LEGO minifigures of the Expedition 46 crew are now on board the International Space Station.
Image: Scott Kelly and other members of the Expedition 45 crew watch "The Martian" on the International Space Station. Credit: Scott Kelly (Twitter)
Scott Kelly is a NASA astronaut working for a year in space on the International Space Station. Does he have the stuff of "The Martian,"the highly anticipated Matt Damon movie to be released on Oct. 2
, chronicling the life of a stranded astronaut on the surface of Mars? While Kelly certainly isn't on his own in space, much of the work he is doing would be useful for a trip to Mars. Here are some of the things the astronaut is working on that Mark Watney (Damon's character in "The Martian") would appreciate.MORE: NASA's Ultimate Space Twin Experiment
Image: An aurora that Scott Kelly and crewmates observed from the International Space Station in September 2015. Credit: Scott Kelly (Twitter)
The sun goes through an 11-year cycle of activity, and we are just past the peak of one of those cycles. The solar peak is a time when the sun unleashes more flares and coronal mass ejections (charged particles). When these particles hit the Earth's magnetic field, they can produce spectacular auroras.But they also can give astronauts a higher dose of radiation.
The space station monitors radiation levels for astronauts close to Earth; in fact, one of the reasons Kelly was selected for this mission was he did not exceed the lifetime radiation levels allowed for astronauts. Radiation is expected to jump for those travelling outside of Earth's magnetic influence. Mars doesn't have much magnetic field to speak of, and the Curiosity mission is monitoring radiation levels on the surface to get more information for future human missions.MORE: Killer Radiation: How to Protect Martian Astronauts
Image: Scott Kelly frequently tweets pictures of Earth observations. Many astronauts have cited looking at our planet as a psychological boost during long missions. Credit: Scott Kelly (Twitter)
Working in space is a harsh business. You're busy all the time, you're stuck in a small environment with several people, and your family and friends are far away. NASA keeps close tabs on its astronauts' psychological health through measures such as doctor calls with astronauts, andhaving the astronauts keep journals
during their missions. This will especially be important for Mars, as astronauts will need to be even more self-sufficient due to the time delay in communications between planets. NASA hasan ongoing comm delays study
for astronauts doing simple tasks; these tasks and their effects on astronauts will be studied as the station work continues.MORE: Space Radiation May Harm Astronauts' Brains
Image: Kelly responds to health questions via Twitter.
Microgravity is hard on your body. NASA has its astronauts exercise for a couple of hours a day, which seems to help counteract bone loss for missions of six months. But what about a year, or longer? That's part of what Kelly's mission is supposed to answer. Bones aren't the only things to worry about, either. Muscles shrink, eye pressure increases, your sense of balance changes. Even your immune system may be affected, something thatNASA is also looking at
in detail. So while we think of astronauts as boldly doing spacewalks and experiments on station, understand that they are also part of the experiment. Their very health is being watched for the benefit of future space missions.MORE: Space Missions Turn Astronauts' Hearts Spherical
Image: Scott Kelly poses next to a group of fruit in August 2015. Credit: Scott Kelly (Twitter)
While Watney develops a certain affection for potatoes, Kelly recently posted a picture of himself looking pretty pleased next to a floating pile of fruit. It turns out that little comforts do go a long way for astronaut morale, and any nutritionist would tell you that a varied diet of healthy foods is good for you -- not just the freeze-dried stuff the Apollo astronauts survived on during their missions. NASA has an experiment in place to see how wellastronauts are meeting nutritional requirements for their work on station
, and also for their long-term health.MORE: Real NASA Space Tech in 'The Martian'
Image: The space station crew sample ISS-grown lettuce for the first time in August. Credit: NASA
Astronauts are very tied to shipments from Earth right now in terms of eating ... but that is changing in a small way.Thanks to an experiment called Veggie
, astronauts got to taste some food grown aboard the space station this summer. Lettuce, of course, does not an entire meal make. But as the movie Contact (1997) reminds us, it's through "small moves" that we learn about science. The hope is eventually this experiment will translate into a better way of harvesting crops beyond Earth. For Mars, we're even wondering how viable the soil could be to support plants.MORE: 'Smart' LED Farming Could Make Space Veg Viable
Image: Kelly in a module of the International Space Station. Credit: Scott Kelly (Twitter)
