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‘Beyond a Year in Space’ review: Brisk, informative look at astronaut Scott Kelly

Astronaut Scott Kelly returns to Earth in

Astronaut Scott Kelly returns to Earth in "Beyond a Year in Space." Credit: PBS

THE DOCUMENTARY “Beyond a Year in Space”

WHEN | WHERE Wednesday at 9 p.m. on WNET/13

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Beginning March 27, 2015, astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Korniyenko began a near-yearlong stay on the International Space Station, returning to Earth on March 1 of last year. Part of NASA’s mission: to study the long-term effects of living in space, in preparation for flights to Mars. Kelly, since retired, continues to play a vital role in the planned Mars trip because the space agency is studying both Kelly and his twin brother, Mark, to see what changes he underwent during those 11 months in space. “Beyond” explores a few of those.

MY SAY 2015’s acclaimed “A Year in Space” was a 12-part series produced by Time, condensed the following year into a PBS special, which will also repeat Wednesday (at 8 p.m.). But anyone who wants the full “Year in Space” treatment may want to start with those (all are online). Beautifully done, nearly hypnotic, they’re a you-are-there-with-Kelly series that immerse you into his world, both on the ground and aloft. By contrast — a sharp one — “Beyond” is the epilogue. It’s an efficient one packed with lots of information, but almost needs an epilogue of its own: What has exactly science learned about Kelly, and what are the long-term ramifications for that future flight to Mars? “Beyond” hedges its bets on this question. There’s still much to learn, and the process could take years — including if, heaven forbid, he were to develop cancer as a result of DNA mutation. Even then (one assumes) other non-space-related causes would have to be ruled out.

The process is enormously complex and the outcome could be years away, perhaps delaying the mission to Mars in the process. “Beyond” doesn’t spell this out, but you may find yourself wishing it does. Another hour would help, but in the meantime, this one suffices, and there is much new here.

Back on land, Kelly explains that “gravity really gives you a beatdown.” He says he had flu-like symptoms, even becoming “confused, delirious, achy.” For a week, his skin was inflamed with hives wherever it touched anything. NASA scientists say that one of the chief concerns of extended space travel is genetic mutation because of radiation bombardment in space. Both Kellys have identical genomes, so they can theoretically chart those changes, and perhaps learn how to re-engineer astronaut DNA to prevent any damage during a yearlong trip to Mars.

“Beyond” also introduces viewers to some of those astronauts who may one day be the first to step on Mars, including former Navy pilot Victor Glover and Jessica Meir. These two could be world-famous someday, and will have the Kellys to thank.

BOTTOM LINE Brisk informative overview of Kelly’s life back on the ground, but leaves a few questions unanswered, including this one: How long before that first trip to Mars?

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