On Thursday, November 16, my husband and I had the incredible chance to see astronaut Scott Kelly at the University Temple United Methodist Church and snag an autographed copy of his book, Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery.
The packed church was filled with excited space buffs like myself, including many children. One little boy was dressed in a full astronaut costume (complete with helmet) and a little girl sitting a few rows in front of me was wearing a NASA t-shirt. There were many dads in attendance who had brought their daughters as dates as well. It really just warmed my heart to see what these parents were instilling in their children, sons and daughters alike.
Puget Sound Business Journal aerospace reporter, Andrew McIntosh, led the evening and Scott talked about growing up in New Jersey as a below average student who just wasn’t interested in school. He said that today he would probably have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. He went to the only college he was accepted to, which was a different college than the one he had meant to apply to! It wasn’t until he found the book, The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe, that his perspective on life changed.
This wasn’t just an exciting adventure story. This was something more like a life plan.
Thus began Scott’s journey to space.
His book, Endurance, is 387 pages long and includes photos of him and his twin brother, Mark Kelly, growing up in New Jersey, a photo of his mom being sworn in as the first female police officer in West Orange, NJ (girl power!), the astronaut class of 1996 (which includes Mike Massimino – you can read my article on him here), and various pictures of him with his family, around the world and on different space missions including the year-long mission.
He read from the prologue, and even from the very first pages into the book, you get a sense of the magnitude of what Scott decided to do on behalf of science. He had only been back on earth for 48 hours and was having dinner with his family when he basically started swelling up and had a rash all over the back of his body.
Normally if I woke up feeling like this, I would go to the emergency room, but no one at the hospital will have seen symptoms of having been in space for a year…This is why we volunteered for this mission after all: to discover how the human body is affected by long-term spaceflight…Our space agencies won’t be able to push out farther into space, to a destination like Mars, until we can learn more about how to strengthen the weakest links in the chain that makes spaceflight possible: the human body and mind.
Scott also described what it felt like to be launched into space – if you can imagine the hand of God himself picking you up and throwing you into the stars. The power of the rocket boosters, the G-forces straining on your body – and how everything has to go exactly right to get you not only up into space, but back home as well. He mentioned some sobering statistics – the Space Shuttle program had 135 missions and two of those missions included the complete loss of the Shuttle and the crew (14 astronauts killed in both the Challenger and Columbia missions combined). The chances for death are extremely high in all aspects of space flight.
Scott also talked about day-to-day life on the International Space Station (ISS), including his friendship with Russian cosmonaut, Mikhail Kornienko, who was also partaking in the same year-long journey. He reiterated how the ISS and objects around the earth are traveling at 17,500 miles per hour. These speeds are evident when he completed space walks and could see the pot marks and bullet-looking holes covering the ISS from debris hits. Scott relived the news headline when a giant piece of Russian satellite debris was potentially on a collision course for the ISS and both he and his fellow cosmonauts had to take shelter in a Soyuz capsule as they waited for the debris to pass. He commented on how his Russian counterparts were having lunch when they were told to take shelter, and then went back to having lunch after the crisis was over. In their mind, if the debris his the ISS, they would die quickly after being sucked into the vacuum of space or it wouldn’t hit them and they would be fine. Why panic, right?
Perhaps the funniest part of the evening was when Scott answered a question written by one of the kids in the audience about drinking water. As you may or may not know, urine is recycled and filtered back to potable water constantly on the ISS. As Scott joked, “I drank everyone’s pee and it still tasted better than Florida water.”
It’s hard to find the words knowing that this man purposely decided to become a human science experiment for the rest of his life, to be poked and prodded by scientists until he finds his way back into the heavens – all to advance our knowledge about the effects of space travel on the body and mind. It was truly an honor to hear him speak about his time in space. It won’t be a matter of if we make it to Mars, it will be when – and it will be thanks to heroes like Mark and Mikhail who made it possible.
You can purchase a copy of Scott Kelly’s book, Endurance here.