Scott and Mark Kelly were identical twins when Scott went into space, but would they be identical when he came back to Earth 340 days later?
Researchers observed notable changes in chromosomes, cognitive function and eyesight, all of which were previously observed on other spaceflights. At a press conference not long thereafter, it was Scott who hinted that that this mission might provide the chance to compare the impact of space living on his body with his Earth-dwelling identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, who had also been an astronaut and former Navy test pilot.
The full results, published Thursday in the journal Science, showed that Scott Kelly experienced numerous physiological and chromosomal changes during his long sojourn in orbit, including changes in gene expression.
Mark Kelly served as the comparison subject for the experiment. Both are now retired as NASA astronauts, and Mark is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona.
"We're looking forward to these results serving as a guide and foundation for future studies and things we need to be aware of and look at in astronauts in upcoming longer-duration missions [going] deeper and deeper in space", Bailey said. Just how adaptable to the space environment are we? When epigenetic changes occur at the wrong time or place, the process can turn genes on or off at the wrong time and place, too. In that time, the brother's bodies - their genes, guts, immune systems, blood and brains - were part of an elaborate, multifaceted study created to teach us how spaceflight might affect human bodies.
Although it's not totally clear how cytokine fluctuation matched up with Scott Kelly's overall health, Snyder's team did find intriguing associations, such as a group of elevated cytokines that seemed to rise in parallel with a rash Kelly developed on his way back to Earth (something he talks about in his book, Endurance). However, telomeres naturally shorten as our cells divide, and so also as we age. "We were surprised", said Colorado State University telomere expert Susan Bailey.
But once he returned to Earth, she said, Scott's average telomere length shortened "very rapidly".
Supply vessels transported urine, blood and stool samples from Scott back to Earth.
The twins also performed a battery of cognitive tests before, during and after the flight and found that Scott's cognitive performance declined post-flight in terms of speed and accuracy. "You probably wouldn't do as well", Kelly said.
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"It was significantly different than how I felt after six months, I mean not even in the same ballpark", Kelly said of his previous trips to space.
"The return was much worse than the adaptation of getting up there, especially for the year flight", Kelly told reporters. "The most worrisome symptoms I had, which was swelling in my legs, the rashes, were gone after a couple of weeks".
"We saw that the vast majority, over 90%, of all these changes all returned back to baseline coming back to Earth", said researcher Chris Mason, an associate professor of genetics with Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.
He said one of the hardest problems he faced was adjusting to an unscheduled existence, in sharp contrast to life on the space station.
Researchers are planning another years-long study to build on Thursday's results.
NASA has released the results from its one-year study of twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly, and the news is encouraging. Scott's ratio between these two phyla changed while he was in space, with the ratio of these two phyla increasing about five-fold relative to his baseline.
Moreover, Scott Kelly remained in low Earth orbit under the protective shield of the Earth's magnetic field. Remarkably, the Kelly twins were individuals of similar "nature (genetics) and nurture (environment)", and so the ideal space experiment was conceived - featuring "space twin and Earth twin" as the stars.
Mark Kelly is six minutes older than his brother.
"I look younger than he does", Scott said. Einstein's special theory of relativity leads to a "twins paradox" in which someone moving at a high velocity, such as 17,500 miles per hour in low Earth orbit, ages more slowly than a twin on Earth. "He's busy running for office". I'm not anxious. I'll be on a beach in the Bahamas, and he's going to be hopefully in the U.S. Senate.