Is a 1-Year Space Station Mission in the Works?

A Russian report this week claimed that an American and a Russian will launch on a one-year trip to the International Space Station in 2015. But NASA says the endurance space mission is just an idea, for now.

The short news story Wednesday (Aug. 22) by Russia's Interfax news agency cited an unnamed source within Russia's Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) to state that the marathon space station flight, which would be twice as long as typical six-month trips, will launch in three years and feature a two-person crew.

But NASA officials say not so fast. Nothing, they say, has been decided yet.

"We are exploring the idea of a one-year increment as part of preparations for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit," NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries of Johnson Space Center in Houston told "But the discussion is very preliminary and no official decisions have been made." [Most Extreme Human Spaceflight Records]

The Interfax report also stated that the American on the mission would be veteran NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who stepped down as the agency's chief astronaut recently to rejoin its active spaceflying ranks. The Russian cosmonaut for the one-year crew has not been chosen, but a one-year mission would free up some Soyuz spacecraft seats for space tourists to visit the orbiting lab, Interfax reported.

If a one-year stay aboard the International Space Station is actually in the works, it could help lay the foundation for even more ambitious human spaceflight efforts down the road. President Barack Obama has challenged NASA to develop new spacecraft and technology in order to send astronauts to visit a nearby asteroid by 2025, and ultimately on to Mars in the 2030s.

A roundtrip journey to Mars, according to some mission concepts, would take about two years to complete. So a one-year stint on the International Space Station would allow scientists a chance to observe some of the longer-term effects of spaceflight beyond what crews have reported to date.

In fact, a one-year trip into space has actually been done before.

In the mid-1990s, Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov, a medical doctor, spent nearly 438 consecutive days in space during a marathon mission aboard the Mir Space Station. The mission began in January 1994 and ended in March 1995.

While Polyakov's endurance space trial helped researchers study the long-term physiological effects of human spaceflight, Russia has also had a keen interest in the psychological impact of spending such a long period away from Earth.

Last year, six volunteers representing Russia, Europe and China completed a staggering 520-day Mars mission simulation that aimed to recreate the isolation and mental stress of long-term spaceflight. That simulation, called the Mars500 mission, began in June 2010 and ended in November 2011.

The International Space Station is currently home to six crewmembers representing three different countries. The station's Expedition 32 crew includes three Russians, two Americans and a Japanese astronaut.

NASA, Russia and the space agencies of Canada, Europe and Japan built the $100 billion space station over more than decade. Construction began in 1998, with another Russian lab due to arrive at the station next year. A total of 15 different countries have participated in the station's construction.