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Party for Astronaut Scott Kelly’s Return to Earth

Researchers call twin study “unprecedented NASA venture,” toast Kelly (with ‘Tang’)
  • Students invited to join Northwestern scientists and watch live NASA video feed
  • Northwestern-led team studies twins, one on Earth and one in space for a year
  • Scientists Fred Turek, Martha Hotz Vitaterna will be in attendance 

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University students and members of the public are invited to a NASA “Twins Study” homecoming viewing party on Tuesday, March 1, as astronaut Scott Kelly returns to Earth, where he and his twin brother are expected to make science history.

“This is an entirely new type of NASA study, integrating multiple data types to gain unprecedented insights into how spaceflight impacts human health and biology,” said one study leader Fred Turek, a professor of biology and director of Northwestern’s Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology.

The viewing party -- cleverly themed by the host scientists around space food like Moon Pies and Tang -- will begin at 3 p.m. and continue until after the astronauts scheduled undocking from the space station at about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 1, in the Pancoe Auditorium, 2200 Campus Drive, Evanston. All are welcome, including the general public. Space-appropriate refreshments will be served. 

The gathering will celebrate the astronaut’s return after almost a year in space and the start of a unique scientific journey for Northwestern’s Fred Turek and Martha Vitaterna, who are conducting research of identical twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly.

Scott Kelly’s twin brother, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, participated in parallel twin studies on Earth to help scientists compare the effects on the body and mind in space. 

Scott Kelly launched to the space station March 27, 2015, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and is set to return on Tuesday, March 1. He will land in Kazakhstan along with cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos. 

After landing, Kelly will hold the record among U.S. astronauts for cumulative time in space, with a total of 520 days, as well as the longest duration mission.

During the record-setting mission, Kelly participated in a number of studies to provide new insights into how the human body adjusts to weightlessness, isolation, radiation and the stress of long-duration spaceflight, which will inform plans for the Journey to Mars. 

The Northwestern-led research team is one of 10 NASA-funded groups across the country studying Scott and Mark Kelly to learn how living in space for a long period of time -- such as a mission to Mars -- affects the human body.

Northwestern scientists Turek and Martha Hotz Vitaterna, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Rush University Medical School, will explore how the space environment affects the microbiota “ecosystem” in the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

“When humans travel to space, they don't go alone,” said Vitaterna, research associate professor and deputy director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology. “Each one brings along trillions of microscopic ‘friends’ -- beneficial bacteria that inhabit our bodies. When we welcome Scott back to Earth, we will also welcome back his microbiota. We're interested in how the microbiota may have changed as Scott adapted to spaceflight.”