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First there's the annoying part where everyone says it was a year but the actual flight time was less than a year. It is only a year in the sense that they launched and landed in March.

But getting past that, I am having trouble deciphering all the media to understand exactly what they were studying that hasn't already been studied or proven in some way before.

First, there was the flight by the Russian cosmonaut that actually lasted for more than a year. We already know that it's physically possible. So what were we studying in that respect and why not try to beat his record instead of undercutting it substantially? Just more thorough data collection that we have available with today's technology? What does that get us?

Expanding on that we know that your body degrades from the lack of exercise required in microgravity but lack of exercise also degrades your body no matter how much gravity you are subjected to. And we know and have proven that the cure is to exercise. So was it more about trying to find the best/minimal exercise routine/equipment that works in microgravity?

The psychological aspect has been mentioned a lot too yet we have done numerous studies involving isolation in recent years and have already lived through the practicality of it through the use of boats and submarines.

Then there is the effects of radiation and microgravity on DNA replication. We have already seen radiation effects in nuclear disaster zones like Chernobyl and have done studies sending seeds and animals to orbit to expose them to these types of conditions.

And then there is whatever else I'm not thinking of at the moment. So in conclusion, what science did we gain from this expedition that helps us get to Mars?

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  • $\begingroup$ Well, Scott Kelly's case is particularly unique because he has an identical twin brother, who was also an astronaut. But I don't know the details of what they hope to compare between the two brothers off-hand. $\endgroup$ – Ellesedil Mar 4 '16 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Ellesedil i know its frustrating isnt it lol $\endgroup$ – user1886419 Mar 4 '16 at 19:31
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I am having trouble deciphering all the media to understand exactly what they were studying that hasn't already been studied or proven in some way before.

You don't want to decipher the media. The lay media does a lousy at presenting science and engineering. As Hobbes wrote in his answer, getting past the media is not that hard with just a bit of Google Fu.

What this study offers that previous studies did not include

  • Use of human guinea pigs rather than real guinea pigs (or other non-human test subjects). Sometimes animal studies translate to humans, but other times they don't.

  • An identical control. Scientists have performed controlled studies related to the deleterious effects of space on animals, this has never been done with humans.

  • Modern techniques. Sequencing the Kelly twins' genomes would have cost about \$200,000,000 dollars 15 years ago. Now its about \$2000. This five order of magnitude drop in price opens all kinds of research avenues that didn't exist in the previous millennium.

Investigators of the NASA Twins Study (and other investigators from Russia, Europe, and Japan performing related research) will collectively have conducted 383 different experiments on the Kelly twins and on Mikhail Kornienko by the time this is all over. The ten principal investigators of the NASA Twins Study their principal areas of studies are

  • Susan Bailey (Colorado State University): Differential effects on telomeres and telomerase in twin astronauts associated with spaceflight.
  • Andrew Feinberg (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine): Comprehensive whole genome analysis of differential epigenetic effects of space travel on monozygotic twins.
  • Christopher Mason (Weill Medical College of Cornell University): The Landscape of DNA and RNA Methylation Before, During, and After Human Space Travel.
  • Scott Smith (NASA Johnson Space Center): Homozygous twin control for a 12 month Space Flight Exposure.
  • Emmanuel Mignot (Stanford University School of Medicine): Immunome Changes in Space.
  • Stuart Lee (Wyle Laboratories): Metabolomic And Genomic Markers Of Atherosclerosis As Related To Oxidative Stress, Inflammation, And Vascular Function In Twin Astronauts.
  • Brinda Rana (University of California) Proteomic Assessment of Fluid Shifts and Association with Visual Impairment and Intracranial Pressure in Twin Astronauts.
  • Mathias Basner (University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine): Cognition on Monozygotic Twin on Earth.
  • Fred Turek (Northwestern University): Metagenomic Sequencing of the Bacteriome in GI Tract of Twin Astronauts.
  • Michael Snyder (Stanford University): Longitudinal integrated multi-omics analysis of the biomolecular effects of space travel.

For details, see The Twins Study: NASA’s First Foray into 21st Century Omics Research and One-Year Mission & Twins Study.


