Book review: Scott Kelly had the right stuff to be an astronaut
A half century ago, space exploration was a source of wonder that intrigued scientists, politicians, generals and romantics — each with their own visions of what the stars could mean for humankind.
For a young boy growing up in New Jersey, whose parents woke him up in the middle of the night to watch Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon, it was the start of a strange recurring nightmare.
In his dream, he would be preparing to launch in a rocket to the moon, but instead of being secured safely in a seat inside, he would be strapped across the pointed end of it, facing straight up at the heavens.
He knew he wouldn’t be able to survive ignition, and would wake up sweating and terrified, just before the engines burned their fire into the sky.
From these idiosyncratic beginnings, a kid who took every risk he could, not because he was incautious but rather because he was bored and looking for the next big thrill, set out to find a job that would satisfy his adventurous spirt.
It wasn’t until he was a college freshman — and incidentally, a very bad student — that “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe captured his attention and changed his life forever.
“Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery,” by Scott Kelly, is a captivating memoir by an astronaut who has been on four space flights and is the American record-holder for most consecutive days in space, having spent a year aboard the International Space Station.
It has everything you ever wanted to know about living in space, and things you had not even thought to ask, written as if though your best friend is telling you stories from his summer vacation.
While reading Wolfe’s book, Kelly became enraptured by the poetic prose which described the first 15 years of America’s space program.
Wolfe’s description of Navy test pilots catapulting off aircraft carriers, testing unstable aircraft and soaring into the unknown captured his imagination.
When Kelly put down the book at the end of the night, he knew he had found his life’s ambition.
Almost immediately, Kelly’s focus on becoming an astronaut would match the intensity and determination on which his future space missions would depend for success.
Along with his twin brother, Mark, he would be accepted into the largest astronaut class in NASA’s history.
Every story he delves into dealing with life in space is fascinating, but the book is tempered by the harsh realities on Earth that, like gravity, can weigh a person down.
Kelly describes navigating the extreme challenges of long-term space flight while undergoing isolation from the people he loves, along with missing the routine comforts of home.
Kelly poignantly recalls the agonizing, worst-case scenario he faced when his twin brother’s wife, U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was shot while he was in space.
While he was assigned to ISS Expedition Twenty-six, Giffords was a victim in a mass shooting in Tucson. The next day, he led a moment of silence from space.
“Endurance,” is far and away the best first-hand account of space exploration I have ever read.
It is an astounding look into the life experiences of a man who has sacrificed much in the name of science, and in the hopes that girls and boys throughout the world will still gaze into the stars with thoughts of setting foot on Mars — and beyond.
Vincent Bosquez is a retired Marine Corps captain and coordinator of Veterans Affairs at Palo Alto College.