The past 12 months have been some of the very best of all time when it comes to space exploration. Sure, we didn't walk on the Moon, but we did have a very close encounter with Pluto, grew crops in space, and started the hiring process for the first manned mission to Mars. And through it all, astronaut Scott Kelly has been orbiting Earth on the International Space Station, providing us with incredible images and setting the American record for the most time in space.

Sadly all good things must come to an end, and in preparation for his departure back to Earth on March 1, Kelly handed over command of the International Space Station to NASA astronaut Tim Kopra just a few hours ago. For anyone like us who's followed the almost year-long journey of Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko so far, the ceremony below is pretty emotional.

Even if you haven't heard of the record-breaking Year in Space mission until now, you have to admit that spending 340 days straight on a spacecraft roughly the size of a football field is pretty impressive - not to mention the fact that Kelly drank an estimated 730 Litres of his own sweat and urine during the mission - all so he could help scientists back on Earth figure out what long-term space travel does to the body.

In the ceremony, Kelly thanks Kornienko ('Misha' for short) and admits goodbyes are always "bittersweet when you're leaving this incredible place". Kornienko will be travelling back to Earth on March 1 along with Kelly and cosmonaut Sergey Volkov, who's been on the space station with them for the past six months.

"Obviously, you know, Misha and I have been up here for a really, really long time and recently we've been joking with each other that we'll say something like 'We did it!' or 'We made it!'" says Kelly in the ceremony below. "But we both recognise that this is a lot more about teamwork and all the people that it takes to put these missions together and be successful than it is about us."

"Spaceflight is the biggest team sport there is, and it's incredibly important that we all work together to make what is seemingly impossible possible," he adds.

No, we're not crying, it's just allergies. 

Once Kelly lands, NASA scientists will begin to assess the toll that space has had on his body, and compare him closely with his twin brother Mark Kelly, who stayed firmly on Earth throughout the year in space.

What we learn about the impact of microgravity and space travel during such long missions will help us better understand how to keep humans healthy on the way to Mars - and maybe one day even further into the Solar System.

As NASA control tells Kelly and Kornienko at the end of the handover: "What you have provided for our human spaceflight endeavours has been monumental … We look forward to seeing you back safe on the ground and back in Houston."

Here's a hero, signing off: