U. S., Russian Astronauts Reach International Space Station for One Year Stay

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Russia's TMA-16M spacecraft docked with the International Space Station late Friday, delivering the orbiting lab's first "one-year" crew members, U. S. astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, both prepared for unprecedented  studies of their physical and mental well-being.

The studies will seek signs of new health concerns linked to U. S. human deep space ambitions, issues that could  surface after the standard five to six month ISS tours of duty that have dominated station operations over the past 14 years.

 Voyages to Mars, currently envisioned for the mid-2030s, could span 30 months or more.

The TMA-16M carried out an automated linkup with the station's Poisk module at 9:33 p.m., EDT, just six hours after the two men lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Their spacecraft was commanded by veteran Soyuz cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who is prepared for a six month stay. In late June, Padalka will surpass the current record of 803 days for cumulative time in space set by  fellow cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev.

Kelly, a 51-year-old former ISS commander, will join in with efforts already underway to reconfigure the outside and inside of the station's U. S. segment for the addition of two docking ports to accommodate Boeing and SpaceX commercial crew transport vehicles by late 2017. He will participate in a July spacewalk to install the first of two International Docking Adapters, completing preparations for the first of the new parking spots on the Harmony module.

Kornienko, 55, a former paratrooper, is the veteran of a 176 day mission to the ISS in 2010. Kelly logged a 160 day tour of duty aboard the station in 2010-11.  

All three of the newcomers will also monitor, execute or serve as subjects in more than 130 science investigations and technical demonstrations currently underway aboard the ISS in disciplines ranging from biology to robotics.  Dozens of new experiments are awaiting their turn as well.

However, their primary focus is facilitating research on their own well-being. Eighteen investigations will look for changes in the ways Kelly and Kornienko function overall in prolonged weightlessness. The study areas include psychological health, vision, metabolics including the immune system, bones and muscle strength, the intestinal microbial environment and interactions with the space station itself as a functional habitat.

"He'll do great," predicted NASA astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore, who descended to Earth on Mar. 11, after 5 1/2 months aboard the ISS. "I have full confidence in him"

Wilmore , who briefed Kelly on the station’s overall status before his descent,  watched his colleague's launching from NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston.

Among those at Baikonur to witness the launching were NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Scott Kelly's identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut who logged four shuttle flights.  Mark's presence kept alive a brotherly tradition of witnessing one another's space launches first hand over eight mission starting in 1999.

Dozens of ISS astronauts from Europe, Japan and Canada as well as the U. S. and Russia have provided physical and psychological health data for periods ranging up to seven months. It's what might surface during longer periods of spaceflight that piques the interest of researchers, who look forward to expanding the pool of one year space station research subjects before the six person orbiting science lab is retired, currently planned for sometime between 2020 and 2024.

"With knowledge of what changes, we will know what to prepare for during future missions that set off for Mars," said John Charles, associate manager of international science for NASA's Human Research Division.

In addition, Kelly will serve along with his identical twin as subjects in 10 experiments designed to investigate whether spaceflight triggers genetic changes.

Kelly, Kornienko and Padalka were greeted late Friday by ISS Expedition 43 commander Terry Virts, of NASA; European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov. All three arrived in November and expect to depart for Earth in May, leaving Padalka in command.

The latest ISS tenants replace cosmonauts  Elena Serova and Alexander Samokutyaev, who also descended to Earth with Wilmore on Mar. 11.

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