NASA launches its first year-long space mission

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (top), NASA astronaut Scott Kelly (center), and Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka (bottom) waved farewell on Friday.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko blasted off on Friday for a year-long mission, as scientists eye Mars for a manned landing. Back in 1969, Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to step on the Moon, in the legendary Apollo 11 spaceflight. Decades later, scientists are puzzling out the long-term effects of space on the human body, to reach the Red Planet. That’s why Kelly and Kornienko are going to push themselves to the limit! After boarding a Soyuz rocket at the Baikonur Cosmodrone, the world’s oldest launch facility, these two brave men rocketed away to the International Space Station 250 miles above Earth.

Normally, missions to the space station last 6 months, but this one will last 342 days. That’s practically a year of living in space! Staying up that long among the stars is known to cause loss of bone and muscle mass, vision problems, and a weaker immune system (our body’s disease-fighting defenses). While this trip won’t break the 1995 record of 438 days by Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, Kelly will become the first American to spend 12 consecutive months in space. It will also be the longest that anyone has ever stayed at the International Space Station by almost 5 months.

asteroid impact
Evidence of a “doomsday” asteroid impact was found in Australia, two times bigger than the dinosaur extinction impact!

The biggest asteroid crater ever has been discovered in Australia, smashed by an ancient apocalyptic rock 2 times bigger than the one that wiped out dinosaurs! Small rocky bodies called asteroids float around in space, and once they enter a planet’s atmosphere, they become known as meteors. If a meteor hits the ground, it’s called a meteorite. Deep beneath Australia, 19 miles down where the rock is 300 to 600 million years old, scientists identified a 250-mile wide impact zone. That’s roughly the distance from Los Angeles, California to Las Vegas, Nevada. How does that compare to the asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs about 66 milion years ago? Well, the “Chicxulub” crater in the Gulf of Mexico is 110 miles wide and was caused by a single asteroid about 6 miles across. The one in Australia was a double impact event, with two asteroids that size! I wonder if there were even weirder… older creatures than dinosaurs that got wiped out then?

solar system
Jupiter carved a path of destruction through super-Earths.

Jupiter may seem like a friendly gas giant, but scientists now believe it may once have destroyed super-Earths in the early years of our Solar System. Apparently, the inner solar system was once filled with planets bigger than Earth but smaller than Neptune, which has enough volume to fit about 57 Earths. Then, there’s Jupiter… which can fit about 1,321 Earths! This huge monster stomped around like a galactic brontosaurus, sending the super-Earths to a fiery death in the Sun. In fact, this event may also have laid the groundwork for lots of the surviving planets in our neighborhood, like Venus and Mars.

If you want to travel “to infinity and beyond” like Buzz Lightyear, get ready for Zero2infinity’s space balloons, taking passengers closer to the stars. While Virgin Galactic tweaks its passenger spaceship, following a tragic accident last year, other companies like Zero2infinity are looking to use balloons instead. These near-space inflated ships are called “Bloons”, and they’ll rise 22 miles high, which isn’t quite the 62 miles needed to reach space. Compared to regular airplanes, though, it’s impressive, since commercial flights usually don’t fly above 5 to 7 miles.

Images courtesy of NASA.