ASTROBOYS

THE KELLY BROTH­ERS HAVE SPENT THEIR FAIR SHARE OF TIME IN SPACE, MOST OF IT AC­COM­PA­NIED BY A BREITLING – MAKER OF THE FIRST SWISS WATCH IN OR­BIT AND STILL THE ASTRO­NAUT’S CHOICE.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY JONATHAN LOB­BAN K POR­TRAIT MARCO GROB

Af­ter spend­ing 340 con­sec­u­tive days in space, the first thing Amer­i­can astro­naut, Com­man­der Scott Kelly, did af­ter touch­ing down on terra firma on March 2 last year was to “jump in my swim­ming pool in the back yard of the house … and have a Vegemite sand­wich”. He’s jok­ing about the Vegemite, he tells WISH from his home in Houston. “But, you know, even though the pool was heated I got very cold … I hadn’t been sub­merged in water for a year. So it was quite re­fresh­ing but I quickly got a lot colder than I ex­pected. It was some­thing phys­i­o­log­i­cal go­ing on there.”

If future gen­er­a­tions of hu­mankind are, as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk hopes, to live and “die on Mars, just not on im­pact”, we’ll have a lot to thank Kelly for. The New Jer­sey-born former Navy pi­lot spent al­most a year liv­ing in the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion with Rus­sian cos­mo­nauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov. The trio were guinea pigs in the ul­ti­mate long-haul ex­per­i­ment, track­ing what NASA calls the “phys­i­o­log­i­cal, neu­robe­havioural and molec­u­lar” ef­fects of pro­longed space travel on hu­mans. With the travel time from Earth to Mars in Musk’s future SpaceX rock­ets es­ti­mated at six months, it was a mission of ex­is­ten­tial sig­nif­i­cance for our species: be­fore we seek to colonise Mars, will we sur­vive the jour­ney there?

Scott Kelly and his iden­ti­cal twin brother, Mark, also took part in a sep­a­rate NASA-spon­sored twins study. Mark, a former astro­naut, stayed behind in the US as a con­trol so sci­en­tists from 10 in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing Johns Hop­kins, Stan­ford, Har­vard and Cor­nell, could com­pare data be­tween the broth­ers. “I would think it’s months be­fore we start hear­ing some in­ter­est­ing stuff about me be­ing in space for a year and that I am bet­ter than my brother in all ways,” Scott drawls.

WISH is talk­ing to the Kelly broth­ers thanks to the in­volve­ment of Breitling, the 133-year-old Swiss watch­maker that spe­cialises in time­pieces for avi­a­tion, and now space ex­plo­ration. (Breitling claims its Nav­itimer Cos­mo­naut worn by US astro­naut Scott

Car­pen­ter in 1962 was the first watch to go into or­bit.) Both Kelly twins wore Breitling watches on their space mis­sions, in­clud­ing Scott’s year in space.

Mark wore Breitling’s Emer­gency, with in-built dual fre­quency bea­con that sends the wearer’s GPS co­or­di­nates to SARSAT (Search and Res­cue Satel­lite Aided Track­ing), on three of his mis­sions. “The best thing about that watch is you have a search bea­con at­tached to your body, par­tic­u­larly when you gotta jump out of a space craft at 30,000 feet, slide down a pole and hope that ev­ery­thing goes right. You’re not even guar­an­teed to end up with all your sur­vival equip­ment. For me it was re­as­sur­ing to know that un­less my arm got ripped off, it [the Emer­gency] was very likely to be with me.

“If you were to go out there and ask the pi­lots in the United States Navy or as­tro­nauts what watch they want to be wear­ing for their job, it’d be rare to get an an­swer other than Breitling.”

Scott, who owns five Breitling watches, wore the Nav­itimer 1461 Black­steel lim­ited edi­tion chronome­ter and the Breitling Cos­mo­naut and Aero­space at the sta­tion – a gift from his brother. “We have a sched­ule that [times] us down to five-minute in­cre­ments, so when you’re in space on the space sta­tion liv­ing there you’re look­ing at that watch much, much more than you look at a watch on earth.”

Scott says the big­gest bi­o­log­i­cal hur­dle future space travellers will have to nav­i­gate in zero grav­ity is the loss of bone den­sity and mus­cle. “Our phys­i­o­log­i­cal sys­tem is very smart,” he says. “It recog­nises that our skele­ton, which sup­ports our struc­ture for the most part and helps us move around, is no longer re­quired, so it gets rid of our bone mass. The cal­cium in our bones is re­leased into our sys­tem and it’s just uri­nated out. It recog­nises we don’t need as much mus­cle mass, so you lose that [too].” Both prob­lems can be mit­i­gated with ex­er­cise. “We ex­er­cise an aw­ful lot to pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing.”

Brother Mark, who has flown four pre­vi­ous NASA space mis­sions, agrees that grav­ity re­mains the big­gest bar­rier to future Mars com­mutes. “Maybe they could keep some­one in space for a cou­ple of years, but then they’re go­ing to start to have prob­lems. They’re go­ing to

“When you’re on the space sta­tion you’re look­ing at that watch much, much more than you look at a watch on earth.”

Scott Kelly, in space­suit, and Mark Kelly, with mous­tache, were part of a twins study on the phys­i­o­log­i­cal ef­fects of pro­longed space travel.

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