Scott Kelly, Mark Kelly
Dmitry Lovetsky  /  AP
U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, a crew member of the mission to the International Space Station, accompanied by his brother Mark Kelly, right, walks to the rocket ahead of the launch of the Soyuz-FG rocket at the Russian-leased cosmodrome in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
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updated 10/9/2010 8:27:00 PM ET 2010-10-10T00:27:00

The stars may have finally aligned for the world's only space sibling team.

Astronaut Scott Kelly is circling the planet, fresh into a 5½-month space station mission. His identical twin, Mark, will join him next year, if NASA's shuttle schedule holds up.

Together, they will become the first blood relatives to meet up in space.

"It's something we hoped would happen," Mark said. "It wasn't done by design. But we're fortunate. I think it will be fun for us."

Scott is the International Space Station's next commander. He took off aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket early Friday from Kazakhstan — texting and joking with his brother right until launch. He arrived at the orbiting complex Saturday night.

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Joining Kelly for Saturday night's check-in were Russian cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka.

Mark Kelly is the space shuttle Endeavour's next commander. He's due to take off at the end of February and knock on the space station door March 1. It's currently slated to be NASA's last shuttle flight.

Don't expect any handshakes when the Kellys unite more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) up. The 46-year-old brothers — Navy captains and former fighter pilots — have never shaken each other's hands and don't plan to start just because the space station cameras are rolling.

Rather, count on embraces and even arm-wrestling when the hatches pop open between the space station and Endeavour, and the world does a double take.

For now, anyway, there's a little difference — Scott is clean shaven and Mark has a mustache.

The Kellys promise no gags or matching outfits in space. They insist they've never done any of that.

So how will they mark the historic occasion? The Associated Press posed the question in a recent interview.

"We're going to arm wrestle," replied Mark.

"I was going to say the same exact thing," said Scott.

They laughed, then speculated on which twin would win, and whether it might end up a draw, with the two rotating around each other in weightlessness.

"I'll win because I'll have more zero-G experience," Scott said.

"By that point, your bones will be like powder. Your muscles will be atrophied," Mark countered.

While there have been father-and-son astronauts and cosmonauts, decades have separated their space missions.

A husband and wife flew together in space in 1992 — Mark Lee and Jan Davis — but NASA permitted it only because they were not married at the time they were picked for the shuttle mission and had no children. They divorced several years later.

For the Kellys, it wasn't meant to come together like this.

Mark should have been up and back from space by now. Endeavour's launch had been scheduled for July, but it was delayed to make improvements to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, the primary cargo.

Between them, they have five shuttle flights. Endeavour's trip will make six.

Even if NASA had agreed to put them on the same shuttle flight, which brother would be commander and which one co-pilot? "We'd have to arm wrestle again," Mark said.

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Endeavour will have to hit its Feb. 27 launch date or come awfully close, if the Kellys-in-space reunion is to stay on track. Scott Kelly will return to Earth in a Soyuz in mid-March, brotherly visit or no.

They expect their parents — retired police officers — to be stressed out more than usual as Endeavour's flight nears, not to mention their 94-year-old grandmother, who still asks if they might prefer becoming a lawyer or dentist.

"Fortunately, my brother's the one that's going to have to deal with it because I'll be in space," Scott said.

The twins grew up in West Orange, N.J., fists constantly flying at one another. They went to different colleges, but ended up together in the Navy's 1993 test pilot school class and, on occasion, shared jet cockpits. Unable to choose between them, NASA accepted both as astronauts in 1996.

The brothers live in Houston, and each has two daughters from previous marriages. Mark is now married to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. Scott is single.

Mark will be picking up his brother's mail for the next 5½ months and paying his bills.

"Flying in space is a privilege and I try not to forget that," Scott told the AP before departing the planet. Flying with his brother will be "icing on the cake."

"It will be certainly unique, won't it?" added Mark.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Month in space: September 2010

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  1. Martian sea of sand

    Near Mars' north pole, the landscape is dominated by sand dunes forming a massive erg, or sand sea, much like parts of the Sahara Desert on Earth. In parts of the erg, sand is abundant and covers the entire surface. Here, near the edge, sand is in shorter supply and the dunes are separated by areas of lighter-toned soil. This color-coded image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was captured in July and published on Sept. 1. (NASA /JPL/ University of Arizona) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Dance of the galaxies

    NGC 5426 and NGC 5427 are two spiral galaxies of similar sizes engaged in a dramatic dance. It is not certain that this interaction will end in a collision and ultimately a merging of the two galaxies, although the galaxies have already been affected. Together known as Arp 271, this dance will last for tens of millions of years. This image, released Aug. 30, was taken with the EFOSC instrument attached to the New Technology Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla facility in Chile. (ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Crazy cones on Mars

    These Martian volcanic cones are similar in size and shape to cones found in Iceland, where hot lava has run over wet ground. The heat from the lava boils the water, which bursts through the lava flow. These steam-driven exploding bubbles of lava throw chunks of molten and solid lava into the air. A long series of such explosions is needed to build up one of the large cones. This image, released Sept. 1, was taken by a high-resolution camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Creating Curiosity

