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Environment & Science

SU Alum, Former NASA Chief Sean O'Keefe Explains Importance of Year-Long Space Mission

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maxwell.syr.edu
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  Syracuse Alumnus and former NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe is following the return of Astronaut Scott Kelly after nearly a year in space.  Now, Professor of public administration at the Maxwell School, Sean O’Keefe says the record-long flight reveals the effects of space travel on aging.

“The historic flight for Scott Kelly provided an awful lot of information on how the human body and the physiology reacts to being micro-gravity condition for an very extended period of time.”

Astronaut Kelly’s identical twin brother Mark, who is also an Astronaut, remained on earth during the 340 day journey.  O’Keefe says the two were as close to identical as one could imagine.  However, upon Scott’s return to earth, he now measures two inches taller than his brother.  

 

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Credit nasa.gov
Scott Kelly (L) spent 340 days in space with cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko

   O’Keefe says even travel to our closest planetary neighbor, just as depicted in the recent movie The Martian, might take more than a year in space.

“And so understanding the consequences of long-duration space light and what that will do to the human physiology is a pathway to understanding how we explore just the planetary system we’re in.  Forget about the solar system.”

O’Keefe says scientists have been successful at simulating micro-gravity conditions for only short periods of time on earth.  So the Space Station missions are important.    A U-S Astronaut and a Russian Cosmonaut are always on the space station…which makes it a neutral ground for diplomacy.

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Credit spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery
The International Space Station

  “So it’s a testimonial to the fact that when put into a common objective and a common mission focus, the professionalism of the astronaut corps and the cosmonauts is more than enough to get along and figure out exactly how to accomplish the goal.” 

O’Keefe concludes this space flight is another major step to understanding the universe we only dimly understand today.  He says it is a natural extension of the ongoing quest to explore here on earth.

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Former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe speaks with WAER's Anjani Iman about the year in space mission of Astronaut Scott Kelly, what was learned, and its usefulness.