Scott Kelly
David J. Phillip  /  AP
NASA astronaut Scott Kelley listens to a question about his scheduled mission aboard the International Space Station during a briefing Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will spend an entire year aboard the International Space Station beginning in 2015. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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updated 12/5/2012 10:45:08 PM ET 2012-12-06T03:45:08

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is already bracing for an unprecedented one-year mission aboard the International Space Station. He figures it will be as grueling as climbing Mount Everest.

"It's fun when you're done with it, not while you're doing it," Kelly said Wednesday, barely a week after being named to the marathon flight along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

The mission, set to begin in 2015, is intended as a medical test bed for even longer Mars expeditions in the decades ahead.

Space station life can be routine, Kelly noted during a news conference.

"In the morning, you wake up, you're at work. When you go to sleep, you're also at work. So imagine being in your office for a whole year and you never get to leave," he said. "That is a challenge and it presents its own set of issues, but I think I'm up for it."

As for being off the planet for that long, Kelly said he already knows how he reacts to horrific news while in orbit.

During his five-month space station mission that spanned 2010 and 2011, his sister-in-law, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in an assassination attempt in Tucson, Ariz. She is married to Kelly's identical twin, Mark, who retired as a NASA astronaut last year.

"Certainly, nothing good comes out of anything like this. But as a result, I do know how I respond to something along those lines," he said.

Kelly, 48, a Navy captain, has two daughters from a previous marriage, ages 9 and 18. The youngest, Charlotte, screamed "awesome" when she learned her father was selected for the one-year mission.

Brother Mark was all for it. So was Giffords. When Mark told his wife, she said, "a year in space, that's great," Scott Kelly said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

Tears in Russia
Meanwhile, in Russia, Kornienko's wife wept at the news. The 52-year-old cosmonaut, a rocket engineer with one daughter, said he initially had some doubts about taking on such a challenge. He previously spent six months in space.

"A year is a serious time," Kornienko said in Russian. But he said his doubts did not last long, "and actually it was my initiative."

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Kelly was among four astronauts on NASA's short list for the assignment. Each had served as a commander aboard the space station, and was able to perform spacewalks and robot arm operations. Medical information also went into the selection: A crew member could not have exceeded his limit for exposure to cosmic radiation, for instance.

Kelly said he has no idea how or why he ended up being chosen. He will set a U.S. space endurance record with this mission. No American has spent more than seven months in space at a time.

Russia, on the other hand, already has experience with yearlong space travel. But it's limited to the old Mir space station, and more than a decade has passed since then.

Four Russian cosmonauts have spent at least one uninterrupted year in space. Another two came close.

The world record — 14 months in a single mission — is held by Russia's Valery Polyakov.

"They all are alive and well today. Their health status is quite good for their age," said Igor Ushakov, director of the Institute for Biological Problems in Moscow. Ushakov warned that the medical risks will be at least double what they are on the more typical six-month mission.

Considering the concerns
NASA space station program scientist Julie Robinson expects the two men to come back just fine. They will watch an assortment of multinational crews come and go during their tenure; up to six people live on the orbiting outpost at any one time.

The loss of bone mass is not nearly the problem it used to be in weightlessness because of improved exercise equipment and procedures, she said. The newest concern is impaired vision related to pressure on the brain and spinal cord; in some cases, astronauts suffer vision problems long after their flight.

In a chart held up by the director of Russia's piloted space program, Alexey Krasnov, nearly half the slots were red, indicating medical risks to eventual trips to the moon, asteroids and Mars.

"There are many things we don't know," Krasnov said. "We should take some risks upon ourselves" now before embarking on such ambitious endeavors beyond Earth's orbit.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Timeline: Space shuttle timeline

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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