Interview with NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly: An American Hero
Known around the world as the man who spent a year in space, Scott Kelly is an award winning astronaut and ex-fighter pilot who has had more meals in space than you’ve probably had at your in-laws. Kelly’s time in space has changed his perspective of life on Earth, he refers to this as “orbital perspective.”
Kelly says that “from space, you get a sense for ... the atmosphere and how thin and fragile it is,” and “how ... countries look much more closer together and interconnected… you see the earth without borders, without political borders.”
For most people, science-fiction movies and NASA footage are the closest they will ever get to being in space, whereas for Kelly, watching movies like Gravity while in orbit, was like watching your own home burn down while you’re still inside. Kelly feels that movies like Gravity are surprisingly accurate when it comes to how the International Space Station is depicted. However they still take liberty with suspension of disbelief, Kelly interjects about Gravity “but from a scientific standpoint, the physics and everything is really factually not accurate.”
Although Hollywood’s depiction of outer space typically involves asteroids hurtling towards the Earth’s atmosphere and astronauts getting lost on space walks, Kelly has not encountered any situation to the severity of these depictions.
“I mean we’ve had stuff, [but] nothing ever to the point where I thought I was going to get killed… my second space shuttle flight we had a piece of foam fall off and put a big hole in the bottom of the space shuttle, we had a little bit of concern that we might end up like the Columbia Space Shuttle,” Kelly said. In 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry of the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in the deaths of all seven crew members on board.
Space Shuttle Columbia's remains falling to earth
Kellys time in space was spent dissecting mice, partaking in daily workouts, and taking the occasional space walk. “My first space walk I did, I was doing some work in a position that kind of made me feel like I was on the bow of a ship, with the whole space station behind me and the Earth below, and it was an incredibly beautiful sight.”
Even though Kelly has actually been outside of the International Space Station, floating in outer space, Kelly’s most memorable moment as an astronaut to date was his “first launch on the space shuttle.” There is an “incredible amount of energy involved and you know you understand that you’re basically this bomb of solid rocket motors, and you just light ‘em and they're gonna burn ‘till they're done, there's nothing you can do about it.“
Scott preparing for launch
After 340 consecutive days in orbit, Kelly was confronted with the new challenge of re-acclimating to his life back on Earth. This was not his first time returning to the atmosphere, thus Kelly was aware that there is much more than just a physical transition once under the influences of gravity.
“Psychologically, I think it takes 6-8 months to kinda feel back to normal,” Kelly experienced, “you're living in an enclosed very controlled environment, to then not have that anymore I think it's probably similar to when someone has been in prison and then been released, and they kinda don’t know what to do because they don’t have someone telling them.”
Part of coming back down to Earth is finding a new purpose and role, something Kelly light heartedly jokes about, saying he is not sure if he has found that yet. Kelly thinks that eventually “you just come to terms with it. I worked for the government, the US government for 30 years, and to go from doing that kind of work to not, is not really an easy thing. You know eventually, you realize at some point you know things change, and you have to just move on and do something else.”
Kelly on board the International Space Station
Finishing up his book tour for Endurance, one of Amazon’s best books of October 2017, Kelly has spent his time back on Earth adjusting to being human. Driving his blue Corvette Stingray in downtown Houston, spending time with his two daughters, Charlotte and Samantha, as well as getting married to his long-time girlfriend Amiko, are ways in which Captain Kelly has slowly traded in his life in space for his life on Earth.
Written by Grace Kelman & Edited by Alexander Fleiss