Is Scott Kelly an Alien Now That His Genes Expressions Have Changed in Space?

Twins are an incredible resource for researchers, especially identical twins. They give researchers a unique advantage because they have a living control group to work with. Astronaut Scott Kelly and his identical twin brother, Mark, were guinea pigs in one of NASA’s most important experiments to date.

Scott Kelly spent 1 year in space

Scott Kelly in a space suit.

Scott Kelly spent nearly a year in space. | Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images

The premise of the experiment was pretty simple: Let’s see what the effects of long-term habitation in space are on the human body. In the case of the Kelly brothers, researchers had two control humans to compare after the experiment ended.

When Scott returned home to Earth, scientists discovered that his body had changed in some rather odd ways. Scott had grown two inches, lost a little bit of cognitive function, and most importantly, his genes were expressed differently than his twin brother’s.

This begs the question: Is Scott Kelly now a member of a new species from outer space?

Next: Take a look at what actually happened to his genetic makeup.

What exactly happened to his genes?

A blue model of a DNA strand.

He experienced a strange change in his body. | Pablo_K/iStock/Getty Images

One thing that needs to be made clear is that his genetic code did not change, just the way that his genes express themselves has changed. The Verge made this very clear in a previous article. Some outlets were reporting that as much as 7% of his genetic code had changed. The genetic difference between a human and a chimp is less than 2%, so if Scott Kelly had that much of a change, we’d notice.

Next: The thing that might alarm you is what actually changed. 

His genetic expressions changed

A DNA strand in an illustrated model.

Here’s what the changes mean. | Vchal/iStock/Getty Images

What did change was the way his genes are expressed. That refers to what genes are turned on and what genes are turned off. Each cell in your body is more or less exactly the same. The difference depends on what genetic codes are switched on in each cell. This is why some cells give you skin while others give you eyes, brain tissue, a heart, etc.

Next: The question now is what do we consider alien life?

What do we qualify as alien life?

A UFO abducting a person in the mountains.

Is Scott Kelly technically an alien now? | Homeworks255/iStock/Getty Images

So far as we can find, the parameters for what qualifies alien life haven’t quite been laid out. We have determined what conditions need to be in place for alien life to exist, and Scott Kelly hits every mark. The best we have is a broad list of questions: Does it grow, reach equilibrium, respond to its environment, or adapt? In those cases, crystals could be considered living creatures, but they lack a central nervous system. For Scott Kelly, he definitely reaches the broad criteria for life.

Next: Since he’s from Earth, that should make him a non-alien, right? Not necessarily …

What will we consider Martians?

A planet landscape.

Could humans adapt to other planets? | Sylphe_7/Getty Images

We are in the process of heading to Mars and we plan to eventually colonize and terraform the planet. That is actually a large part of why the twin study occurred. The question is: Once Mars is established, when do those people become aliens to Earth?

Their evolutionary path would have changed because of different environmental parameters. We know that their genetic expression would change in less than a year, so how long would it take to adapt genetically to their environment. It’s a complex thought experiment that we simply don’t have the answer to, yet.

Next: We have even found evidence of life on Mars here on Earth.

We have found evidence of extraterrestrial life

A meteorite from Mars in a museum case.

Meteorites from Mars have been studied closely. | Mandel NganAFP/Getty Images

In 1984, a group found this meteorite in the Allen Hills region of Antartica. It’s actually pretty common that we get meteorites from Mars because of a probable impact on the Red Planet long ago. In 1996, a team of researchers claimed they found microbial fossils in that meteorite. That evidence suggests that life, in some capacity, did exist on Mars at some point.

But Scott Kelly is not a fossil in the traditional sense, although some would say at his age he may be a little long in the teeth. All jokes aside, has he changed enough in space to be an alien?

Next: Will Scott Kelly change physically?

Is Scott Kelly changing physically?

Scott Kelly standing next to his brother, Mark Kelly.

Scott Kelly is now two inches shorter than his twin brother. | Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images

As a matter of fact, Scott Kelly did change physically. When he returned to Earth, he was actually two inches taller than his twin brother. For any twin, that is a huge deal. On the genetic level, aside from his expressions, his genetic code strings actually lengthened while in space. They have rebounded since, but that did physically change. Overall, his physical changes have been minor, so he is not a new species from outer space.

Next: Just because he isn’t that physically different doesn’t mean he doesn’t qualify as an alien. 

He could have lost his immigration status

Scott Kelly inside a space shuttle.

Luckily, he didn’t have to worry about this. | NASA via Getty Images

Since we are being hyperbolic here, let’s say that leaving the Earth can affect your immigration status. In most countries, you can lose your permanent resident status for leaving the country for more than a year. If Scott Kelly had stayed in space for a couple more weeks, he would have lost his permanent resident status. Luckily Scott was born in Orange, New Jersey, so he really doesn’t have anything to worry about.

If it were the case that you would lose your immigration status for that, Trump would want a wall built in space and have the aliens pay for it.

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