    Engineers work on the Curiosity rover at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., on Sept. 16. Curiosity, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory, is due to be launched to the Red Planet from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in late 2011. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Igor the Terrible

    A photo taken from the International Space Station on Sept. 15 shows Hurricane Igor whirling through the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of miles below. In the foreground you can see a Russian spacecraft docked to the space station. (NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Dodging a bullet

    An extreme ultraviolet image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows an exceptionally heavy plasma eruption on the surface of the sun on Sept. 8. Not to worry, though: The resulting blast of electrically charged particles missed Earth. (NASA/SDA via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Bull's-eye on the moon

    A color-coded topographic map based on data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the 580-mile-wide Mare Orientale, the largest young impact basin on the moon. This basin formed when a projectile hit the moon about 3.8 billion years ago and penetrated deeply into the lunar crust, ejecting huge amounts of material. The image was released Sept. 16 to coincide with the publication of scientific papers about LRO's mission. (NASA / Goddard / MIT / Brown) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Two flashes from Jupiter

    A fleeting bright dot on each of these images of Jupiter marks a small comet or asteroid burning up in the atmosphere. The image on the left was taken on June 3 by Australian amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley, with a fireball appearing on the right side. The image on the right was taken by Japanese amateur astronomer Masayuki Tachikawa on Aug. 20, with a fireball appearing at upper right. In a report published Sept. 9, NASA said neither event left a lasting mark on the planet. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Spiral in space

    A picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, published Sept. 7, shows an unusual spiral nebula around the star LL Pegasi, 3,000 light-years from Earth. Astronomers say the spiral shape was created by material swirling out from one of the stars in a binary-star system. (ESA / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Bootprint on Mars?

    Orcus Patera is an enigmatic elliptical depression near Mars' equator, in the eastern hemisphere of the planet. Located between the volcanoes of Elysium Mons and Olympus Mons, its formation remains a mystery. The favored theory is that the feature was created when a comet or asteroid hit the Red Planet at a shallow angle. This picture of Orcus Patera, released Aug. 27, was taken by the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. (ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. NASA's six-legged robot

    The All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer, or ATHLETE, is a prototype heavy-lift utility vehicle designed to support future human exploration of extraterrestrial surfaces. ATHLETE got a chance to flex its limbs on Sept. 15 in northern Arizona during NASA's Desert RATS field tests. (Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Practicing for Mars

    Geologists Jacob Bleacher and Jim Rice take a close look at a rock formation in northern Arizona before collecting samples on Sept. 5. The geologists took part in NASA's Desert RATS exercise, which is aimed at trying out the equipment and procedures that could come into play during a mission to Mars or other interplanetary destinations. The "RATS" in the name stands for "Research and Technology Studies." (NASA Desert RATS) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Ice sculptures in space

    Clouds of gas and dust in the Carina Nebula are sculpted into bizarre shapes by stellar radiation, as seen in this image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and unveiled on Sept. 16. The Hubble team compares the pillars to "cosmic ice sculptures." (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Project) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. New York at night

    New York City is ablaze in an image sent by NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock from the International Space Station on Aug. 28. "The City That Never Sleeps," he wrote in a Twitter tweet. "New York, New York on a clear summer night." (Doug Wheelock / NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Shooting a laser at the sky

    This image, released on Sept. 6, shows a laser beam shooting up from the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. The laser beam is used as a guide for the observatory's adaptive-optics system, which compensates for unsteadiness in the atmosphere to produce sharper astronomical images. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Thar she blows!

    A solid rocket motor that could be used on future NASA launch vehicles is tested Aug. 31 at ATK Aerospace Systems' test site in Promontory, Utah. The rocket motor burned for just over two minutes during the successful static test, producing about 3.6 million pounds of thrust. (ATK) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. The road ahead

    NASA's Opportunity rover looks across a series of sand ripples and bedrock outcrops toward the rim of Endeavour Crater on the horizon on Sept. 6. Opportunity has just crossed the halfway mark in its trip from Victoria Crater to Endeavour. The rover headed out from Victoria in September 2008. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Saturn and its children

    Four of Saturn's moons join the planet for a well-balanced portrait, released by the Cassini orbiter's imaging team on Sept. 10. Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is at lower left. Tethys is at upper right. Two much smaller moons, Pandora and Epimetheus, are barely visible near the rings. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Moon and Earthglow

    A crescent moon is just about to set below Earth's glowing horizon in a picture taken Sept. 4 from the International Space Station. The glow is sunlight scattered by Earth's atmosphere. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Twilight of the shuttle

    Photographers gather early on the morning of Sept. 21 to take pictures of the space shuttle Discovery, just after its arrival at the launch pad. Discovery is scheduled to embark on the shuttle fleet's penultimate mission on Nov. 1. The final shuttle flight, involving Endeavour, is set for launch in February - although there's a chance that one additional mission will be flown. (Scott Audette / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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