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NASA`s "Twins Study"
Aired April 2, 2018 - 04:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CARL AZUZ, CNN 10 ANCHOR: It`s a new day, a new week and a new month. Thank your taking 10 minutes for CNN 10 and welcome to a special edition of
our show. I`m Carl Azuz at the CNN Center.
There`s been a lot of talk about space travel in the news, a new mission to the moon, future missions to Mars, spacecraft that have traveled much
further away than the red planet. But beyond what`s technologically possible, what`s physically possible? Scientists are studying what kind of
effects space travel could have on the bodies of human space travelers.
Think about this, in six months, the average amount of time an astronaut spends onboard the International Space Station, you could never leave your
spacecraft. You can`t go outside. You can`t feel raindrops or soak in the sun.
And your body changes. Astronauts have reported problems with their vision after working in orbit. They`ve experienced back pain and weakened muscles
after missions. They`re exposed to more radiation in space than they are on Earth, increasing their risks for developing cancer. And this is for a
trip that lasts half a year.
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly spent almost twice that amount in orbit.
Preliminary results indicate that there were some changes in Scott`s genetic expression, how his genes do their work within cells and even in
after two years on Earth, they still haven`t returned to where they were before he took off. That`s just one lesson learned in NASA`s "Twins
Study", which allowed the organization to compare Scott Kelly`s health with that of his identical twin brother Mark who stayed on Earth.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Back in 2014, when I visited Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, I first met
Julie Robinson. She is the chief scientist of the International Space Station with a critical hand in the science experiments happening during
Scott Kelly`s year in space.
Another element to consider about living on the space station that long is your personal space.
JULIE ROBINSON, CHIEF SCIENTIST, INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION: These are the sleep quarters. So this is your personal space.
GUPTA (on camera): This is it?
ROBINSON: This is it.
GUPTA (voice-over): Julie showed me around the mock-up of the station, which has 935 cubic meters of livable space.
ROBINSON: You`ve got some real nice fans blowing on you at night so you don`t suffocate.
GUPTA (on camera): Can I step in here?
ROBINSON: Yes. Don`t tell anyone.
GUPTA (voice-over): Scott slept in this small compartment every night.
ROBINSON: So basically you have a sleeping bag that`s Velcro-ed to the wall.
GUPTA: NASA says astronauts sleep on average less than six hours a day, and before critical mission operations, it is even less.
Today, I met up with Julie again, this time in San Diego, for a look at what has changed since we last saw each other.
(on camera): Last time we talked, it was before this year in space. I`m just wondering, from the chief scientist perspective, what has the year
been like for you?
ROBINSON: You know, it`s been an amazing year. I have never had so much public interest in what we are doing in space from people. A lot of times
people don`t realize that the space station is up there all the time. And suddenly, everyone is aware, little kids, older ladies. I will meet
someone at a party and they`ll say, how about Scott Kelly?
So, it`s really caught people`s imagination. But I think it helps people see how the space connection connects to Mars, and it helps people see how
the space station connects to health. And those themes are so important. They really capture everything we are doing on the space station.
GUPTA: A lot of times, you`re talking about stuff that`s already in textbooks. That`s already published. But this is -- this is happening
ROBINSON: Yes, yes. We are really solving problems real time, things that we really don`t know. There`s no analog on Earth. There is nothing that
looks like the vision syndrome on Earth, and so we`ve got to solve a brand new medical problem.
GUPTA: You just have this fast laboratory where it`s happening.
ROBINSON: Right. You`ve got these incredibly healthy people that don`t have other diseases and they have this problem, and then it reverses.
ROBINSON: So the power of things like, the twin studies, if you can understand the genetics that was turning that problem on and turning it
back off, then you have suddenly got a window into health on earth that you wouldn`t get anywhere else.
GUPTA (voice-over): The Twins Study is really the crown jewel of this mission. Ten studies with ten different groups of researchers are
happening almost simultaneously, using the samples from Scott in space and Mark on Earth.
DR. ANDREW FEINBERG, PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR, TWINS STUDY: This is what we can see.
GUPTA: Dr. Andrew Feinberg is a researcher with Johns Hopkins. He`s also one of the principle investigators of the Twins Study. His focus is
FEINBERG: If you think about the area that the Twins Study was involved in, things like, say, identifying what might be the epigenetic damage to
the genome that might precede the development of mutations, it could lead to cancer risk that might open the door with way to mitigate that damage.
That has practical applications for here on Earth.
GUPTA: By studying Scott and Mark, scientists will be able to identify any links between the environment and human health.
But there is another down side in addition to the potential long-term health impacts for Scott. Because genetic information is a part of this
study, privacy could be an issue for the Kelly twins and their families. So, before anything is published, they will have the option of withholding
(on camera): Your study is going to become a well-known study. This data is going to be out there. And obviously people are going to know it is you
two, because, you know, you are the only twins that have been in a study like this at that time. Privacy -- the security of that information, just
the privacy of it, how much are you worried about?
SCOTT KELLY, NASA ASTRONAUT: I`m not worried about it for me. I`m worried about it more for my kids. Like, they could potentially see that, you
know, I`m susceptible to having this disease and based on the person and what kind of person they are, that could, you know, have a significant
effect on them or not. Maybe they would just like to know.
GUPTA: Did you have any reservations, Mark, about being in a study like this?
MARK KELLY, NASA ASTRONAUT: I realize the significance of, you know, putting that information out there. In flying in the space shuttle, there
is a lot of risks involved, and it`s a risk versus reward thing. And the reward is really for our country and for our nation.
So, same thing with the science. There might be a little bit of a downside for us. But the benefit to the space program and to the American people is
enough to make it a pretty obvious decision.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Getting ready to department the International Space Station again, wrapping up 340 days on board the orbiting laboratory.
GUPTA (voice-over): As Scott`s mission in space came to a close, there was one big part left -- reentry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And undocking has occurred.
GUPTA: Perhaps the riskiest part of space flight happens at the very end.
(on camera): You described it as going over Niagara Falls in a barrel that also happens to be on fire.
SCOTT KELLY: Yes.
GUPTA: That`s pretty scary. You know, I watched the video and, first of all, you seem remarkably composed.
SCOTT KELLY: You actually think about it, so I have made it all the way through this whole year, the launch, spacewalks, the risk of being up there
for a really long time. And I`ll tell you what, one of the riskiest parts is at the very end when you come blasting back into the atmosphere and
you`re relying on this parachute to open in this Russian Soyuz, and everything goes well when there is stuff flying by and hitting the windows,
part of the insulation that comes off and it gets hot inside.
Then as soon as the chute opens and the motions stop and you realize it didn`t kill you, it`s the most fun you have ever had in your life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scott Kelly, back on Mother Earth after 340 days in space.
SCOTT KELLY: You know, I said, even if I hated being up there for six months, maybe not a year, but even if I hated being on the space station
for six months, I would do it all over again for the last 20 minutes. It`s a wild ride.
GUPTA (on camera): When it was all said and done, Scott Kelly spent 340 consecutive days in space, from March 27th, 2015, to March 2nd, 2016, the
most of any American astronaut. He traveled more than 143 million miles and saw nearly 11,000 sunrises and sunsets. In that same time period, you
and I saw just 684. He also returned home five milliseconds younger and two inches taller, though gravity soon weighed in to shrink him back down
And he shared it all with us along the way, through these stunning photos in social media. And he`s going to continue to share with a book coming
out next year.
The results of the Twins Study will begin coming out early next year as well, and then we`ll truly begin to see the impact that this historic
mission could have on all of us.