Misha’s and my mission to spend a year on ISS is unprecedented. A normal mission to the space station lasts five to six months, so scientists have a good deal of data about what happens to the human body in space for that length of time. But very little is known about what happens after month six. The symptoms might get precipitously worse in the ninth month, for instance, or they might level off. We don’t know, and there is only one way to find out.
I think everyone tangentially knows who Scott Kelly is and what he accomplished between March 2015 and March 2016 by spending just under a year on the International Space Station, along with Russian cosmonaut Misha Kornienko, in order to study the effects of long term space flight and the realistic possibilities for manned missions to Mars. Scott’s identical twin brother, Mark, is a fellow astronaut who provided control data for NASA in an ongoing study.
I think the most refreshing part of Scott’s story is his brutal honesty. I’ve read two other astronaut memoirs and I felt like Kelly was more free with his criticisms of some policies NASA has, notably their lack of concern about the CO2 filters being overworked, than Mike Massimino and Leland Melvin. He has also logged significantly more time in space than Massimino and Melvin which may explain why certain grievances irked him enough to be so vocal. Another aspect of his honesty comes across when he discusses his piss poor work ethic as a high school student and even as a college freshman. Obviously Kelly is a naturally intelligent man but he didn’t learn to buckle down, study hard and really apply himself until he read The Right Stuff and decided he wanted to become an astronaut. It was incredibly refreshing to know that not every astronaut was a prodigal student with singular focus.
Kelly bounces between the year long ISS mission and his time in the Navy, his training at NASA and his two previous missions including his six month stay on ISS where he learned his sister in law Gabby Giffords had been shot. While bouncing around in memoirs usually annoys me Kelly announces where he is on the timeline so it is easy enough to keep track of where you are in history. Kelly borrows his memoir’s title from another book that inspired him, the story of Ernest Shackelton’s expedition to Antartica, but it is equally well suited for Kelly’s story. For all the awesomeness going to space entails Kelly’s trip was both death defyingly difficult and often times deathly boring which requires an infinite amount of endurance.