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West Orange Native With Right Stuff Signs Up for One-Year Space Mission

12-5-12

A New Jersey native is on his way to break a record for the most consecutive days in space as an American in a single mission. NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly is scheduled to man a one-year mission in spring 2015, partly so scientists can study the effects a year in space would have on a human body. Kelly spoke with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider about his upcoming mission and his New Jersey roots.

The 2015 space mission has several requirements, according to Kelly — the ability to do a space walk, be the commander of the space station and meet medical requirements. Kelly was chosen from a final pool of four astronauts for the mission.

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The thought of spending a year in space may be daunting for some, but Kelly said he will be prepared. “Having been on a six-month flight, I certainly recognize that six months is a long time, a year obviously is twice as long. So I recognize what I’m getting myself into. I recognize also that it’s two years away and I have a lot of time before I get there,” he said. “It’s going to be a unique challenge and I look forward to the challenge of it.”

Part of the space mission is to allow study of the effects of prolonged space exposure on the human body. While Kelly said that the focus of the flight will be more geared to the effects of space, it won’t be that different from other missions he has experienced. “Well even on my first flight in 1999 to the Hubble space telescope, you do certain medical experiments that are designed to measure the effect of space flight on the person and then develop techniques to mitigate those effects,” he said. “So on all my flights I’ve been a medical subject, which is the term we use.”

Kelly graduated from Mountain High School in West Orange and he praised the public school system there, saying there were many accomplished people to come out of his graduating class. “I think I owe it to the public school system in West Orange at the time for providing me with a good education and also motivation to reach beyond what I might have perceived as my limits or abilities,” he said.

Kelly’s twin brother Mark Kelly is also an astronaut and is married to former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who survived a shooting outside an Arizona supermarket in 2011. When asked what the pair’s reaction was to Kelly’s next mission, he said, “Like all my family members, they were very supportive and encouraging and thought it would be a great experience.”

In addition to giving him a great opportunity, Kelly said his trips to space also offer his friends and family a unique perspective. “It’s also a good experience for the people you leave back on the earth in some ways because they can participate in it with phone calls and video conferences so it’s, I think, something that they look forward to as well,” he said.