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‘Beyond a Year in Space’ Allows Us to Take a Closer Look at Space Exploration
November 15, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

One of the astronauts in PBS’s new Beyond a Year in Space documentary recalls that when she told a friend she was going into astronaut training, the friend said he thought we didn’t do that anymore and that NASA had pretty much shut down.

For quite a few years, that friend wasn’t alone.

Now, however, thanks in part to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, space has again become a fashionable place to talk about and maybe even visit.

The current discussion about Mars centers on when we will go there, not if.

In that spirit, and roundly applauding that spirit, PBS turns this Wednesday night over to the space program.

A Year in Space, documenting Scott Kelly’s (top) 143-million mile journey around the Earth – and around, and around – will rerun at 8 p.m. ET (check local listings).

The sequel, Beyond a Year in Space, airs at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings), followed by a rerun of The Farthest – Voyager in Space from 10 p.m. to midnight ET (check local listings).

That’s a lotta space, but we probably need to remember that it’s still a challenging mission to rev ordinary folks up about the prospect of exploring other planets.

The adventurers among us have always cherished that dream. But we got to the moon in the 1960s because regular old folks from the farms and the factories bought into it, supported it and made American heroes out of the men –they were all men in those early days – who climbed into tiny capsules and let themselves be blasted into outer space.

We’ve passed that “Holy Toledo!” phase, but Beyond a Year In Space reminds us that the science going forward is equally challenging.

Beyond a Year In Space incorporates a lot of NASA and space exploration material, so much that we can almost see an iridescent “Yes, We Can!” sign subliminally blinking behind it.

Today’s astronauts talk about how they were inspired by earlier flyers. We’re reminded that the first astronauts almost all began as “top guns,” pilots who had flown for years in the newest, fastest and coolest planes.  

That part is a refresher course in the original astronaut dream, the exhilarating belief that once technology reached a certain point, there was no reason humanity should be confined to its home planet, any more than the European explorers were confined to Europe or America’s Westward pioneers needed to stay in the East.

On a less lofty level, the nuts and bolts of Beyond a Year In Space revolve around what effect all that time in space had on Kelly, and by extension anyone who spends a long time in a space capsule.

After Kelly returned from his 342-day voyage and scientists descended on him, he found that at first, his vision changed. His feet were tender from being out of service for a year. He developed flu-like symptoms and a hives-like rash, the latter because his skin had become sensitive to Earth air.

Mundane as this all might sound, it’s critical information for anyone who might board a spacecraft to Mars, a journey more than twice as long as Kelly’s voyage.

What kind of exercise and training equipment can be developed, for instance, so astronauts don’t lose muscle tone? If an astronaut arrives on Mars, stumbles and breaks a hip, the outcome would not be good.

Kelly also talks about the psychology of spending that long in that small a place.

He liked the time, he says, and he’s convinced it will provide critical data for future space travelers. At the same time, on day 343, he was ready to go home.

Beyond a Year In Space also touches on one other matter that the documentary doesn’t emphasize, but which is hard to miss.

Kelly’s mission was a joint effort between the U.S. and Russia, so Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Korniyenko was in the ship alongside him the whole time. When they returned, they landed in Kazakhstan.

Seems that when a couple of big countries see each other as partners, not rivals, we can get some pretty impressive things done.

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David's final element in this story gives the exercise some purpose otherwise I don't think the US should spend $ .45 on space exploration
Nov 15, 2017   |  Reply
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