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Vol in Space

Astronaut Scott Kelly goes farther than most to make a difference.

UT alum Scott Kelly (’96) has probably flown more miles than any other Volunteer. Unfortunately, astronauts don’t earn frequent flyer miles aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Kelly was an active duty Navy officer when he entered the graduate program in aviation systems at the UT Space Institute, now part of the Tickle College of Engineering. Upon completion of his degree he was accepted into NASA’s astronaut program. His first space flight was as the pilot of the space shuttle Discovery in 1999.

Kelly retired shortly after his final space mission, which ended in March 2016. For the mission, he spent almost a full year in space aboard the ISS. He broke the record to become the American who had spent the longest time in space, with 520 total days during his career spread over two space shuttle missions and four on the ISS.

Kelly’s record was short lived, having been surpassed in September. But the more lasting importance of his final mission is the data it provided about extended space travel. During his year in space, Kelly conducted long-term experiments on the effects of space on the human body—research that is crucial as NASA plans for the possibility of sending crews to Mars. One interesting effect: Kelly was two inches taller when he returned to Earth, a result of the lack of gravity causing his spinal disks to expand.

Kelly was also uniquely qualified to participate in this research. He happens to be a twin, and his brother Mark Kelly is also a retired astronaut. No other twins have ever flown in space. During Scott Kelly’s year in space NASA conducted the Twins Study, which involved 12 universities and 10 different investigations. By comparing him to his twin brother, who remained on Earth during the mission, scientists can determine changes caused by an extended stay in space down to the molecular level.

Scott Kelly is a Volunteer who made a difference—by pushing the boundaries of the final frontier.

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