Lettuce Get Ready for Mars

Space to Ground, as narrated by NASA Public Affairs Officer Dan Huot, provides fascinating weekly video updates about life aboard the International Space Station, including that of NASA’s One-Year Mission and research focusing on the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body.

The first highlight from this August 14 video illustrates how food grown in space — red romaine lettuce, in this case — will someday supplement the diets of human crews traveling to Mars. The video also details a Russian spacewalk outside the station and describes the differences between the U.S. and Russian spacewalking suits: American astronauts don their two-piece suits much like regular clothing. Cosmonauts crawl into their suits through a hatch in the back.

The historic One-Year Mission began on March 27 when NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko were launched to the space station aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule.

In a U.S./Russian partnership, Kelly and Kornienko were each chosen to serve a yearlong mission in space — the longest mission assignment ever for an NASA astronaut. Research results of what happens to the space travelers’ bodies during this record-setting spaceflight will help NASA scientists and engineers better understand how to plan for even longer human missions to an asteroid and, eventually, Mars.

According to NASA, it typically takes robotic missions about eight months to travel to Mars. Officials are exploring ways to get human crews to Mars more quickly, but right now, it is projected that an overall mission duration would roughly range from one to three years.

With the goal of improving the health and safety of astronauts on long-duration spaceflights, the space station’s One-Year Mission is examining the physical, cognitive and psychological effects of such space travel, factoring in stress, isolation, fatigue, altered light-dark cycles, and the condition of microgravity, in which bones and muscles weaken.

Meanwhile, as reported by the New York Times, Kelly will have broken two American records when he returns to Earth next year: the longest single trip to space and the longest cumulative time in space. And Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, the current commander of the space station who flew with Kelly and Kornienko on the Soyuz capsule, has already claimed the record for total days spent in space.

Upon his scheduled return to Earth in September, Padalka will have spent a total of 878 days in space, surpassing the previous mark of 803.4 days by Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev.

Space travel records prior to Expedition 44, the current International Space Station mission (www.nytimes.com/live/international-space-station-launch/breaking-space-records):

  • Longest single trip to space: 437.7 days, Valeri Polyakov, Russia. January 1, 1994 to March 22, 1995, to the Russian space station Mir.
  • Longest cumulative time in space: 803.4 days, Sergei Krikalev, Russia (six spaceflights).
  • Longest single trip to space for a NASA astronaut: 215.4 days, Michael López-Alegria, Sept. 18, 2006 to April 21, 2007, to the International Space Station.
  • Longest cumulative time in space for a NASA astronaut: 381.6 days, Michael Fincke (three spaceflights)

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