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Astronauts compare time on space station to trips to Mars, both real and fictional

International Space Station crew members talk with reporters on Sept. 8, 2015, including Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko, Gennady Padalka, Oleg Kononenko, Sergei Volkov, Kjell Lindgren, Kimiya Yui, Andreas Mogensen and Aidyn Aimbetov. (NASA TV)
September 8, 2015

– If Scott Kelly were on a spaceship heading out to Mars, rather than on board the International Space Station where he has been for the last six months, he would be arriving at the Red Planet just about now.

Instead, Kelly and his eight crewmates — astronauts and cosmonauts from five different nations — took time out of their day circling the Earth on Tuesday (Sept. 8) to talk to reporters about life on board the outpost and what a trip to Mars might be like for those in the future.

"I think for the folks who go to Mars — especially the first ones — it is going to be such an incredible destination and event that they are going to be really psyched up getting there," stated Kelly, reflecting on the differences between reaching the midway point of his almost year-long mission and the six months it will take future astronauts to reach the fourth planet from the sun. "I am not saying I am not psyched up for the rest of this [but] in some ways, almost being halfway through, a lot of what we are going to [do for the remainder of the mission] is very similar to what we have already done."

Enlarge and view the video in new pop-up window. (NASA TV)

Kelly, who took over command of the station's Expedition 45 crew on Saturday (Sept. 5), launched to the outpost in March along with Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka. Like Kelly, Kornienko is set to stay aboard the orbiting laboratory until March 2016, gathering medical data in support of future crewed missions deeper into the solar system, including to Mars.

Padalka, meanwhile, is set to return to the Earth on Friday (Sept. 11), landing together with Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen and Kazakh cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov, who arrived on the space station just one week ago. When he lands, Padalka will have logged a record-setting 878 days in space over the course of his five missions, more than enough time to have flown out to Mars, spent a year and a half on its surface, and then returned to Earth.

"We have a person who has been here the whole time that is getting ready to leave — Gennady — and that obviously wouldn't happen on Mars. So that [too] makes it a little bit different, with people coming and going," Kelly observed. "So I think it is hard to compare the two experiences."

"But man, I'm excited for the folks who get to go to Mars," he added.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and "The Martian" actor Matt Damon hold boarding passes showing their name is on board the Insight spacecraft launching to Mars in 2016. (NASA/20th Century Fox)

For now, Kelly and his space station crewmates, including fellow NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, may have to make do with fictional voyages to Mars like the one depicted in the upcoming 20th Century Fox film, "The Martian." Kelly and Lindgren recently called down from space to chat with the movie's star, Matt Damon, while the actor was touring NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.

"It was certainly fun for us, and from a picture of [Damon] at JPL, it looks like he was having fun as well," Lindgren said. "It is neat to think about the trip we'll have to Mars."

Lindgren said that both he and Kelly had read and enjoyed author Andy Weir's book, on which the Ridley Scott film is based, and they were looking forward to seeing the movie when it opens in theaters on Oct. 2.

"We're hopeful for a copy up here, either on the day of the release or soon thereafter," Lindgren said.

Actor Matt Damon takes a call from Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren on the space station, while NASA astronaut Drew Feustel looks on, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Mogensen, who will be on Earth by the time "The Martian" premieres, said that sometimes movies can be so realistic today that they can detract from part of the experience of first flying into space.

"I remember thinking that maybe our movie industry has ruined the moment a little because they are so good now at making high definition IMAX movies," Mogensen said. "You can actually go to a good cinema [film] that is very, very close to what we see."

But on the other hand, the European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut said, life aboard the International Space Station is so unique that it is "almost impossible to imagine what it is going to be like until you get up here."

"What's really incredible for me is a sense of being aboard this gigantic spaceship that is slowly circling the Earth," said Mogensen, recalling the hum of the station's fans as he gazed down at the world below. "It just reminds you of being aboard the Starship Enterprise and arriving at a new planet and, yeah, about to explore this new planet. So it is really cool feeling."

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