The Kelly twins have been the subject of a rather interesting and revealing experiment by NASA, where Scott Kelly was sent to an international space station for 340 days from 2015 to 2016, while his brother, Mark Kelly, stayed on the Earth. Now both of them have been undergoing tests to observe any physiological, chemical and physical changes between them.
A preliminary report has just been released by NASA on the experiment, stating how Scott’s genes, fine motor skills, microbiome, and other aspects of his body had altered during his extended visit to space; an observation that can come in handy as NASA plans to attempt human landings on Mars.
Kelly and his year-in-space partner Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko apparently had a very hard time with “postural control, stability, and muscle dexterity” when they came back from the space, according to a NASA statement. This would make sense as well, since the crew members had been living in weightlessness for nearly a year, and didn’t have to deal with Earth’s gravity.
Another experiment showed that the astronauts’ fine motor skills were also adversely affected, meaning astronauts traveling to another planet would have trouble using computers on such long trips.
The results of the comparison of Kelly twins have also started to trickle in, showing how Scott has now developed a drastically different physiology than his twin brother. The blood samples of both brothers were taken before, during, and after Scott’s flight to space. These samples help in tracking the changes between the twin’s bodies.
One astonishing change in the Kelly brothers is the unexpected lengthening of ‘ Telomeres – the bits at the end of each chromosome in Scott’s case. The telomeres usually get short over the years as a person ages. But Kelly’s lengthening of telomeres is pinned on his diet and exercise routine on the station. Interestingly enough, once the astronaut got back on Earth, those bits shortened again.
“Telomerase activity (the enzyme that repairs the telomeres and lengthens them) increased in both twins in November, which may be related to a significant, stressful family event happening around that time,” NASA said in a statement.
Kelly’s gastrointestinal tract, which is the ratio of two groups of bacteria, also changed significantly while Kelly was in space, but, turned back to normal once he was back on the ground.
The genetic detective work has just begun, and the scientists hope that they can
“look closer to see if a ‘space gene’ could have been activated while Scott was in space,” NASA added.
While nothing is conclusive, these experiments will surely go a long way in determining the feasibility of future space exploration.
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