Identical twins offer up selves for space science

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Identical Twins Mark and Scott Kelly NASA
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Identical twins offer up selves for space science
FILE - This undated file photo provided by NASA shows astronauts Mark Kelly, right, and Scott Kelly in the check-out facility at Ellington Field near NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Scott and his twin Mark are taking part in an unprecedented study of identical twins looking into the effects of prolonged weightlessness. Mark will undergo tests on Earth while his brother Scott will embark on a one-year space station stint. (AP Photo/NASA, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2010 file photo, U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, a crew member of the mission to the International Space Station, accompanied by his brother Mark Kelly, right, walks to the rocket ahead of the launch of the Soyuz-FG rocket at the Russian-leased cosmodrome in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The stars may have finally aligned for the world's only space sibling team. Astronaut Scott Kelly is circling the planet, fresh into a 5½-month space station mission. His identical twin, Mark, will join him next year, if NASA's shuttle schedule holds up. Together, they will become the first blood relatives to meet up in space. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)
FILE - In this May 28, 2008 file photo, Space shuttle Discovery commander Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, right, gestures as he walks with his twin brother astronaut Scott Kelly, left, and mission specialist Ron Garan, after arrival at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The shocking gundown of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011 has left NASA reeling: Her astronaut husband was due to rocket away in just three months as perhaps the last space shuttle commander, and her brother-in-law is currently on the International Space Station. (AP Photo/Terry Renna, File)
This image provided by NASA shows astronaut Mark Kelly, STS-124 commander as he floats in the newly installed Kibo Japanese Pressurized Module (JPM) of the International Space Station while space shuttle Discovery is docked with the station. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, mission specialist, is at right, on day five of the mission, Wednesday, June 4, 2008. (AP Photo/NASA)
In this handout picture from NASA on Saturday May 31, 2008, commander Mark Kelly is seen at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Saturday, May 31, 2008. Space Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to lift off Saturday afternoon with seven crew members on a mission to the International Space Station. His wife, Rep.Gabrielle Giffords will be at the launch. (AP Photo/NASA,Kim Shiflett)
FILE - In this July 1, 2011 file photo, NASA Space Shuttle astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly listens during a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington. Kelly, who collaborated with his wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, on her memoir, is writing a children's book about a mouse that goes to space. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
Space shuttle Endeavour commander Mark Kelly thanks friends, family and co-workers during a welcome home ceremony Thursday, June 2, 2011, at a NASA hangar in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Redaktionshinweis: Verwendung des Fotos nur zur redaktionellen Berichterstattung und bei Nennung "Stephane Corvaja/ESA"! +++ Die Besatzung der US-Raumfaehre "Endeavour" um ihren Kapitaen, NASA-Astronaut Mark Kelly (r.), posiert am Montag (16.05.11) vor dem Start des US-Raumfaehre "Endeavour" vor dem Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral (Florida). Die US-Raumfaehre "Endeavour" hat am Montag erfolgreich zu ihrem letzten Flug ins All abgehoben. Der Shuttle startete am Morgen (Ortszeit) in Cape Canaveral im US-Staat Florida. Geleitet wird die Mission vom NASA-Astronauten Mark Kelly, dem Ehemann der im Januar bei einem Attentat schwer verletzten US-Kongressabgeordneten Gabrielle Giffords. Die Politikern verfolgte den Start der "Endeavour" vom Kennedy Space Center in Florida aus. (zu dapd-Text) Foto: Stephane Corvaja/ESA/dapd
The astronauts of space shuttle Endeavour, from left, commander Mark Kelly, Canadian born U.S. astronaut Greg Chamitoff, mission specialist Drew Feustel, European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori, of Italy, mission specialist Mike Fincke and British born U.S. astronaut, pilot Greg Johnson, gather for a photo after arriving at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, May 12, 2011. The astronauts for NASA's next-to-last space shuttle flight returned to Florida on Thursday for another try at launching to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
The crew of space shuttle Endeavour, from left, commander Mark Kelly, Canadian born U.S. astronaut Greg Chamitoff, mission specialist Drew Feustel, European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori, of Italy, mission specialist Mike Fincke and British born U.S. astronaut, pilot Greg Johnson, wave to the media after their arrival at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, May 12, 2011. Shuttle Endeavour is due to blast off Monday morning, May 16, 2011 for NASA's next-to-last space shuttle flight. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Space Shuttle Endeavour commander Mark Kelly, right, drives a car on his way to meet President Barack Obama and his family with an unidentified astronaut at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Friday April 29, 2011. NASA postponed the final launch of Endeavour due to technical problems. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
