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Astronaut Scott Kelly to retire from NASA in April

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NASA astronaut Scott Kelly inside the cupola of the International Space Station, a special module that provides a 360-degree viewing of the Earth and the station. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON – NASA astronaut Scott Kelly will retire from the agency, effective April 1.

NASA announced Kelly’s retirement Friday. The 52-year-old  holds the American record for most time in space: 520 days over four missions.

Kelly spent 340 days in orbit on the International Space Station to see how the human body holds up for long periods of time in space. His results are being compared to his twin brother, Mark, who is a retired astronaut. NASA said Kelly will undergo periodic medical tests as part of that mission.

In a statement, Kelly said his time in space allowed him to reflect on what his next step on Earth would be.

“This year-in-space mission was a profound challenge for all involved, and it gave me a unique perspective and a lot of time to reflect on what my next step should be on our continued journey to help further our capabilities in space and on Earth,” Kelly said in a statement. “My career with the Navy and NASA gave me an incredible chance to showcase public service to which I am dedicated, and what we can accomplish on the big challenges of our day. I am humbled and excited by new opportunities for me to support and share the amazing work NASA is doing to help us travel farther into the solar system and work with the next generation of science and technology leaders.”

Kelly flew in space four times, beginning with space shuttle Discovery’s trip to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope on the STS-103 servicing mission in 1999. On his second mission, STS-118, he crossed the threshold of the International Space Station for the first time as commander of space shuttle Endeavour. He returned to the station for a six-month stay in 2010, commanding Expedition 26.

A veteran of spaceflight, Kelly accepted the opportunity to participate in NASA’s unprecedented yearlong space station mission, which aimed to expand the boundaries of space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit through the collection of critical data on how the human body responds to extended space missions. On this mission, Kelly eclipsed two American space records.

“Records are meant to be broken,” Kelly said in the statement. “I am looking forward to when these records in space are surpassed.”

“Scott’s contributions to NASA are too many to name,” said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston in a statement. “In his year aboard the space station, he took part in experiments that will have far-reaching effects, helping us pave the way to putting humans on Mars and benefiting life on Earth. His passion for this work has helped give hundreds of thousands of people a better understanding of what NASA does, thanks in part to the numerous photos and updates he shared from space. We appreciate his years of service and anticipate many benefits to come from them, thanks to the research he’s supporting.”

No future plans were announced.