2017-05-19 / Neighbors

‘The sky is not the limit’

Scott Kelly recounts his year on International Space Station
By Sylvie Belmond


ENTHRALLING—Astronaut Scott Kelly gives a down-to-earth talk May 9 about space travel now and in the future. He was this season’s final speaker in the Distinguished Speaker Series at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. 
Courtesy of Speakers Series ENTHRALLING—Astronaut Scott Kelly gives a down-to-earth talk May 9 about space travel now and in the future. He was this season’s final speaker in the Distinguished Speaker Series at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. Courtesy of Speakers Series From launch to landing, Capt. Scott Kelly took the audience on a motivational journey of personal discoveries through space and back down to earth.

People often ask: What’s the best part of flying in space?

“For me it’s about doing the hard things. . . . That’s what’s so great about the space program,” Kelly told attendees May 9 in his Distinguished Speaker Series presentation in Thousand Oaks.

Doing the hard thing requires a goal and a plan, he said. It’s about taking risks and not fearing failure.

“It was focusing on the things I could control and ignoring the things that I couldn’t. It’s about testing the status quo, about working as a team,” said Kelly, a NASA astronaut who helped to lay the groundwork for the future of space travel and exploration.


NOTEWORTHY—While in space, astronaut Kelly received these poignant tweets from two very interested bystanders. 
Courtesy of Speakers Series NOTEWORTHY—While in space, astronaut Kelly received these poignant tweets from two very interested bystanders. Courtesy of Speakers Series Drawing from his yearlong experience of living and working on the International Space Station with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, Kelly chronicled the choices and life events that paved his way to a 143-million-mile adventure in orbit.

While introducing Kelly, Speaker Series host Marc Cohen said the astronaut’s unparalleled life lessons, enthralling stories and candid commentary give people a new appreciation for time and space.

Both Kelly and his identical twin brother, Mark, are retired Navy pilots and NASA astronauts. They grew up in New Jersey during the height of the Apollo space program.

Their father, Richard, was a police officer, and their mother, Patricia, a former secretary and waitress, became one of the first female officers in West Orange, N.J., when Kelly and his brother were teens.

Kelly said his mother inspired him and his brother to pursue “lofty goals” because, even though she was not particularly athletic, she came up with a step-by-step plan and worked hard to pass the men’s physical fitness test to join the police force.

Calling himself an average student who had difficulty focusing in school, Kelly said “The Right Stuff,” by Tom Wolfe, propelled him into aeronautics. The book is about the inner world of the early astronauts who flew experimental rocket-powered and high-speed aircraft in the 1950s.

“This was the spark that I needed to get moving in the right direction,” said the pilot and astronaut who, like his mother, decided to take small, manageable steps to reach his objective.

He taught himself to pay attention in school, graduated with an engineering degree and joined the Navy to become a fighter pilot.

Through teamwork, focus, resolve and leadership, Kelly said, he realized “the sky is not the limit.”

During his 25-year career with the Navy, he logged over 8,000 hours in more than 40 different aircraft and spacecraft and made over 250 carrier landings. In 1996, he and his brother were invited to join NASA’s astronaut program.

After two space shuttle missions, Kelly served as NASA’s director of operations in Star City, Russia, and he and two cosmonauts spent a 157-day stay aboard the ISS in 2011.

That journey led to the one-year mission from March 2015 to March 2016.

According to NASA, Kelly and Kornienko conducted experiments, reconfigured station modules and captivated the world with live interviews and never-before-seen photos from the International Space Station.

“Living on the space station is hard. You can’t go outside. There is no sun, no wind, no rain; it’s always the same. . . . You’re always at work and you can never leave. There is also a risk of orbital debris,” said Kelly, a father of two.

But the purpose of the mission was worth the discomfort and risks, he said.

“We’re up there for the science,” he said.

Data provided by Kelly and his twin brother, who remained on Earth, will help scientists to identify and reach solutions to health problems that emerge in long-duration spaceflight, including bone loss, muscle deterioration, damage to vision and the effects of extended radiation exposure. These findings could also help to slow aging for people on Earth and to prepare astronauts for Mars missions.

Kelly said he was exposed to the equivalent of 20 chest X-rays per day while he was in space.

He talked about what it was like to walk in space.

“When you open that hatch and the Earth is 225 miles below and you’re going 17,500 miles an hour floating outside . . . there is nothing really more important than what you’re doing right then. It’s definitely one of those life moments when you’re absolutely focused,” he said.

He said that at some point “you do get to look at the Earth, and you really get to appreciate the fragility of our atmosphere and how thin it is. It looks like contact lenses on your eye, and that’s everything that protects us and keeps us alive.”

He talked about the noticeable effects of human activities such as deforestation and air pollution. Some parts of Asia are almost always covered in smog, he said.

Upon returning to Houston last year, Kelly, 53, was reunited with his daughters, his girlfriend, his twin brother and his sister-in-law, former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Kelly retired from NASA and is working on a book called “Endurance,” slated to be published this fall.

Thousand Oaks resident Carol Harrison said his presentation was engaging, entertaining and fascinating.

“He did a really good job appealing to all segments of the audience. It was a motivational speech without seeming to be one. It made people enthusiastic about his particular field and also whatever your own is,” she said.

The speech concluded with a brief Q&A session. Kelly was the last speaker in the Distinguished Speaker season. Former Vice President Joe Biden will kick off the 2017-18 season in October.

The series is open to the public in subscription packages only. Single tickets are not available.

In the critical moments

While landing in the space shuttle felt like driving a Bentley down Park Avenue, returning to earth in the Russian Soyuz capsule was a much more medieval experience, Kelly said as he described the sensations of liftoffs and landings.

Taking off in the shuttle: “It feels like the hand of God has just lifted you off the launchpad and is throwing you in outer space.”

Coming down to Earth in Soyuz: “It’s like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel but while you’re on fire. And, as soon as you realize you’re not going to die, the most fun you’ve ever had in your life.”

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