Why NASA just booked one of the longest spaceflights in history

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Dec 17, 2012

We've been sending humans into space for a little more than half a century now, but in terms of sheer endurance we've never attempted something this ambitious before. In three years, NASA will launch one of the longest spaceflights in human history to the International Space Station. So how long is it?

One American astronaut and one Russian cosmonaut will blast off to the ISS in the spring of 2015 for a one-year mission, about double the time astronauts spend on the station right now. Participants in the mission will join an elite club of humans with that much time in space, and it's all part of an experimental mission to test astronaut endurance for the future of human exploration.

"In order for us to eventually move beyond low-Earth orbit, we need to better understand how humans adapt to long-term spaceflight," said NASA's Michael Suffredini, International Space Station program manager. "The space station serves as a vital scientific resource for teaching us those lessons, and this year-long expedition aboard the complex will help us move closer to those journeys."

Rumors of the mission have been circulating for months, but NASA finally confirmed the flight in an announcement on Friday. Now we're left to speculate which astronauts will be named to make the flight, and who might take up the third spot on the three-seat Soyuz capsule that will take the astronaut and cosmonaut to the ISS.

Over the last 12 years scientists have learned a great deal about how spaceflight affects human vision, bone density, muscle mass and more, all thanks to lengthy stays on board the ISS. But now it's time to up the ante. Based on some plans, a flight to Mars and back will take about two years, so it's about time we start pushing the endurance envelope if we want to make it to the Red Planet within the next 20 years.

"We have gained new knowledge about the effects of spaceflight on the human body from the scientific research conducted on the space station, and it is the perfect time to test a one-year expedition aboard the orbital laboratory," said Julie Robinson, NASA's program scientist for the International Space Station. "What we will gain from this expedition will influence the way we structure our human research plans in the future."

The two participants in the historic mission will become only the fifth and sixth people in human history to spend a year in space, and whoever the American is will be the first NASA astronaut to attempt the feat. The current record holder for longest human space flight is Russia's Valery Polyakov, who spent 437 days on board Russia's Mir space station in the mid-'90s. Russian Sergei Avdeyev is in second place with 379 days, and fellow Russians Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov are tied for third with 364 days each. All of those records were set on board Mir. The longest American spaceflight, which is also the longest on board the ISS so far, was made by astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who arrived at the ISS in September 2006 and stayed for 215 days.

(Via Huffington Post)