Mark Kelly orbited Earth 854 times. He flew 39 combat missions in Operation Desert Storm and has helped his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, through a grueling recovery after an assassination attempt near Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people.
But it was a spinal tap that had Kelly sounding a bit uneasy last week.
“They just did one on my brother,” Kelly told me by phone, “and the researchers that were doing the spinal tap on him, they really want to do one on me. I think they’re hesitant to ask, but I told them it would be OK to ask.”
“I’ll probably even do it,” he added with a hint of humor. “I’m probably not going to like it.”
Kelly and his identical twin, Scott, ignited a new wave of excitement over America’s astronauts this month when Scott Kelly returned to Earth after nearly a year aboard the International Space Station. NASA is studying the twins to determine what effects living in space has on the body.
When astronaut Scott Kelly’s space capsule touched down in Kazakhstan, it was a familiar scene to Mark Kelly, who is a retired astronaut and Scott’s identical twin.
NASA is conducting a “twin study” on the brothers to explore what spaceflight does to the body. Multiple universities are involved in the research.
“We’re going to need to understand this really well before we decide to send people to Mars on an extended mission,” Mark Kelly tells NPR’s Renee Montagne on Morning Edition. For the study, he acts as a control to compare to his twin, who broke the U.S. record for longest space journey.
Along with my wife Gabby, Scott’s daughters, his girlfriend, our dad, and so many other loved ones and colleagues, we greeted Scott at Ellington Joint Base Reserve as he stepped off a NASA aircraft and — finally — onto American soil.
After 5,440 orbits around our planet, after the sun went up and down 10,944 times (the sun rises or sets every 45 minutes in space), and after flying over 100 million miles, Scott’s year in space is now over.
Late last night here in Houston, I helped welcome my brother Scott Kelly home from his year aboard the International Space Station.
It was 13 years ago that we began to hear the terrible news: Space Shuttle Columbia had been lost during re-entry into our atmosphere. There were no survivors. I had the honor of knowing the seven people who were lost that day aboard Columbia. They were: Col. Rick Husband, Lt. Col. Michael Anderson, Cmdr. Laurel Clark, Capt. David Brown, Cmdr. William McCool, Dr. Kalpana Chawla and Ilan Ramon, a colonel in the Israeli Air Force. And I can tell you that they were brave explorers, tireless public servants, and really good people. They knew spaceflight was a risky business. They flew anyway.
So far, it’s been a long battery of tests — ultrasounds, cognitive experiments and assorted, ahem, sample collections — for Mark Kelly, a former NASA shuttle commander and husband of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
This week, my twin brother Scott Kelly reached a milestone: the halfway point in his nearly year-long mission aboard the International Space Station. For 173 days (as of my writing), Scott has served our country in zero gravity, floating inside the International Space Station as it orbits 250 miles above our planet at 17,500 miles per hour, far away from his family and friends. On this flight alone, he has already traveled 72 million miles around Earth.