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The real story that inspired the Netflix series



  • path is now streamed on Netflix.
  • The series follows the passengers on a 3-year mission to Mars.
  • While the series claims several scientific freedoms, the basis for the plot was an actual NASA mission from 2014.

    So much for Netflix’s new space drama path Charts a still untried manned journey to Mars, it’s “science fiction”. However, the inspiration for the plot comes from an actual NASA mission which, depending on the conspiracy knife, may not be fiction.

    The series is loosely based on that of journalist Chris Jones esquire Piece in the run-up to the NASA launch in 201

    5 Astronaut Scott Kelly began a year-long mission aboard the International Space Station – the mission that was one of the longest uninterrupted periods of time an astronaut would spend in space. The main objective of the mission was to record how Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko would react to their prolonged exposure in space. The data (supported by NASA’s Twins study; astronaut Scott Kelly is an identical twin to astronaut Mark Kelly) would help better understand how the human body reacts to longer space flights. This data is important for longer future trips – especially to Mars.

    Netflix path imagines how NASA could emerge from this data and what a manned flight to Mars would look like – from the perspective of both the astronaut and the world.

    And while humanity hasn’t landed on Mars yet (* quickly checking the world’s headlines *), we’ve recorded many similar phenomena that path‘s astronauts experienced in the series. Here’s what we know about science in fiction.

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    What was NASA’s ISS mission for a year?

    Part of NASA’s prerogative for space exploration includes “human research” or studies of the human body as it adapts to extended stays in space.

    On March 27, 2015, the American astronaut Scott Kelly and the Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko took off on the Soyuz TMA-16M for the International Space Station. They returned to Earth on a separate flight on March 2, 2016.

    The data collected on Kelly helped inform NASA’s twin study. Kelly’s twin brother, Mark Kelly (a former NASA astronaut) stayed on the ground throughout the year and acted as controls – a body with the same genes that was not hit by space.

    While the Netflix series mission is very different from NASA’s 2015-2016 mission (Kelly never went further than the ISS), a common trait remains a fascination with human physical change.

    In Space Jan. 21 In this flyer photo provided by NASA, one-year-old mission crew members Scott Kelly of NASA Left and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos Right celebrated their 300th consecutive day in space on Jan. 21, 2016.  The couple will spend a total of 340 days aboard the International Space Station, during which scientists attempt to understand what happens to the human body while in microgravity for extremely long periods of time.  Photo from NASA via getty images

    NASAGetty Images

    What have we discovered about the human body in space?

    NASA noted that Kelly’s mission “demonstrates the resilience and resilience of how a human body can adapt to a wide variety of changes caused by space travel”. It was found that the longer he stayed in space the longer Kelly’s changes began to slow, suggesting some degree of biological adaptation.

    However, differences were observed between the two Kellys.

    Some of these differences were expected, such as loss of bone density. Other changes were more surprising, including the elongation of Kelly’s telomeres, a cap-like structure at the end of the chromosomes, our DNA molecules. It is unclear what effect this could have in the long term, and upon returning to Earth, most of Kelly’s telomeres returned to pre-flight size. (Some became shorter, however, which could be associated with a cardiovascular risk. But even here the effect is not yet clear.)

    Kelly’s gene expression also changed, although it may have been a response to radiation in space, which some suggest was 48 times higher than what the average person on Earth experiences.

    NASA found that 91.3% of Scott’s gene expression levels were back to normal within just six months of his return to Earth. Kelly scored fewer points on his landing cognitive exam, but such deviations could have been caused by stress. Kelly also reported that he had trouble sleeping when he came back and was dealing with pain.

    In general, there were some limitations to the NASA study. Kelly was only able to draw so much blood at a time, which made it difficult to conduct many tests (blood was returned to Earth in routine cargo shipments). Since Kelly stayed on the ISS, the cosmic rays were lower than in space. The further away an astronaut is, the more his body could change. The biggest limitation, of course, was the sample size. Kelly is only one person, which makes it difficult to conclude whether or not every astronaut would experience exactly the same changes.

    Mountain View, Circa December 04 Scott Kelly L and Mark Kelly attend the 5th Annual Awards Ceremony at NASA Ames Research Center on December 4, 2016 in Mountain View, California.  Photo by Tim Mosesfeldergetty Images

    Scott Kelly (L) with identical twin brother Mark (R).

    Tim MosenfelderGetty Images

    What many (including Kelly) do Experience and What Became Most Critical on the Netflix Series: Visual Impairment. (A former astronaut once reported that he couldn’t read a checklist.)

    It is also a reported phenomenon that the skin floats away after the sock is removed. Skin peeling in the room is more visible.

    While the Netflix series may have exaggerated certain technological capabilities, they show just one trait of space travel: the implications are fairly unknown and potentially very gross and frightening.

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