Photo credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA
By Jeffrey Kluger
It would take a brave astronaut to eat the dates, raisins and sweetened dough they serve up during the welcome home ceremony at Zheskagzan airport in Kazakhstan. Dates, raisins and sweetened dough would surely look good to a space station crew member who has just put in the average six-month hitch in orbit—to say nothing of Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko after nearly a full year.
But what an astronaut’s stomach says and what an astronaut’s otoliths say are two different things, and when you’re back on Earth and feeling the tug of gravity after a long period in weightlessness, it’s the otoliths—the little stones of floating calcium in the inner ear that govern balance and motion sickness—that rule.
For that reason, nobody ate a bite as Kelly, Kornienko and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Volkov, who only two hours before had landed in the steppe in their Soyuz spacecraft, were helped to their chairs in the airport receiving area, while Kazakh, Russian and American dignitaries applauded, a fusillade of cameras flashed, and four young women in traditional Kazakh costume—long, bright, yellow and green dresses with bright green head pieces—brought in the traditional foods.
There were other gifts too for the men who had begun their day 250 miles overhead, circling the planet once every 88 minutes. There was a medal for Volkov, who had commanded the spacecraft on its return. There were Russian nesting dolls with the likeness of each astronaut painted on the front.
And for Kelly, who has now flown four missions and holds the American record for longest unbroken stay in space, there was the inevitable question: “Would you consider going back?”
His answer was succinct: “I would always consider flying in space,” he said, “no question.”
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