An American astronaut has come home after spending 340 days in space.
Scott Kelly arrived in Houston today aboard a small aircraft after a Russian Soyuz spacecraft brought him and several other crewmembers from the International Space Station back to the planet’s surface yesterday.
The purpose of Kelly’s long stay in space was to examine the impacts of a low gravity environment on human health. NASA used Kelly’s Earth-bound twin brother, Mark Kelly, as a control.
During his American record-breaking stay in space, Kelly posted numerous spectacular images of Earth and space. This one is from this year’s “leap day,” Feb. 29:
Kelly saw 10,944 sunrises and sunsets during his 11-plus months aboard the ISS.
Of course, Kelly’s mission was not all about photography and videography. He also participated in efforts to grow flowers and plants aboard the ISS, an experiment aimed at assessing the viability of producing food while on the way to and from Mars.
During his time in space Kelly’s rate of aging slowed. Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson made that point in a tweet posted Wednesday:
Kelly, 52, has been an astronaut for nearly 20 years and is a veteran of two space shuttle flights and several expeditions to the ISS.
A retired U.S. Navy captain, Kelly is also a highly experienced pilot. According to his official NASA biography, Kelly has flown over 8,000 hours in more than 40 different aircraft. Those included two combat aircraft: the F-14 Tomcat and the F/A-18 Hornet. He has landed an airplane on the deck of an aircraft carrier more than 250 times.
Kelly’s twin brother, Mark Kelly, is also a retired naval officer and former astronaut. Mark Kelly is the husband of former U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was the victim of an assassination attempt in 2011.
NASA first released this image of the seven Mercury astronauts on April 9, 1959. Front row, left to right: Walter M. Schirra, Jr. (1923-2007), Donald K. “Deke” Slayton (1924-1993), John H. Glenn, Jr. (1921- ), and M. Scott Carpenter (1925-2013); back row, Alan B. Shepard, Jr. (1923-1998), Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom (1926-1967), and L. Gordon Cooper, Jr. (1927-2004).
Glenn, a former U.S. senator who also flew on the space shuttle, is the only surviving member of the group.
Image courtesy NASA.