets of DNA, any genetic changes that occurred to Scott as a result of being in space should be readily apparent.
Astronauts often come back with a host of strange physical changes, like diminished vision and muscular and skeletal atrophy. They’re also exposed to very high levels of radiation from being outside Earth’s protective magnetosphere. On the 280 million mile roundtrip journey to the Red Planet, astronauts will be spending a lot of time potentially exposing themselves to many health risks. Kelly’s experiment will help isolate and identify just what those risks are, so researchers can start finding ways to mitigate them.
And, in the words of the POTUS, “that’s nothing to sneeze at.”
Screengrab via @POTUS/Twitter
Cynthia McKelvey covered the health and science for the Daily Dot until 2017. She earned a graduate degree in science communication from the University of California Santa Cruz in 2014. Her work has appeared in Gizmodo, Scientific American Mind, and Mic.com.