After year in space, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly returns to Earth

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

(March 1, 2016) — [Breaking news update, posted at 11:34 p.m. ET]

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov have landed in the Kazakhstan desert after leaving the International Space Station earlier today, NASA and Russian mission control said.

Kelly and Kornienko spent nearly a year in space.

Original story:

In a few hours, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is due to be back on Earth.

Kelly has completed a nearly yearlong mission on the International Space Station, the longest any U.S. astronaut has been in space. He’s set to come home on Tuesday, riding back to Earth on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. He’s scheduled to land in the Kazakhstan desert at 10:27 Wednesday morning (11:27 p.m. ET Tuesday).

The prolific social media user posted a photo of the sunrise on Tuesday — the last one he’ll watch from space.

Spending 340 days in space could affect a person’s vision and bones, but Kelly said last week that physically, he feels pretty good. “I could go for another 100 days or 100 years,” the astronaut said during his last briefing with reporters from orbit.

But the long stay has also been lonely. “The hardest part is being isolated from people on the ground who are important to you,” he said.

The space veteran said he has witnessed some of the most amazing scenes of Earth during his mission, like spotting the northern lights, passing over the Bahamas and watching huge storms like Hurricane Patricia.

The view from space

He’s also gained perspective on Earth’s climate while he’s been orbiting the planet. “I feel more like an environmentalist since I’ve been up here,” he said. “There are parts of the Earth that are covered with pollution all the time. I saw weather that was unexpected. Storms bigger than we’ve seen in the past. This is a human effect. This is not a natural phenomenon.”

IN SPACE - APRIL 19: In this handout photo provided by NASA, its snack time on the International Space Station as NASA astronaut Scott Kelly watches a bunch of fresh carrots float in front of him while preparing to partake April 19, 2015 in space. Scott is one of the One-Year crew members on the station to test how the human body reacts to an extended presence in space as preparation for the long flights NASA plans to Mars and back in the future. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)

IN SPACE – APRIL 19: In this handout photo provided by NASA, its snack time on the International Space Station as NASA astronaut Scott Kelly watches a bunch of fresh carrots float in front of him while preparing to partake April 19, 2015 in space. Scott is one of the One-Year crew members on the station to test how the human body reacts to an extended presence in space as preparation for the long flights NASA plans to Mars and back in the future. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)

In a previous interview with CNN, Kelly said Earth’s atmosphere “looks very, very fragile” from the space station. But there are opportunities to solve the Earth’s environmental problems, Kelly said Thursday. “If we can dream it, we can make it so,” he said.

Once Kelly lands, he will be flown to Houston’s Ellington Field and go through a battery of physical and scientific tests. Afterward, he’s looking forward to jumping into his pool, he said.

Kelly isn’t bringing back any souvenirs — this is his fourth mission in space, after all — but he’s looking forward to returning some personal items when he lands.

One of his biggest hopes for the Year in Space mission’s legacy is that it helps NASA on its quest to take astronauts farther away from Earth on longer space flights — a necessity for traveling to Mars in the future. “The space station here is a magical place, and an incredible science facility. I hope more people have the opportunity to do this in the future,” he said.

‘Feel like I’ve lived my whole life up here’

He told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta last week that it feels like he’s spent his whole life on the station and that leaving it is going to be tough.

“I’ll probably never see it again,” Kelly told Gupta. “I’ve flown in space four times now, so it’s going to be hard in that respect, but I certainly look forward to going back to Earth. I’ve been up here for a really long time and sometimes, when I think about it, I feel like I’ve lived my whole life up here.”

A year ago, before he launched, Kelly, 51, joked that he would be taller than his twin brother, former astronaut Mark Kelly (the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords), when he returns, because you get a bit taller in space. At least briefly.

“You do grow when you’re up there for a long time,” Kelly said last year. “Unfortunately it doesn’t last.”

But did he really get taller than his brother? Though he’s no longer an astronaut, Mark Kelly volunteered to take part in NASA’s “Twins Study” with his brother. NASA wants to see how the identical twins measure up after a year in two very different environments — Scott in space and Mark on Earth.

Staying in contact

Scott Kelly also said he would spend a lot of time talking to people on Earth, messaging on social media — and he did. He shared many pictures on Twitter taken from his perch about 200 miles above Earth. (By the way, you can see the space station fly over if you know when and where to look.)

Kelly also promised to keep a personal journal of his experience on the space station and said that he might share it with us.

“I plan to be completely honest about it,” he said before launch, but — “who knows, maybe there are some crazy thoughts I’ll have at the end that I wouldn’t want to share.”

Kelly also did experiments. Lots and lots of experiments. He and his one-year crewmate, Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, conducted studies to help NASA better understand what happens to the human body in space: The eyes, brain, bones, muscles — they all change in a weightless environment.

NASA needs to know a lot more about these changes to the body before it can send people to Mars or on any other long spaceflights.

Riding home with the Russians

Kelly began his mission to the space station on March 27, 2015, riding a Russian rocket that launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

He’ll come home much the same way. When his mission ends, Kelly will have spent 340 consecutive days on the space station and a total of 520 days in space counting his time from previous trips. Both are records for U.S. astronauts, but not for Russia. Between 1987 and 1995, four cosmonauts spent a year or more in space.

Kornienko also will come back Tuesday and cosmonaut Sergey Volkov will be on the flight too — though he did not spend a year on the space station.

After Kelly lands, he’ll be flown to Houston. But his mission doesn’t end there. NASA will spend years analyzing the tests he conducted on board.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s