Right now, as you read this, astronaut Scott Kelly is whizzing above your head at 17,150 miles per hour. In 92 minutes, he’ll be back where he started, having circumnavigated the planet. Along with the rest of the rotating crew aboard the International Space Station, Kelly orbits Earth nearly 16 times every day – and lucky for us, he’s known to take a photograph or two along the way.
Having recently surpassed the record of 382 days above Earth, previously held by NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, Kelly has officially spent more time in space than any person in American history – and he’s only halfway through his current mission.
“What a journey it has been,” he writes on his blog. “A year really is a long time … a long time to never be able to go outside, or feel the sun on your face, or to see your family through anything besides a computer screen. But a mission to Mars is even longer, and the work we’re doing right now is a huge leap in reaching the goal of sending humans to walk on the Red planet. And the view isn’t half-bad either…”
Kelly has long been documenting his year in space – as seen through the windows of the ISS Cupola – but his latest photo series, #EarthArt, includes some of the most visually stunning images of our planet ever taken from orbit. When the only thing separating you from the great, expanding forever is a pair of rubber O-Rings, we can see how scenes like these would bring peace of mind.
The crew will conduct over 400 different experiments during Kelly’s stay aboard the ISS – we’ve already seen them eat the first space lettuce –many of which involve Kelly’s body as the main source of data. “For many of them, I am the experiment,” he explains. “Scientists are observing the changes in my body over a year to learn how to live in space longer, all so we can travel farther into [it].”
Eating his leafy greens isn’t the only first Kelly will experience on this mission: in just a couple of weeks he will venture into the vacuum for his first ever spacewalk. “I’m looking forward to that and the challenges it brings, of course. I am also looking forward to completing this mission safely and successfully, and with the same energy and enthusiasm at the end of a year as I had when I started.”
At the conclusion of his year-long mission, when he plummets back to Earth in the Soyuz capsule, Kelly will have logged 522 total space days – but his eyes remain on the future. “Records are made to be broken,” he says. “I look forward to one of my colleagues surpassing my 500+ days on our journey to Mars!”
You can watch Kelly break the US spaceflight endurance record in the video above, which recounts some of the memorable moments that have led he and his partner, Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, to their current place among the stars.
“I think the thing I look forward to the most, when it’s time to come back to Earth in March (besides seeing family) is just going outside,” he says. “I have seen the Earth in all its beauty while orbiting around it, but it will be nice to just be able to get outside and feel the breeze on my neck.”
Where is the ISS? Track it here.
IMAGES: Scott Kelly, NASA