Taking a look at astronaut Scott Kelly’s amazing year in space

New documentary catches up with "Twins Study" astronaut as NASA prepares for a future on Mars
Scott Kelly Washington, DC Visit Former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly speaks about his year in space. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Have you heard? Humans are going to Mars!

Okay, not today. But soon. Everyone from NASA and the European Space Agency to tech billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are making plans. Some are hoping to get to the Red Planet as early as sometime in the 2020s. (That's really soon!)

Before that happens, though, there are a lot of problems to be solved. Among the biggest issues? Preparing humans for the very long trip through the vacuum of space. That topic is a big part of Beyond A Year In Space, a new PBS documentary airing tonight (Wednesday, November 15) about Scott Kelly, a NASA astronaut who spent a year in space to test its effects on the human body.

Record-breaking year

scott kelly mihkail

We made it, bro! Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko celebrate reaching 300 days in space together on January 21, 2016. (NASA)

Beyond A Year In Space is the follow-up to 2016's A Year In Space, which looked at the 340 days that Scott spent on board the International Space Station (ISS) with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. This is the longest consecutive time any American has spent in space.

Scott landed on Earth on March 2, 2016, and since then the astronaut has been under careful watch by scientists. What changed about his body during his time up there?

Scientists have a special advantage in studying Scott, too. He was chosen for the mission because he has an identical twin brother, Mark. And Mark is also an astronaut!

I wonder twins...

mark and Scott Kelly

Staring contest! Astronauts and twin brothers Mark and Scott Kelly. (Robert Markowitz)

This so-called "Twin Study" with the Kelly brothers is what is known as a controlled experiment. Here's how it works.

You have twin brothers, as alike as two people can get, who both went through the same astronaut training and are in very similar physical condition. You place one twin, Scott, into space for a year. You keep the other twin, Mark, on Earth. Mark is the "control"—his experiences reflect the normal health of a human being in his natural environment. By comparing Scott's health to Mark's scientists can hopefully paint the clearest picture yet of what spending long periods in space does to a person.

Vital information

As we mentioned, a trip to Mars is going to be a doozy of an adventure! Astronauts would likely spend at least twice as long in space as Scott Kelly did. So this information is extremely important. What did NASA learn?

We're just as excited about finding out as you are. The documentary also features Jessica Meir and Victor Glover, two astronauts expected to be the first to journey beyond the Moon... and maybe even to Mars itself!

Check out the trailer below.

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