Astronaut Scott Kelly landed safely in Kazakhstan early Wednesday, culminating an unprecedented yearlong mission in space.
The Soyuz capsule carrying Kelly and his roommate for the past 340 days, Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, landed at the Baikonur Cosmodrome at around 10:25 a.m. local time (11:25 p.m. Tuesday EST).
— NASA (@NASA) March 2, 2016
Following touchdown, the two yearlong spacemen were scheduled to undergo a series of medical tests. NASA wants to know the effects of a year in zero gravity on the body before committing to manned missions to Mars.
Kelly will then head to Houston with two flight surgeons and several other NASA reps, where he’ll be reunited with his two daughters, ages 21 and 12; his girlfriend, a NASA public affairs representative at Johnson Space Center; and his brother.
Kelly spent 125 more days in space than the closest U.S. contender. In all, he and Kornienko traveled 144 million miles through space, circled the world 5,440 times and experienced 10,880 orbital sunrises and sunsets.
“A really smart person said to me one time, ‘Teamwork makes the dreamwork in spaceflight,’ and spaceflight is the biggest team sport there is,” Kelly said Monday as he relinquished command of the space station. He acknowledged each of the 13 U.S., Russian, European and Japanese space fliers with whom he and Kornienko lived during the past year. “It’s incredibly important that we all work together to make what is seemingly impossible, possible.”
For NASA, that mission possible is Mars.
Scientists are hoping for more one-year subjects as NASA gears up for human expeditions to Mars in the 2030s. Radiation will be a top challenge, along with the body and mind’s durability on what will be a 2½-year journey round trip.
The choice of the pioneering Kelly turned out to be a bonanza. His identical twin, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, offered himself up as a medical guinea pig so researchers could study the differences between the genetic doubles, one in space and the other on the ground. They provided blood, saliva and urine samples, underwent ultrasounds and bone scans, got flu shots and more, all in the name of science.
Kelly has spent more time in space, altogether, than any other American: 520 days over the course of four missions. Realizing this is likely his last journey, it was “a little bittersweet” saying goodbye to his orbiting home. He’ll have plenty of pictures, at least, for the scrapbook — he posted 1,000 dramatic, color-drenched pictures of Earth on his Twitter and Instagram accounts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.