CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – After nearly a year in orbit, America’s space-endurance champ, Scott Kelly, is just a few days away from returning to Earth — and he can’t wait.
Kelly held his final news conference from the International Space Station on Thursday. He told reporters that space is a “harsh environment,” and you never feel perfectly normal. From a hygiene perspective, he said, he feels as if he has been camping in the woods for a year. From a physical point of view, though, he feels “pretty good.”
The toughest part? Being isolated from loved ones, a situation that will pose even more of a challenge for astronauts sent to Mars.
Despite all this, Kelly said he could go another 100 days or even another year “if I had to.”
By the time he comes home, he will have spent 340 consecutive days aloft, a U.S. record. The world record is 438 days, set by a Russian cosmonaut in the 1990s. Even that will pale in comparison to a Mars expedition, expected to last two to three years round trip.
Scientists hope to learn much from Kelly’s mission to pave the way to Mars in another two decades; they also will collect data from his Russian roommate for the year, Mikhail Kornienko.
Along with Kornienko, Kelly will check out of the space station Tuesday, riding a Russian capsule back to the planet to end NASA’s longest space flight. They will land in Kazakhstan. Then Kelly will be hustled home to Houston.
The 52-year-old astronaut said he can’t wait to jump in his pool and dine at a real table with friends and family.
Kelly rocketed away last March on a research-packed mission, leaving behind two daughters and his girlfriend. He lightened things up recently by donning a gorilla suit — a gag gift from his identical twin, retired astronaut Mark Kelly — and cavorting through the station.
The brothers hope to go fishing in Alaska once things settle down.