US space-endurance champ says he could do another year

Scott Kelly
In this photo provided by NASA and posted on Twitter on Oct. 26, 2015, astronaut Scott Kelly tries on his spacesuit inside the U.S. Quest airlock of the International Space Station. NASA opened its astronaut-application website Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. It's accepting applications through Feb. 18, 2016. (NASA via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — After nearly a year in orbit, America’s space-endurance champ, Scott Kelly, is just a few days away from returning to Earth — and he can’t wait.

Kelly held his final news conference from the International Space Station on Thursday. He told reporters that space is a “harsh environment,” and you never feel perfectly normal. From a hygiene perspective, he said, he feels as if he has been camping in the woods for a year. From a physical point of view, though, he feels “pretty good.”

The toughest part? Being isolated from loved ones, a situation that will pose even more of a challenge for astronauts sent to Mars.

Despite all this, Kelly said he could go another 100 days or even another year “if I had to.”

By the time he comes home, he will have spent 340 consecutive days aloft, a U.S. record. The world record is 438 days, set by a Russian cosmonaut in the 1990s. Even that will pale in comparison to a Mars expedition, expected to last two to three years round trip.

Scientists hope to learn much from Kelly’s mission to pave the way to Mars in another two decades; they also will collect data from his Russian roommate for the year, Mikhail Kornienko.

Along with Kornienko, Kelly will check out of the space station Tuesday, riding a Russian capsule back to the planet to end NASA’s longest space flight. They will land in Kazakhstan. Then Kelly will be hustled home to Houston.

The 52-year-old astronaut said he can’t wait to jump in his pool and dine at a real table with friends and family.

Kelly rocketed away last March on a research-packed mission, leaving behind two daughters and his girlfriend. He lightened things up recently by donning a gorilla suit — a gag gift from his identical twin, retired astronaut Mark Kelly — and cavorting through the station.

The brothers hope to go fishing in Alaska once things settle down.

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