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To the Moon and Beyond

It could take eight months of space travel for a person to reach Mars from Earth. A round trip to Mars would mean spending about three years in space taking into account that the astronaut would need to do research and collect samples. Astronaut Scott Kelly from NASA and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko from the Russian Federal Space Agency spent 342 days in low Earth orbit. This is the longest any human has been in space. As both public and private industries plan for trips to the Moon, to Mars, and the possibility of habitation, it is crucial to understand the effect of space on the body.

A new PBS documentary, BEYOND A YEAR IN SPACE, focuses on the aftermath of the year in space. Kelly and Kornienko huddle in a capsule shooting through the atmosphere to return to Earth after a year on board the International Space Station, 250 miles above Earth, orbiting it at a speed of five miles per second. Kelly’s physical symptoms on returning to Earth’s gravity include hives as a result of his skin coming into contact with air pressure, flu-like symptoms, and pain in his feet. He notices that Earth smells, as opposed to the odorlessness of space. Kelly has a much higher probability of developing cancer than the average individual because of the constant radiation to which his body was exposed. Kelly has a twin, Mark, who also works for NASA; NASA is conducting intensive research contrasting every aspect of their physical health in order to determine the effects of space.

At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, researchers are planning for astronauts taking the three-year journey into deep space. The RASSOR is a remote-controlled robot that excavates. It is engineered with enough stability to be able to function in a low-gravity environment. Experimenting with how to grow food in space is the task of the “Long Duration Food Project.” One of the issues in zero gravity is that liquids behave differently, and so roots do not absorb water in the same way.

BEYOND A YEAR IN SPACE features the astronauts who may be the class that goes to Mars. This one-hour special will premiere on PBS on November 15, 2017. Afterwards, it will be available for streaming on PBS’s website. Kelly’s memoir about his time in space was published by Knopf in October, a month before the film’s release.

Footage courtesy of NASA