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May 28, 2014

Identical twins offer up selves for space science

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — When astronaut Scott Kelly embarks on a one-year space station stint next spring, his twin brother will be offering more than his usual moral support.

Retired astronaut Mark Kelly will be joining in from Earth, undergoing medical testing before, during and after his brother's American-record-setting flight.

It's part of an unprecedented study of identical twins, courtesy of the Kellys and NASA. Researchers hope to better understand the effects of prolonged weightlessness by comparing the space twin with the ground twin.

The Earthbound Kelly draws the line, though, at mimicking his brother's extreme exercise in orbit or eating "crappy space station food."

"It's not bad when you're in space," Mark said. But he won't be carrying around "a can of Russian lamb and potatoes when I'm out to eat with my friends."

As for matching his brother's 1½ to 2 hours of daily exercise, Mark replied with a mutinous chuckle, "Sure, I'll try. No problem."

This is the genetic double, mind you, of the 50-year-old astronaut who has volunteered to spend an entire year aboard the International Space Station beginning next March, along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, 54, a former paratrooper.

No American has come close to a year; seven months is NASA's max for a single human mission. The Russians, on the other hand, are old hands at long-duration spaceflight, claiming title to a record-setting 14½-month mission back in 1994-95.

"No second thoughts — I'm actually getting kind of excited about the whole idea as we get closer," Scott said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Reaction from others has varied from "'Oh, that would be really cool to be in space for a year' to 'What, are you out of your mind?'" he said with a laugh.

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