October 10, 2010 in Nation/World

Identical twins may double-up in space

Marcia Dunn Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Astronaut Scott Kelly, accompanied by his brother Mark Kelly, right, walks to the rocket before the launch of the Soyuz-FG rocket in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on Friday.
(Full-size photo)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The stars may have finally aligned for the world’s only space sibling team.

Astronaut Scott Kelly is circling the planet, fresh into a 5  1/2-month space station mission. His identical twin, Mark, will join him next year, if NASA’s shuttle schedule holds up.

Together, they will become the first blood relatives to meet up in space.

“It’s something we hoped would happen,” Mark said. “It wasn’t done by design. But we’re fortunate. I think it will be fun for us.”

Scott is the International Space Station’s next commander. He took off aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket early Friday – texting and joking with his brother right until launch – and arrived at the orbiting complex Saturday night.

Mark is space shuttle Endeavour’s next commander. He’s due to take off at the end of February and knock on the space station door March 1. It’s currently slated to be NASA’s last shuttle flight.

Don’t expect any handshakes when the Kellys unite more than 200 miles up. The 46-year-old brothers – Navy captains and former fighter pilots – have never shaken each other’s hands and don’t plan to start just because the space station cameras are rolling.

Rather, count on embraces and even arm-wrestling when the hatches pop open between the space station and Endeavour, and the world does a double take.

While there have been father-and-son astronauts and cosmonauts, decades have separated their space missions.

A husband and wife flew together in space in 1992 – Mark Lee and Jan Davis – but NASA permitted it only because they were not married at the time they were picked for the shuttle mission and had no children. They divorced several years later.

For the Kellys, it wasn’t meant to come together like this.

Mark should have been up and back from space by now. Endeavour’s launch had been scheduled for July, but it was delayed to make improvements to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, the primary cargo.

Between them, they have five shuttle flights. Endeavour’s trip will make six.

Endeavour will have to hit its Feb. 27 launch date or come awfully close, if the Kellys-in-space reunion is to stay on track. Scott Kelly will return to Earth in a Soyuz in mid-March, brotherly visit or no.

They expect their parents – retired police officers – to be stressed out more than usual as Endeavour’s flight nears, not to mention their 94-year-old grandmother, who still asks if they might prefer becoming a lawyer or dentist.

The twins grew up in West Orange, N.J. They went to different colleges, but ended up together in the Navy’s 1993 test pilot school class and, on occasion, shared jet cockpits. Unable to choose between them, NASA accepted both as astronauts in 1996.

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