fighter pilot, astronaut and science experiment

Any Hollywood screenwriter, not even the most brilliant, would have serious problems inventing a fictional character with the real experiences they have had Mark Kelly. The senator from Arizona just revalidated his seat, but this is only the latest chapter that has been written.

A naval pilot by training since graduating with honors in naval engineering and nautical science from the United States Merchant Marine Academy, he earned a master’s degree in science from the Naval Postgraduate School’s school of aeronautics. He was clear that his future was in the heavens… and beyond.

In the late 1980s he became a pilot and was assigned to the 115th Strike Squadron in Atsugi, Japan, before being deployed twice in the Gulf War aboard the USS Midway. From there he participated in 39 combat missions within the Operation Desert Storm and he earned the unanimous respect of the entire army, until in 1996 he joined NASA. But he didn’t do it alone.

The shooting of his wife and the experiment with his twin

Mark Kelly was always accompanied by a person just like him… literally: his twin brother Scott, with whom he shared not only childhood but also a military career. They both entered the space program in 1996 and a world of possibilities opened up.

One of the four missions Kelly went on nearly ended his career: his wife, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, was shot in Tucson in a failed assassination attempt. It was 2011 and he was about to embark on his third mission in space, STS-134, which is today the penultimate mission of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program and the last of the historic Endeavor after 25 pitches. Kelly, despite what happened with his wife, decided to move on. It was her last ascent, ending her space career… but not her contribution to the study of space.

NASA realized that both Mark and his brother Scott were allowing an experiment they had dreamed of since the very creation of NASA: How does space travel affect the human body? Thus, they devised a simple but effective plan. Between March 2015 and March 2016, for almost a year, Scott was sent into space while Mark stayed on earth. Both were subjected to all kinds of studies, both physical and psychological, with the aim of establishing patterns that could be used in future colonization missions.

The results of that study were very revealing: genetically, Scott and Mark Kelly showed remarkable differences at the genetic level, since the first (the one who was in space) had changes in their chromosomes (which could ultimately increase the risk of developing cancer), thickened retina and carotid artery and even detected a minimal cognitive impairmento compared to his brother. When Scott returned to Earth, more than 90% of the genes returned to his normal state, but others did not and it is more than reasonable to think that they will not change anymore.

Mark Kelly began to direct his efforts to promote his political career. His media exposure and his close relationship with the president Barack Obama and his wife Michellein addition to his wife’s own experience, allowed him to direct his steps towards politics.

In 2020 he won the special election to the Senate in Arizona, allowing the state to have two Democratic senators for the first time since 1953. He then became the fourth retired astronaut to be elected to Congress, after John Glenn, Harrison Schmitt y Jack Swigert.

Following his re-election now, Kelly will face his first full political term. His intention, at the moment, does not go beyond that, although his name already appears in some presidential pools for the not too distant future. Fighter pilot, astronaut, senator… and president of the United States?

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