Tube Talk: A Great Adventure

Expedition 45/46 Commander, Astronaut Scott Kelly along with his brother, former Astronaut Mark Kelly speak to news media outlets about Scott Kelly's 1-year mission aboard the International Space Station. Photo Date: January 19, 2015. Location: Building 2. Photographer: Robert Markowitz

By Paula Hendrickson

There are a lot of things I could write about that are going on in television this week, from the series premiere of ABC’s new sitcom The Real O’Neals and the mid-season return of the same network’s popular drama Quantico or NBC’s mid-season debut of NBC’s Blindspot, to the seventh season opener of Spike’s reality competition series Ink Master and the series finale of PBS’s megahit Downton Abbey.

Even the Super Tuesday Primary coverage across the various news outlets promises to be interesting, inspiring, or terrifying – depending on your political view and the results.

But one of the things I’m most fascinated by this week? The new PBS special, A Year in Space.

The hour-long documentary highlights astronaut Scott Kelly’s year-long mission aboard the International Space Station. The mission, which concludes this week, is only part of a larger experiment. The special will likely explain how Kelly’s identical twin, retired astronaut Mark Kelly (who is the husband of former congresswoman Gabby Giffords), participated in from earth as both twins underwent a series of tests in an attempt to measure the long-term effects of space travel.

Along with 917,000 other people, I’ve been following Scott Kelly on Twitter, where he has posted some amazing images taken from the space station. For someone who’s spent the better part of a year orbiting the earth, he’s certainly stayed in the public eye by making the rounds of news shows and even late-night talk shows, including a bit on the live post-Superbowl broadcast of Late Night With Stephen Colbert.

We caught numerous glimpses of his time on the space station, but what was it really like to spend that long in weightless conditions? (I’d imagine gravity will be hard to get used to again. He’ll probably feel as if he’s dragging heavy weights with every step.)

Things like radiation exposure, bone density loss, muscle atrophy, even psychological repercussions from an extended stay in outer space will all be studied by comparing Scott Kelly’s pre-launch baseline measurements with his current stats, and then comparing those with similar details gathered from his brother. That unique perspective should give a good side-by-side illustration of how Scott Kelly’s post-orbit health compares with what it would have been had he remained on earth.

You might not agree, but I find this to be fascinating stuff.

Certainly more details about Kelly’s year in space will be revealed once both brothers have completed any additional tests and Scott has had a chance to re-acclimate to being earth bound once again. The information gathered should play an important role in helping NASA in plan and prepare for future multi-year journeys to Mars.

Programming Notes

A Year in Space airs Wednesday on PBS (7 p.m. on WHA-Madison or 8 p.m. on WTTW-HD Chicago; check listings for additional airings).

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