So in conclusion, what science did we gain from this expedition that helps us get to Mars?

You are jumping the gun. The NASA Twins Study is not complete and will not be complete for some time. Post-flight sample collections will occur about three months and six months after landing. After that, it will take researchers time to make sense of all of the collected results, and it will take yet more time for some of that data to be published in scientific journals. (The reason I wrote "some" is because some of the results might never be released. This is a human guinea pig study, and human guinea pigs, unlike real guinea pigs, have medical privacy rights.)

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  • $\begingroup$ There are many, many more references. A tiny bit of Google Fu suggests that one should search for "Twins study site:nasa.gov". Soon you'll find that the official name of the study is "Differential Effects on Homozygous Twin Astronauts Associated with Differences in Exposure to Spaceflight Factors", and searching for that yields even more results. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Mar 5 '16 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ I guess I'm more asking what exactly this new body of research adds to a Mars mission if we had launched for Mars instead of on this 1 year journey. That page is like I was describing when describing deciphering the media. They have all summarized that page many times but what does it all actually mean in terms of designing and executing the Mars mission. Everyone says it helps but in what ways. Like "oh we now know to design the craft like X to prevent Y thanks to Scott and Mikhail". $\endgroup$ – user1886419 Mar 5 '16 at 23:05
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    $\begingroup$ Or "we are not sure whether to choose A or B in designing the craft but thanks to Scott and Mikhail we now know to always choose B". Examples like that are what I am looking for in an answer $\endgroup$ – user1886419 Mar 5 '16 at 23:05
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Just more thorough data collection that we have available with today's technology? What does that get us?

What we had was a very small sample size (4 people). Adding to that data is valuable in itself. We also had the benefit of 30 years of advancement so we could gather better data than before. The research done on Mir was a valuable starting point. With the information gathered there, scientists could identify areas that need more study, and that has informed the research plan for this mission.

This is the first time that extensive research using exciting new techniques like genetic studies has been conducted on very long-duration crew members.

Kelly having a twin is a big help:

One of the unique aspects of Kelly’s participation in the one-year mission is that he has an identical twin brother, Mark, who is a former astronaut. The pair have taken part in a suite of studies that use Mark as a human control on the ground during Scott’s year-long stay in space. The Twins Study is comprised of 10 different investigations coordinating together and sharing all data and analysis as one large, integrated research team. The investigations focus on human physiology, behavioral health, microbiology/microbiome and molecular/omics. The Twins Study is multi-faceted national cooperation between investigations at universities, corporations, and government laboratories.

NASA's research goals for this mission are pretty easy to find.

The mission actually continues for another year, monitoring Kelly's recovery.

P.S. Radiation effects in space are rather different from conditions found on Earth (higher energies).

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  • $\begingroup$ I guess I'm more asking what exactly this new body of research adds to a Mars mission if we had launched for Mars instead of on this 1 year journey. That page is like I was describing when describing deciphering the media. They have all summarized that page many times but what does it all actually mean in terms of designing and executing the Mars mission. Everyone says it helps but in what ways. Like "oh we now know to design the craft like X to prevent Y thanks to Scott and Mikhail" $\endgroup$ – user1886419 Mar 4 '16 at 23:21
  • $\begingroup$ Or "we are not sure whether to choose A or B in designing the craft but thanks to Scott and Mikhail we now know to always choose B". Examples like that are what I am looking for in an answer $\endgroup$ – user1886419 Mar 4 '16 at 23:23
  • $\begingroup$ Your expectations are skipping a few steps. First we need a good idea of what happens to the human body. This mission's part of answering that question. When we've analyzed the findings from the mission (which will take years) we can start applying them to designing a Mars mission. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Mar 5 '16 at 9:19
  • $\begingroup$ My question is why do we need a good idea of what happens to the human body. Don't we already know enough to design a good mission? What do we need to know that we don't already. Sure there is tons that we don't know but how will knowing it help? When we did the first 1+ year mission everyone survived didn't they. Is it just our desire to be 100% when you only need to be 99? $\endgroup$ – user1886419 Mar 5 '16 at 22:51

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