In this picture made available by NASA, the last crew of the space shuttle Endeavour stands together on Launch Pad 39A in front of its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Thursday, April 28, 2011, one day before its final flight. From left are Mission Specialists Michael Fincke, Andrew Feustel, Pilot Greg H. Johnson, Commander Mark Kelly, European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori and Mission Specialist Greg Chamitoff. (AP Photo/NASA, Kim Shiflett)
The crew of space shuttle Endeavour and the International Space Station gather for a joint news conference from the from the International Space Station Thursday, May 26, 2011. Commander Mark Kelly, second row right, says he can't wait to see his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., for the first time from orbit and show her some cosmic views of his spaceship and the planet Earth. A videoconference between Kelly and Giffords is planned for Friday. The commander said he will conduct the video session from the space station's cupola, a glassed-in lookout. (AP Photo/ NASA)
Space shuttle Endeavour crew members from left: commander Mark Kelly, pilot Greg Johnson, mission specialists Mike Finke, European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori of Italy, Drew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff acknowledge the crowd during a welcome home from space ceremony Thursday, June 2, 2011, at a NASA hangar in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
NASA astronaut and space shuttle Endeavour Commander Mark Kelly speaks during a crew news conference Thursday, March 24, 2011, in Houston. The husband of wounded congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Kelly says he hopes she can attend the launch next month. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
An undated image from video provided by NASA shows space shuttle commander Mark Kelly training in a simulator at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Kelly announced Friday, Feb. 4, 2011 that he will return to training to command the scheduled April mission of space shuttle Endeavour's last voyage. Putting aside problems and feelings in little boxes and zeroing in on the tough task at hand _ compartmentalizing _ is what astronauts, military officers, firefighters, surgeons and presidents do all the time. (AP Photo/NASA)
This Aug. 18, 2007 photo made available by NASA shows astronaut Scott Kelly in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station while Space Shuttle Endeavour remains docked with the station. In an interview Wednesday Feb. 2, 2011 with The Associated Press, Kelly said his brother Mark Kelly, husband of wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is holding up well and that his sister-in-law is improving every day in rehab in Houston. (AP Photo/NASA)
This frame grab made from video taken on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 and made available by NASA, shows astronaut Scott Kelly being interviewed aboard the International Space Station. In the interview with The Associated Press, Kelly said his brother Mark Kelly, husband of wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is holding up well and that his sister-in-law is improving every day in rehab in Houston. (AP Photo/NASA)
FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2010 file photo, U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, a crew member of the mission to the International Space Station, left, accompanied by his brother, Mark Kelly, also an astronaut and husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, right, walk to the rocket ahead of the launch of the Soyuz-FG rocket at the Russian-leased cosmodrome in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The shocking gundown of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has left NASA reeling: Her astronaut husband was due to rocket away in just three months as perhaps the last space shuttle commander, and her brother-in-law is currently on the International Space Station. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)
NASA astronaut and space shuttle Endeavour Commander Mark Kelly waits to speak before a crew news conference Thursday, March 24, 2011, in Houston. The husband of wounded congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Kelly says he hopes she can attend the launch next month. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
This image provided by NASA shows astronaut Mark Kelly, STS-124 commander, as he floats in the hatch between the Harmony node and the newly installed Kibo Japanese Pressurized Module (JPM) of the International Space Station while Space Shuttle Discovery is docked with the station, on day five of the mission, Wednesday, June 4, 2008. (AP Photo/NASA)
This image provided by NASA shows eight of ten astronauts and cosmonauts currently sharing work on the International Space Station share a mealtime on the Zvezda service module. Holding beverage or food packets and partially out of frame on each side of the scene are astronauts Garrett Reisman, left, and Ken Ham, right, mission specialist and pilot, respectively, for the STS-124 mission. Others, from the left are cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko, Expedition 17 flight engineer; Sergei Volkov, Expedition 17 commander; along with astronauts Ron Garan, STS-124 mission specialist; Mike Fossum, mission specialist; Mark Kelly, commander; Karen Nyberg, mission specialist; and Ken Ham, pilot, on day seven of the mission, Friday, June 6, 2008. (AP Photo/NASA)
