NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly spent nearly a year on the International Space Station in one mission and says his best advice for surviving isolation is to ‘go outside’.
The retired astronaut spent a total of 520 days on the space station, with his longest mission lasting 340 days from from March 27, 2015 to March 1, 2016.
Kelly says the one thing he missed the most during his year on the ISS was being able to go outside, particularly the smell, sound and sights of nature.
He says people should also follow a schedule, have a hobby, keep a journal, binge-watch TV series and ‘get plenty of sleep’ when forced to stay indoors.
It comes as the NHS writes to 1.5 million of the most at risk people in England urging them to stay home for 12 weeks to protect themselves from coronavirus.
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly says if possible go outside and enjoy nature. If not then try keeping a journal, taking up a hobby or making time to contact friends on video chat. This is a selfie of him inside the cupola, a special compartment that provides a 360-degree view of Earth
While he was on the ISS with other astronauts, there are only six people in the crew, so Kelly has more experience of being cut off from the rest of the world than most.
He said other astronauts on the ISS would play recordings of Earth sounds, like birds and resulting trees on a loop to bring themselves back to Earth.
‘I actually started to crave nature – the color green, the smell of fresh dirt, and the feel of warm sun on my face,’ he told the New York Times.
‘You don’t need to work out two and a half hours a day, as astronauts do, but getting moving once a day should be part of your quarantine schedule (just stay at least six feet away from others),’ he added.
As part of the self-isolation and social distancing measures introduced in the UK people have been urged to remain 6ft apart where possible.
If they are not in quarantine due to symptoms it is ok to go for a walk.
Even people in household quarantine – where a family member has symptoms even if they don’t – it is still ok to go out – but people should avoid direct contact with others while outside.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘People should go outside. Yes walk your pets, but, if you’re in household isolation, do go outside but try to avoid other people’.
Kelly said if you are in a group that can’t leave the house then get a hobby. Find something that isn’t work, housework or just watching TV.
‘When you are confined in a small space you need an outlet that isn’t work or maintaining your environment,’ he said.
‘Some people are surprised to learn I brought books with me to space. The quiet and absorption you can find in a physical book — one that doesn’t ping you with notifications or tempt you to open a new tab — is priceless.’
People appear to be ignoring the ‘social distancing’ aspect of the advice.
Over the weekend crowds of people flocked to parks and landmarks to take advantage of the sunshine.
This could lead to more ‘draconian’ measures including stricter lockdowns and forced isolation.
Scott Kelly says if you can’t go outside he also recommends keeping a journal to help with the ‘boredom’.
‘Throughout my yearlong mission, I took the time to write about my experiences almost every day,’ he wrote in the New York Times.
‘If you find yourself just chronicling the days’ events instead try describing what you are experiencing through your five senses or write about memories.’
In the USA one in five Americans have been ordered to stay home in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
This prompted Mr Kelly to urge people to ‘maintain a plan’ as it will help families adjust to different work and home environments.
‘When I return to Earth, I missed the structure it provided and found it hard to live without’ that routine.
People packed Bournemouth esplanade Sunday morning. Paddle boarders and swimmers braved the cold temperatures despite fears over the global coronavirus outbreak
Kelly said he would watch movies and TV shows with the other astronauts on board and could talk to friends and family on Earth via video links.
A number of online streaming companies have introduced ‘watch party’ like features where people can watch a TV show or movie together despite not being in the same room.
There are also services such as Zoom, Skype and Facebook that allow people to stay in touch without having to come in physical contact.
‘Even with all the responsibilities of serving as commander of a space station, I never missed the chance to have a videoconference with family and friends,’ said Kelly.
‘Scientists have found that isolation is damaging not only to our mental health, but to our physical health as well.
‘Technology makes it easier than ever to keep in touch, so it’s worth making time to connect with someone every day — it might actually help you fight off viruses.’
He recommends listening to the advice of experts, avoiding misinformation and staying in touch with people.
‘Seen from space, the Earth has no borders,’ Kelly wrote in the New York Times.
‘The spread of the coronavirus is showing us that what we share is much more powerful than what keeps us apart, for better or for worse.’
HOW DID SCOTT KELLY’S DNA CHANGE IN SPACE?
After 340 days aboard the International Space Station, American astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth in March 2016.
Nasa has since undertaken tests to study the effects living in orbit had on Kelly using his identical twin brother Mark – who remained on Earth – as a control subject.
The Kelly brothers have nearly identical genomes, allowing for an unprecedented look at the physical effects of long-term spaceflight.
While astronaut Scott Kelly (right) lived aboard the International Space Station for 340 days, his identical twin brother Mark (left) remained on Earth – and researchers have now found a number of differences between the two
Blood and other biological samples were collected from the pair before, during, and after Scott Kelly’s mission.
The agency found that Kelly came home 5 cm (2 inches) taller than his twin – a change had resolved itself within two days of his return.
The height difference was caused by the ISS’ microgravity conditions which elongate the spine – but the effect was only temporary.
Nasa found that while 93 per cent of Kelly’s genes returned to normal shortly after returning home, seven per cent were permanently altered.
These long-term changes hit genes related to the immune system, DNA repair, bone formation and the ways his tissues take up oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Kelly’s telomeres – the caps at the end of each chromosome – lengthened while in space.
Telomeres are key to protecting DNA from damage and tend to shorten with age. Kelly’s telomeres shortened again once he was back on Earth.
Scientists reported their preliminary results at a meeting for Nasa’s Human Research Program in January 2017. Pictured are some of the areas studied by the team
Nasa says that Kelly’s lengthening telomeres are linked with his diet and exercise routine on the station.
The ratio of two groups of gut bacteria shifted while Kelly was in space, likely due to his change in diet. This also returned to normal shortly after his return.
Nasa research has spotted hundreds of diverging genetic mutations in Kelly and Mark’s genomes.
The research team speculate that a ‘space gene’ could have been activated while Kelly was in orbit.