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Science & Technology

The Year In Space: U.S., Russian Spacefarers On The International Station


Sometimes in this job, you get to do something really cool.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: NPR, this is Mission Control Houston. Please call station for a voice check.

MCEVERS: Station, this is NPR. How do you hear me?

SCOTT KELLY: We have you loud and clear. Welcome aboard the space station.

MCEVERS: Thanks. Hi.

KELLY: Hello.

MCEVERS: (Laughter). Can I ask you two to introduce yourselves first?

KELLY: Yeah. So I'm Scott Kelly. I'm a NASA astronaut, commander of the space station up here. And I'll hand the mic to my colleague.

MIKHAIL KORNIENKO: Hi. I'm Mikhail Kornienko (unintelligible) on board the station.

MCEVERS: No big deal - just talking to people in space. NASA's Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail, or Misha, Kornienko are now more than halfway through a year they're spending on the International Space Station. Kornienko spoke to us through an interpreter. They're conducting scientific experiments and studying how the body is affected by long periods of time spent in space. Scott Kelly's twin brother, Mark Kelly, is back on Earth monitoring his own body so scientists can compare the two. I ask Scott Kelly to describe where exactly they were at the moment we reached them.

KELLY: We are in the southern part of the Pacific Ocean, approaching the southwestern part of South America and heading up towards Europe. And we will not be in that part of the Pacific Ocean for very long 'cause we're going very fast - 17,500 miles per hour.

MCEVERS: Wow. What does it look like for those of us who've never had that view?

KELLY: Well, it's an impressive view. I would describe it as, you know, breathtaking the first few times you've seen it. It's very blue. There's a lot of water. I think, you know, most astronauts would probably say they have a, you know, a better appreciation for our home planet when you get to view it from this perspective.

MCEVERS: You are both spending a full year on the International Space Station. I mean, you're not setting the record for the longest time in a single spaceflight, but still, it's the longest anyone has spent in space for a while. What day are you on now?

KELLY: We are on day - I think it's 193.

KORNIENKO: One-ninety-three, yeah.

KELLY: Yeah, 193 - more than halfway.

MCEVERS: I wonder how it's affecting you guys differently.

KELLY: Well, I think, you know, for - both of us have flown long-duration flights before. For me, personally, when I was here last time, I was here for 159 days, and that seemed like a long time. And I knew this was going to be - yeah, this was going to be a lot longer. You know, I'm getting to the point now where it almost seems like I've forgotten what it's like to live on Earth, just becoming more of a citizen of the space station, of space, I guess.

MCEVERS: Give us a sense of the research you're doing while you're there. What're you learning while you're up there?

KELLY: Well, while I'm here, there's about - and Misha, of course - there are 400 different types of scientific experiments going on. There are the exploration-based science. It's the stuff that we need to know to travel further from Earth, perhaps, you know, go to Mars some day or other destinations like that. And that's, you know - part of this one-year mission is to understanding better the physiology and the negative effects of really long-duration spaceflight on our bones, our muscle, our visionary, our immune system.

There's an experiment with my brother to understand the genetic component of the microgravity affects and what kind of systems we need to go to Mars. With regards to cleansing the atmosphere, we recently had a scientific experiment where we grew lettuce up here. So those are the exploration-based things.

Then there are the types of experiments that are designed to improve life on Earth. We have a furnace right here next to us that does combustion research - how to make combustion systems more efficient. So it's a pretty broad program we have.

MCEVERS: This might be an awkward question to ask with you both right there, but how do you keep from getting annoyed with each other in that space?

KELLY: So I think, you know, not only NASA but our international partners pick people that, you know, are probably the right kind of people to be in this environment, people that are not easily annoyed, maybe, and you know, understand the type of behavior that requires, you know, just certain, I think, personal characteristics. And we do a good job at screening, you know, future candidates for this job as well as training people to do these kind of things.

MCEVERS: Let me ask Misha the same question. I mean, have you guys had any arguments?

KORNIENKO: (Through interpreter) I believe that argument is part of normal working process. But I would like to say, very definitely, they are never destructive. Maybe sometimes we see differently how a certain experiment can be performed - maybe faster, maybe more efficiently - but at the same time, the International Space Station is not the place for arguments. Everybody understands that perfectly. We are friends here onboard the ISS, and I would like to thank you, my colleagues on the ISS, for that.

MCEVERS: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Misha Kornienko, thank you so much for talking to us.

KELLY: My pleasure.


DAVID BOWIE: (Singing) This is Ground Control to Major Tom. You've really made the grade, and the papers... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.