Astronaut Scott Kelly told the BBC why and how he managed to live on the International Space Station for a year. Even today, four years after his retirement from NASA, if anyone asks him if he is ready to go back into space, he will answer yes.
It’s July 16, 2015, and three astronauts on the International Space Station are shrinking into a Russian-made space capsule that acts as a lifeboat in an emergency.
The crew members were told by Mission Control that a huge and ineffective satellite was approaching them at a speed of 14 km per second and could cause damage. Controllers know it will come close, but they can’t predict exactly whether it will just pass by or cause some catastrophe.
American astronauts Scott Kelly and Russian astronauts Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Mesha have been waiting in a tight capsule to come close to this sharp metal shell. Under the procedure, they have to leave the station on short notice and return to the ground.
This is not the first time that former military pilot Captain Kelly has faced such a dangerous situation. But the experiment forced them to reflect on the astronauts’ collective helplessness. If the satellite collided, they would not have time to get away safely.
Recalling the incident, he says, “Mesha, Jundi and I were clinging to each other in a cold capsule. Scatter. ‘
Changing staff at ISS is one of the many features of everyday life on Earth: video calls, cleanliness and difficult days at work, etc., all included. But at every opportunity, the astronauts inside their comfortable vessel in space realize what a difficult environment they are living in.
Since 2007, Kelly has made three separate trips to the Earth’s orbit. But on his last flight between 2015 and 2016, he was hailed around the world.
Together with Mesha Korenenko, he was assigned to spend a full year on the space station, twice as long as his regular stay. In doing so, he broke the record for the longest space flight by an American. Earlier, American astronaut Michael Lopez Algeria set a record of 100 days in space.
But Kelly’s fame is also due to her twin brother, Mark, who was an astronaut at NASA. Mark Kelly is six minutes older than his brother Scott Kelly. He was elected senator from the state of Arizona in the 2020 US election.
Speaking to me via video call from his home in Colorado, Scott Kelly says there has never been a moment in his year in space when he thought of going home early. “My goal was to reach the end of the flight with the same energy and enthusiasm with which I started this journey and I think I did it.”
“If there was a reason, I could have stayed longer. And I never doubted my ability to do that. “
Despite the fact that astronauts and astronauts’ psychological abilities are tested, he says, “I know others have had a difficult time. It’s hard work, but it’s not that hard you can’t do it. ‘
He explains: ‘I don’t know if it’s necessarily an introvert or an extrovert (someone who is more interested in outside things and people), but you You just have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people.
He added: “And not everyone can do that.”
He says the hardest thing is not only that you can’t go out and enjoy nature, the space station has a strict daily schedule. He says another challenge, in a small space, was to stay with these people for a long time … “Although they are all very good people.”
He says it was a challenge that was successfully met, because living together in such a small space helped build the best of friendships: My wife and I had a video conference with Italian European astronaut Samantha Christophoretti. I used to talk to Mesha Koreniko and Gunadi Padalka.
The United States is committed to another four years of funding for the ISS, but there is still uncertainty about the orbit lab. The space station was built in the 1990s, during a political standoff between the United States and Russia.
“The space station program has been a great example of peaceful international cooperation. My experience with the astronauts on the station has always been one of professionalism, respect, and mutual trust,” he said.
“I hope that whenever we decide to build a space station in the Pacific, there will be something to replace it. For the past 20 years, not all humans have been on Earth at the same time. I want this work to continue.
Kelly didn’t just work in orbit all year. He also managed to find time for much-needed recreation and sports. In the viral video, they chase British astronaut Tim Peach in a part of the space station in a guerrilla suit. Peach did his best to show that he was scared.
The vacuum-filled suit was shipped on a supply flight. It was a birthday present from Mark and I asked Scott if it was a joke between the brothers.
“My brother said I was sending you a guerrilla suit,” Kelly said with a smile. I said why are you sending me a guerrilla suit? ‘ “Why not?” He asked. I just didn’t think much of this suit. “
The siblings were raised by their parents, both police officers, on the outskirts of New Jersey. His mother was the first female officer in the West Orange area. That’s where she grew up, and according to Scott, her mother’s efforts and inspiring spirit are instrumental in her determination to become an astronaut.