This image provided by NASA shows the crew of space shuttle Discovery's STS-124 mission after their arrival at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility Tuesday May 6, 2008. From left are Mission Specialist Greg Chamitoff, Pilot Ken Ham, Mission Specialist Karen Nyberg, Commander Mark Kelly and Mission Specialists Ron Garan, Mike Fossum and Akihiko Hoshide, who represents the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA. On the STS-124 mission, the crew will deliver and install the Japanese Experiment Module – Pressurized Module and Japanese Remote Manipulator System. Discovery's launch is targeted for May 31. (AP Photo/NASA/Kim Shiflett)
This photo released by NASA shows the crew from the shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station as they share a meal on the middeck of the Space Shuttle Discovery while docked with the International Space Station on Sunday June 8, 2008. Pictured counter-clockwise, from the left bottom, are NASA astronauts Mark Kelly, STS-124 commander; Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, Expedition 17 commander; NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman, STS-124 mission specialist; Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko; NASA astronauts Greg Chamitoff, both Expedition 17 flight engineers; NASA astronaut Mike Fossum, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, all STS-124 mission specialists; and NASA astronaut Ken Ham, STS-124 pilot. (AP Photo/NASA)
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, left, talks with STS-121 Commander Steven Lindsey, center, after the Space Shuttle Discovery made it's return to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Monday, July 17, 2006. From left: Griffin, Mission Specialist Lisa Nowak, Lindsey, Pilot Mark Kelly and Mission Specialist Michael Fossum. (AP Photo/Robert Sullivan, pool)
In this image made from NASA TV, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, front right, shakes hands with pilot Mark Kelly, left, as NASA Associate Administrator Rex Geveden, back right, and Commander Steve Lindsey look on after the Space Shuttle Discovery landed at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Monday, July 17, 2006. (AP Photo/NASA TV)
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, left, talks with Pilot Mark Kelly as they do an inspection of the Space Shuttle Discovery after it's return to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Monday, July 17, 2006. At right is Commander Steven Lindsey. (AP Photo/Robert Sullivan, Pool)
In this photo provided by NASA, space shuttle Discovery STS-121, Pilot Mark Kelly, smiles as he is fitted with his boots at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Tuesday July 4, 2006. Discovery's crew of seven will service the International Space Station and drop off European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter of Germany. (AP Photo/NASA)
This undated photo provided by NASA shows the The STS-121 crew members: mission specialists Stephanie Wilson; Michael Fossum; commander Steven Lindsey; mission specialist Piers Sellers; pilot Mark Kelly; mission specialists Thomas Reiter and Lisa Nowak, from left. The seven member crew is scheduled to lift off Saturday, July 1, 2006, onboard the space shuttle Discovery. (AP Photo/NASA)
STS-121 Commander Steven Lindsey, left, talks with NASA crew escape suit technician Len Groce, right, as they wait for mission pilot Mark Kelly, backround left, after flying in the shuttle training aircraft Wednesday morning June 28, 2006 at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Seven astronauts are scheduled to lift off Saturday afternoon July 1, onboard the space shuttle Discovery. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
In this image made from NASA TV,Pilot Mark Kelly is helped by NASA personnel before he boards the Space Shuttle Discovery in the White room at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fl. Sunday, July 2, 2006. The crew of seven is preparing for flight after their attempt to launch on Saturday was scrubbed due to weather.( AP Photo/NASA TV)
Space shuttle Discovery commander Steven Lindsey shakes hands with NASA public affairs officer George Diller, right, as the crew, from left, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter, of Germany, pilot Mark Kelly, mission specialists Michael Fossum, Stephanie Wilson, partially hidden, Lisa Nowak, and British born U.S. astronaut Piers Sellers arrive at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Tuesday June 13, 2007. The crew is at KSC for a dressrehearsay for the scheduled July launch.(AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove)
NASA Astronauts Scott, left, and Mark Kelly, who are twins, pose for a picture in front of a mural at Johnson Space Center in Houston March 25, 1999. In his first space flight, Scott is scheduled to pilot the space shuttle during an emergency repair run to the Hubble Space Telescope this fall. (AP Photo / Michael Stravato)
Former astronaut John Young, with cap, and astronaut Mark Kelly, right, look over a piece of space shuttle Columbia wreckage outside a hangar at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Wednesday Feb. 12, 2003. Young was the commander of Columbia on the first shuttle launch. Thousands of pieces from the space shuttle Columbia began arriving Wednesday at the Kennedy Space Center, where they will be spread out in a huge hangar and at least partially reconstructed by investigators trying to determine what went wrong. (AP Photo/NASA, Kim Shiflett)
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - When astronaut Scott Kelly embarks on a one-year space station stint next spring, his twin brother will be offering more than his usual moral support.

