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Year-in-space astronaut Scott Kelly packs for home but skips souvenir

Scott Kelly (left) and Mikhail Kornienko (right) are set to land back on Earth after a year in space, along with Sergey Volkov. (NASA)
Feb. 26, 2016

— Scott Kelly isn't bringing home a souvenir of his year in space.

The NASA astronaut, who has been living and working on the International Space Station since March 2015, is set to return home to Earth on Tuesday (March 1) after 340 days circling the planet. Kelly is the first American to embark on such a long mission and, together with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko is the first to stay for nearly a year at the orbiting outpost.

"I don't look at souvenirs that have been flown in space the same [way] that other people do, only because I've been in space so many times," Kelly explained Thursday (Feb. 25) in a press conference from the space station. "I absolutely understand why other people do and I respect that, but the fact that I've been here four times and well over 500 days, it doesn't have the same meaning to me."

"So, I really do not have anything personal for myself that I have flown. I have stuff other people have given me and I look forward to returning those items when I get back," he said, replying to a question from collectSPACE.

His choice to forgo his own memento aside, Kelly is busy packing for his return home. Together with Kornienko and Sergey Volkov (who has been in space since September), Kelly will depart the station and land on the snow-covered steppe of Kazakhstan on board Russia's Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft.

The descent capsule only has enough room for the three crew members and a limited amount of their cargo.

"There is not a lot of volume in the Soyuz, but we do have a lot of small items that we return," Kelly said in an earlier media interview this week. "Generally, we can bring about a kilogram and a half [3.3 pounds] of stuff on the Soyuz that are personal items and in some cases are things that people have given us."

"For me, most of the stuff I will bring on the Soyuz home is the stuff that flew up with me on the Soyuz," he said.

Although the space station has a much larger volume than Kelly's ride home — NASA likens it to a conventional six-bedroom house — the astronaut's personal quarters were just as small in comparison, a point Kelly said may need to be rethought before sending crews out on longer missions.

"Even though our crew quarters and our privacy is pretty good, I think it is going to have be a lot better," said Kelly. "Probably almost half of the time I've been here, between sleeping and working on the computer, I've spent basically in a box the size of a phone booth. So making that private area as perfect as is possible, I think, will go a long way towards reducing fatigue, reducing stress and helping for a successful mission."

Scott Kelly is photographed inside his crew quarters, where he has spent almost half his yearlong stay on the space station. (NASA)

Even in the constrained space of his crew quarters, Kelly has amassed more than he can bring home on the Soyuz alone, as supply ships have brought family care packages and logistical items, such as the clothing he has worn.

"I have been up here for a really long time and sometimes, when I think about it, I feel like I have lived my whole life up here," Kelly said.

For the items too large or in excess of what his spacecraft can carry, there is the SpaceX Dragon capsule, which has the capability to return from the space station to an ocean splashdown for recovery.

"We get to bring some items back on SpaceX," Kelly said. "We actually return garbage on the SpaceX [Dragon], too. We have to get rid of the stuff on the station somehow, so we do have a pretty significant capability to bring back stuff that you might not imagine."

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