Mark and Scott were threatened several times together and often rushed to the hospital in critical condition. But at school, Mark outperformed them, and Scott’s attention was easily diverted.
There were regular parties in college for Scott’s attention. He cites a phone conversation with Mark in which he told Scott to reduce his contact with people and focus on education, and that conversation turned his academic career around.
He trained as a navy pilot. Scott flew the F-14 Tom Kate, shown in the movie Top Gun in the 90’s, and served in combat missions during the First Gulf War.
However, Kelly was eager to be part of the group that flew the space shuttle. After being selected as a NASA astronaut with Mark in the 1996 class, Scott served as a pilot on a shuttle mission and then commanded the 2007 shuttle mission.
In the shuttle, the commander drives the spacecraft, and for a pilot with a difficult landing experience, such skills are a thing of the past.
“I’ve only flown it once,” says Kelly. It’s important to think about how much time and effort you put into performing this pilot task and then you have to do it once or twice more.
“You have a chance to land it. If you do not do this the first time, it is not likely that you will come back and do it again. You know that not only your partner but also a big man from the rest of the world is watching you.
The shuttle was great, if anything, it was a car. And it reminded the world of the great dangers of space travel when the space shuttle Columbia crashed while returning to Earth in 2003. And then seven astronauts were killed.
Investigations into both the Challenger and Colombia disasters have criticized NASA’s security approach. Kelly lost her friends in a Colombian crash. When I interviewed him, he was preparing to address the Virtual Safety Culture Summit with Charles ‘Sully’ Slainberger and environmentalist Erin Brockovich.
“The work we do is very unusual and dangerous,” he told me. The responsibility of safety should be imposed on everyone. “Everyone needs to know that if there is a problem, they can talk about it.”
When it was originally proposed that identical twins be sent into orbit for a year-long stay on the ISS, scientists had the unique opportunity to study the effects of space on the human body.
Using Mark as a genetic ‘control’ on Earth, scientists thought that the changes they were seeing in Scott were due to the space environment. The twin brothers underwent several tests for their physiology, cognitive abilities and possible changes in their DNA.
Among other things, the results revealed genetic mutations that suggested that Scott’s DNA was recovering from cosmic radiation damage.
Scientists also noticed unexpected changes in the ‘caps’ at the ends of Scott’s chromosomes, called telomeres, as well as changes in their blood chemistry, body parts and gut flora. But after returning to Earth, most of these changes returned to normal.
Four years later, he says: “I no longer have any symptoms that may be due to the passage of time in space, but there have been some structural and physical changes in my eyes, but they have not affected my vision.”
Scientists know that some people are more affected by space changes than others, and work is underway on genetics to bridge those differences. I asked Kelly if as we got more information about how different people react in the space environment, could these things play a big role in the selection of astronauts?
“I think it’s not just NASA, it’s the problem of our society in general,” he says. It has to do with insurance and pre-existing conditions. Genetic sensitivity may or may not be considered a pre-existing condition, but it can certainly be a matter of morality.
Investigations into the twins are convincing space agencies that humans could be sent to Mars, 34 million miles from Earth, and that it could take nine months to get there. But astronauts will be exposed to 10 times more radiation than Earth’s orbit.
“You either have to find a way to the shield or go to Mars quickly,” says Kelly. The second option is to take the risk.
This is a dilemma that Kelly must have considered carefully. He retired from NASA in 2016, and has been writing and speaking about his experiences ever since. He and his wife moved from Denver, the center of NASA’s Human Spacelight Program, to Houston.
In the four years since his departure, new opportunities for space travel have opened up and skilled people like him are needed. The American astronaut Michael Lopez Allegria, whose long-distance space flight record was broken by Kelly, has now returned from retirement and the privately funded Elon Musk’s Crew Dragon car to reach the SS. Are about to command.
Despite all this, it is clear that Kelly is not thinking about spaceflight yet. “If someone asked me: ‘Hey, do you want to go back into space?’ I would say: ‘Of course.’ But it depends on what the new launch is going to be. I don’t want to get into a cannon and launch like a shell. ‘
“It simply came to our notice then. Yes, I will not reject it at all.
“If someone has a rocket, they need a pilot who can fly it …”