scott and mark kelly
April 12, 2014

NASA To Study If Space Travel Makes Twins Biologically Different

[Watch The Video: NASA To Study Twins On Earth And In Space ]

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The world’s only twin astronauts will take center stage in an upcoming NASA experiment that will analyze whether or not identical siblings remain the same biologically if one travels to outer space while the other remains on Earth.

According to the US space agency, astronaut Scott Kelly will be participating in a one-year mission to the International Space Station starting in March 2015. His mission is designed to analyze the impact of long-term space flight on the human body – but there’s more to it than that.

Like his twin brother Scott, Mark Kelly was also an astronaut before he retired. While Scott Kelly spends 12 months orbiting the Earth at speeds of approximately 17,000mph, his brother will remain with his feet firmly planted on terra firma. Basically, Scott with serve as a test subject, while Mark will stay behind as a control.

“We will be taking samples and making measurements of the twins before, during, and after the one-year mission,” Craig Kundrot of the NASA Human Research Program at Johnson Space Center explained in a statement. “For the first time, we'll be able two individuals who are genetically identical.”

The experiment finds its origins in Einstein’s “Twin Paradox,” in which the theory of relatively suggests that a twin traveling on a high-speed rocket to the stars would actually return from his or her voyage younger than the sibling that remains on Earth. However, the NASA experiment will not analyze the flow of time, but will investigate the twins’ genetics, biochemistry, eyesight, cognitive ability and more.

“Each proposal is fascinating and could be a feature-length story of its own,” said Kundrot. “We already know that the human immune system changes in space. It's not as strong as it is on the ground. In one of the experiments, Mark and Scott will be given identical flu vaccines, and we will study how their immune systems react.”

A total of 10 research areas will be investigated, including one studying the little molecular DNA endcaps also known as telomeres. NASA researchers believe that telomere loss could be accelerated by the action of cosmic rays in space, and comparing them in the Kelly brothers could tell if space radiation is prematurely aging astronauts.

Likewise, the project will analyze a microbiome in the human gut that is essential to human digestion, determining whether or not space travel has an impact on these internal bacteria. Another study will look to discover why astronauts returning to Earth to find that their vision has changed and their old corrective lenses no longer work.

“These will not be 10 individual studies,” Kundrot said. “The real power comes in combining them to form an integrated picture of all levels from biomolecular to psychological. We'll be studying the entire astronaut.”