"#ILookLikeAnEngineer on @space_station. Also a scientist, medical officer, farmer & at times a plumber," Kelly wrote with this image in August. What's more, he has to do all those things in a small space. Since every pound hoisted to space costs money, astronauts are accustomed to working in claustrophobic quarters. But NASA, concerned about its astronauts' efficiency and happiness, also has anexperiment that is supposed to look at how best to construct a living space for astronauts
. That way, the habitats designed for Mars will be suitable for long-term living.MORE: Why 'Space Madness' Fears Haunted NASA's Past
Image: Scott Kelly, right, in 2011 with the Russian astronauts Oleg Skripochka, left, and Aleksandr Kaleri after six months aboard the International Space Station. Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA
During a recent Twitter chat, Kelly was asked if he wanted to go to Mars. He said yes, as long as he could return. Getting to Mars and back will take hundreds of days of transportation, let alone the time on the surface. The gravity on Mars is less than 40% what we experience here on Earth. And unless spacecraft design changes substantially, the astronauts will be in microgravity on the way there and back. NASA has an experiment to seehow well (or badly) astronauts work on the surface shortly after landing
, an experiment that Kelly is participating in. This will be important not only for returning to Earth, but seeing how well a crew can get adapted to Mars after being in microgravity for the transit.MORE: 3D-Printed Bubble House Made for Mars
Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko, the first astronaut and cosmonaut to log a year on the International Space Station, left a little bit — or rather a little version — of themselves on the orbital outpost before returning to Earth on Tuesday (March 1).
As revealed by their crewmate Tim Peake of the European Space Agency, Kelly and Kornienko had LEGO minifigures of themselves and their crewmates on the station, courtesy of the British astronaut.
"Farewell Expedition 46 – an honour and privilege to serve with such great crewmates," Peake wrote, sharing a photo of the LEGO crew – which in addition to Kelly, Kornienko and himself, also included minifigures of NASA astronaut Tim Kopra and cosmonauts Yuri Malenchenko and Sergey Volkov of Roscosmos. [LEGOs and Space Travel: A Photo Gallery]
Kelly, Kornienko and Volkov landed in Kazakhstan aboard Russia's Soyuz TMA-18M capsule on Tuesday night. Their touchdown marked the end of Kelly's and Kornienko's 340-day mission and Volkov's six months on the space station.
It also marked the end of the 46th expedition to the station. Peake, together with Kopra and Malenchenko — and their mini LEGO doppelgängers — now continue on as members of the Expedition 47 crew.
All six of the Expedition 46 LEGO minifigures are clad in the Russian Sokol pressure suits that the real crew wore to launch and land from the space station. Each features an expedition or Soyuz mission patch, the logo of their space agency, the flag of their nation and a name tag.
The minifigures were also customized to match hair styles (Kelly is bald so the minifigure exposes LEGO's trademark peg), facial hair (Kornienko's figure features his mustache) and hair color (Peake is a ginger).
Two of the crew's minifigures also include props.
LEGO Scott Kelly has a scale version of the Dec. 29, 2014 issue of TIME magazine that featured the real astronaut on its cover.
And LEGO Tim Kopra has a photo of the astronaut gifting a flown-in-space hockey jersey to Nashville Predators NHL player Pekka Rinne in March 2015.
The Expedition 46 crew is the second to share the orbiting laboratory with 2-inch-tall (5 cm) LEGO minifigure versions of themselves. Expedition 42 crew members Terry Virts of NASA, cosmonaut Anton Shklaperov and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA were the first to reveal their own LEGO counterparts on the station in January 2015.
In both cases, the custom LEGO minifigures were created by Minifigs.me, a UK-based toymaker.
Since 2015, the company has been offering customizable cosmonaut minifigures for sale. In December, Minifigs.me first announced they had made LEGO minifigures for their country's first "official" astronaut.
"Tim Peake asked us to make them as gifts for his fellow crew members and took them up with him," the toymakers wrote on Facebook.
Minifigs.me has also produced LEGO minifigures modeled after Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and the Apollo 13 crew, together with their flight director Gene Kranz.
The LEGO Group was not involved in Minifigs.me's space-inspired or flown-in-space minifigures, although separately the Danish company has collaborated with NASA and ESA to fly its kits and figures to the space station and on board planetary probes as part of educational partnerships.
See more photos of the Expedition 46 crew's LEGO minifigures at collectSPACE.com. Follow collectSPACE.com on Facebook and on Twitter at @collectSPACE. Copyright 2016 collectSPACE.com. All rights reserved.
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