ISSETs LIVE Link-up with Astronaut Scott Kelly, aboard the International Space Station

Last Wednesday, a sold out audience of 500+ people at the Greenwood Theatre, King’s College London were lucky enough to be part of a live video conference and Q&A with Astronaut Scott Kelly, from aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The momentous evening was hosted by record-breaking Astronaut Mike Foale, along with director and founder of ISSET, Chris Barber and Professor of Human & Applied Physiology at King’s College, London, Steve Harridge. The event was held by ISSET in partnership with Pint of Science and took place during our week long ‘Mission Discovery‘ Space & STEM programme.

ISS Link Up

Chris and Steve opened the night by touching briefly on Chris’ time spent with Scott prior to his launch in March earlier this year. Before long, the nod was given by Houston Mission Control to begin the video link up with the ISS. Scott appeared on screen evoking a roaring applause, but the audience were left hanging in suspense in the following moments as there was no reaction or response from him. Houston, unfortunately, had a problem.

We knew that Scott would be unable to see us on the ISS, but there seemed to be a fault with the sound. After some cutting silence, Scott reached for a second mic and, much to everyones relief, his voice was beamed through to the theatre, receiving an even greater applause. We had made contact with the Space Station. The video conference was now underway and it was a very exciting realisation.

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Director of ISSET Chris Barber asked Scott about a conspiracy theory that his twin brother Mark Kelly is actually on the ISS and not him, to which he replied:

“Well Chris…I’m pretty sure it’s me.”

The humour continued throughout the talk. When answering a question about food taste in space, Chris added that Mike Foale had been for a nice dinner earlier that evening, which produced a big smile on Scott’s face.

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Many great questions were asked during the evening, but perhaps the most poignant of all was “Has being in space changed your perception of life on Earth?” Scott answered that two things come to mind:

“One that the Earth doesn’t look all that big. There are no political borders that you can see, so it makes it seem like everyone’s kind of a citizen of one planet – planet Earth, versus any particular country. The second thing is that the atmosphere that keeps us alive is actually very thin and should be protected.

The link-up ended in style with Scott somersaulting backwards in the weightless microgravity environment to masses of applause. It was a truly memorable evening for all.

Scott is spending one year in space on the International Space Station. He and Russian astronaut Mikhail Korniyenko have been there since 27 March 2015 and the goal of the year-long expedition aboard the orbiting laboratory is to understand better how the human body reacts and adapts to the harsh environment of space.

You can watch the full video conference below:

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NASA mimics Einstein-esque paradox twin experiment

Separated for a full year, close friends of ISSET, NASA astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly will make it possible for future astronauts to travel farther than ever before, and still look forward to happy reunions when they return home.

In March 2015, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly will join cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko on a one-year mission to the International Space Station. Their lengthy stay aims to explore the effects of long-term space flight on the human body.

“We already know that the human immune system changes in space. It’s not as strong as it is on the ground,” explains Craig Kundrot of NASA’s Human Research Program at the Johnson Space Centre. “In one of the experiments, Mark and Scott will be given identical flu vaccines, and we will study how their immune systems react.”

Although NASA’s Human Research Program has been researching the effects of spaceflight on the human body for decades, these investigations will provide NASA with a broader insight into the subtle effects and changes that may occur in spaceflight as compared to Earth-based environments.

“We will be taking samples and making measurements of the twins before, during, and after the one-year mission,” says Kundrot. “For the first time, we’ll be able two individuals who are genetically identical.”

The experiment harkens back to Einstein’s “Twin Paradox,” a thought experiment in which one twin rockets to the stars at high speed while the other stays home. According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, the traveling twin should return younger than his brother—strange but true.

NASA’s study won’t test the flow of time. The ISS would have to approach the speed of light for relativistic effects to kick in. Just about everything else is covered, though. NASA’s Human Research Program recently announced the selection of 10 research proposals to study the twins’ genetics, biochemistry, vision, cognition and much more.

“Each proposal is fascinating and could be a feature-length story of its own,” says Kundrot.

 

 

ISSET meets Tim Peake, NASA’s first British astronaut

2015 will see Major Tim Peake become the first official British astronaut ever, after securing a place on the International Space Station in May 2013.

On our most recent Space Centre Experience, Tim travelled out to Boondoggles Pub in Houston to meet up with ISSET’s group of Australian postgraduate and undergraduate engineers, along with other active astronauts Scott Kelly, Tony Antonelli and Shannon Walker. The bar was packed; the Houston Tigers baseball team were on course to lose their 10th game in a row, and their fans were crammed into the space hoping to see their team break the horrible losing streak. They didn’t. By the end of the game, the bar died down, allowing the students to converse comfortably with the astronauts.

Tim has recently written an article for the Sunday Telegraph, revealing the complex training he underwent, which tested “skills such as memory retention, concentration, spatial awareness and coordination” alongside “psychological questionnaires that were to become the benchmark of this selection process – hundreds of repetitive questions, aimed at ensuring consistency of answers over a long duration”. In a Newsnight interview he said that this was probably the main criteria for his selection; “you have to be the right character, and you have to get on with people”.

Patriot: Tim in front of the Union Jack as the first British astronaut.

“Although good physical fitness is a strong attribute, the medical selection was not looking for potential Olympians,” Peake said. “Instead, it was intended to select those individuals who pose the least risk of having a medical occurrence during their career. Space is no place to become ill – and although the Soyuz spacecraft offers an emergency return to Earth in less than 12 hours from the International Space Station, this would be an absolute last resort and one that will not be available once we begin to reach out beyond low Earth orbit once again.”

He also rather poetically said that seeing the Earth from space will “undoubtedly be one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring sights” he will ever witness, and will “provide a unique perspective from which to reflect on the wonders of our universe and our place in it.”

Tim on BBC’s Newsnight last year defending the purpose of space exploration against a grumpy Jeremy Paxman.

Tim has been an instrumental figure in the resurgence of the UK space industry, and hopefully seeing a Briton orbiting the earth will inspire a lot more British astronauts. Tim said he was delighted to find that of the final 22 candidates to fly to the ISS, 5 of them were also British. Given that they had all been picked from a pool of around 10,000 Europeans, this seemed like a clear sign that attitudes towards spaceflight were changing in the UK. Now, with the government increasing their spending on space travel, and projects such as the Skylon spaceplane finally starting to come together, it truly is, as Tim says, an “exciting time” for space travel in Britain. We’re very pleased for Tim and wish him all the best on the ISS!

If you’re interested in meeting astronauts like Tim and other leading figures of human spaceflight and touring the major US Space Centres, head here to sign up!