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Russian and American prepare to spend a year in space aboard ISS

The yearlong mission will be the longest continuous stay

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MOSCOW, Russia - American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko have docked with the International Space Station for the start of a 12-month mission to study the effects of prolonged time in space on the body.

The yearlong mission will be the longest continuous stay anyone has had aboard the 400km-high (250 mile) orbiting space station.

The Soyuz spacecraft docked successfully at 01:33 GMT on Saturday, NASA reported, after taking off from the Roscosmos launch site in Baikonur in Kazakhstan at 19:42 GMT Saturday.

Scientists hope to get a better idea of the effects of living in microgravity for extended periods. Russian cosmonauts have spent longer than a year in space aboard the Russian Mir platform in the 1990s, but much of the ability to study the effects on the body has changed.

The space agencies say the data will be invaluable as they plan towards eventually mounting a manned mission to Mars.

"The last time we had such a long duration flight was almost 20 years and of course all scientific techniques are more advanced than 20 years ago,'' Kornienko told the AP wire service in the pre-launch press conference.

"And right now we need to test the capability of a human being to perform such long-duration flights. So this is the main objective of our flight - to test ourselves," he added.

Knowledge on how to mitigate some of the deleterious effects of living in zero-gravity has improved markedly since the Mir era, and Kelly and Kornienko are expected to come back in a better shape than those early pioneers.

Programmed nutrition and exercise routines now prevent much of the bone density loss and muscle weakness that plagued earlier astronauts.

There are other problems that doctors need to study and understand better, however, such as the damage spaceflight causes to the eyes. This is a newly recognised phenomenon, and appears to be related to the way fluid is redistributed in a weightless body.

Pressure is believed to build in the skull and on the optic nerve. A large number of astronauts return to Earth complaining that their vision is not as good as when they left.> BNN

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