Retired astronaut Mark Kelly will be joining in from Earth, undergoing medical testing before, during and after his brother's American-record-setting flight.

It's part of an unprecedented study of identical twins, courtesy of the Kellys and NASA. Researchers hope to better understand the effects of prolonged weightlessness by comparing the space twin with the ground twin.

The Earthbound Kelly draws the line, though, at mimicking his brother's extreme exercise in orbit or eating "crappy space station food."

"It's not bad when you're in space," Mark said. But he won't be carrying around "a can of Russian lamb and potatoes when I'm out to eat with my friends."

As for matching his brother's 1½ to 2 hours of daily exercise, Mark replied with a mutinous chuckle, "Sure, I'll try. No problem."

This is the genetic double, mind you, of the 50-year-old astronaut who has volunteered to spend an entire year aboard the International Space Station beginning next March, along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, 54, a former paratrooper.

No American has come close to a year; seven months is NASA's max for a single human mission. The Russians, on the other hand, are old hands at long-duration spaceflight, claiming title to a record-setting 14½-month mission back in 1994-95.

"No second thoughts - I'm actually getting kind of excited about the whole idea as we get closer," Scott said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Reaction from others has varied from "'Oh, that would be really cool to be in space for a year' to 'What, are you out of your mind?'" he said with a laugh.



Scott knows what he's getting into: He spent five months on the orbiting lab in 2010-2011. He began counting down the days on Twitter in late March.

Eager to explore new medical territory, Scott offered to have a pressure sensor drilled into his skull to study the impaired vision experienced by some long-term space fliers.

He's also volunteered for spinal taps in orbit. He'll share quarters at one point, after all, with an emergency medical doctor-turned-NASA-astronaut. The space station crew typically numbers six.

"As a test pilot, I like to push the envelope on things and, in this case, I feel like I'm maybe trying to push the envelope on data collection as well," explained Scott, a retired Navy captain.

But NASA scientists insist there's no compelling need for implants and spinal taps. They admire his gung-ho attitude, though, and marvel at their good fortune in having a set of identical twins for comparison.

The Kellys represent a scientific gift, said Craig Kundrot, deputy chief scientist for the human research program at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"Not only are they the same genetically, but one is an astronaut, one's a retired astronaut. So they've followed very similar career paths. After Scott's mission is done, he'll have 540 days of spaceflight (in four missions). Mark will have 54. So exactly a 10-fold difference," Kundrot said.

"That's just an uncanny opportunity that we're taking advantage of."

NASA has selected 10 proposals for the twin study, involving the immune system, gut bacteria, reaction time, fluid shift in space and its potential connection to visual impairment, DNA and RNA molecular science, hardening of the arteries, among others. The researchers will receive a combined $1.5 million from NASA over three years.

A Stanford University sleep specialist and immunologist, Dr. Emmanuel Mignot, wants to give each brother a standard flu shot before, during and after the one-year mission. Blood draws will highlight any differences between the space twin and ground twin, and help researchers better understand changes to the body's immunity in weightlessness.

Mignot feels lucky the Kellys are "willing to be the guinea pigs for this thing."

"No one really knows what happens to the immune system in space for a long period of time and, sooner or later, people are going to need to confront this issue," Mignot said

That's the whole point of Kelly and Kornienko's one-year mission: to identify physical challenges that need to be overcome before astronauts venture to Mars and beyond.

The pair will launch from Kazahkstan aboard a Russian rocket and return via a Russian capsule. Midway through their mission, they'll have a real change of pace.

English soprano Sarah Brightman - perhaps best known for her starring role on stage in "The Phantom of the Opera" - intends to fly up as a paying passenger in a private deal with the Russians.

"It would be hard to beat her" for breaking the monotony of space, said Scott, a longtime fan of the singer.

The divorced Scott lives in Houston. For his daughters ages 19 and 10, the trip "still seems kind of far out there," he said. His 74-year-old father "seems OK with it," he added.

Mark, also a retired Navy captain with two daughters, is married to former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a 2011 assassination attempt -while Scott was on the space station. Mark commanded NASA's next-to-last shuttle flight four months after the shooting, then left NASA. They live in Tucson, Arizona.

The twin study will unite the brothers in a new way.

"It's a way for us to participate in a space flight together, which we never have done before," Scott said. And "it keeps him involved in something that he feels very passionate about."

Mark said he'd spend an entire year in space - "absolutely" - if the circumstances were different.

The next best thing is having his twin up there, while he's down here, doing his part for NASA.
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