Queens to Captain Kelly
Captain Scott Kelly from the International Space Station talks about his expedition from March 2015 to March 2016
Imagine this: you are one of three people in a huge spacecraft, gazing at a blue sphere that holds more than seven billion people. You don’t see national boundaries, political affiliations or war—just bodies of water, masses of land and clouds.
This was Captain Scott Kelly’s view from the International Space Station during his expedition with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko (later joined by cosmonaut Sergey Volkov) from March 2015 to March 2016. The numbers can be hard to take in: orbiting Earth 5,440 times over 340 days, the rocket men conducted more than 400 scientific experiments to better understand physics, combustion technology, biology and other studies that help explore the effects of our presence in space.
Although he’s home from space, Kelly’s work is not done: his physiology is being compared to his twin, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, to determine if a “space gene” has been activated since Scott’s trip in space. The first report of the Twin Study revealed that his DNA has changed— his telomeres, which depict a person’s physical age, have improved.
As the Queens Learning Society speaker, Kelly’s full day included an afternoon Q&A on campus and an evening presentation at Charlotte’s Knight Theater. In the afternoon, members of the campus community were joined by fourth graders from Charlotte Country Day School whose teacher, Queens alumna Lori Townsend ’01, had incorporated Kelly’s year-long mission into their curriculum
Here are some of the questions our down-to-earth astronaut took during his visit, with answers edited for brevity:
Your first time in space was in 1999, before there was social media. Did it make a difference during the space station mission?
It’s a huge game-changer to engage the public directly and see their responses to what you’re doing and saying. It’s also a lot of fun. I was doing this Tweet chat one day, and President Obama asked me if I ever looked out the window and just freaked out. I said, “No, Mr. President, I don’t really freak out about anything except getting a Twitter question from you.” And immediately, Buzz Aldrin — the guy who walked on the moon — jumps into the conversation. and says, “Mr. President, he’s only in low Earth orbit. I went all the way to the moon.” So, I got trolled in space by the second man on the moon. That’s like the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. By the way, my favorite hashtag is #theskyisnotthelimit.
In an interview with The Guardian, you mentioned how space travel makes you more of an environmentalist. Can you elaborate?
If everyone got a chance to see what the Earth looks like from space, they would want to take better care of it. As far as we know, this planet is unique in our universe, and it’s the only one we have. The effects on the environment that you can see from space are troubling. Between my first and last flight, which was 17 years, I saw the rainforests in South America get wiped out.
What did you miss the most from Earth?
People. And the weather. Wind, rain, sun — those are things you really, really miss.
How do you stay fit in space? What kinds of exercise can you do without gravity?
Without exercise in space, you would lose one percent of your bone mass every single month. We have a very good resistive-exercise device that uses compressed air to provide the opposing force. It feels like real weight. We have a treadmill we bungee ourselves to and a stationary bicycle, which we just clip onto the feet like you would do on Earth.
If you had to pick one film that represents being in space, what film would you recommend?
We watched The Martian and Gravity on the space station. As far as science accuracy, The Martian is a great movie. In Gravity, despite how it just disregarded physics, the space station and the Soyuz look remarkably accurate. Apollo 13 was filmed in zero-G for a few seconds at a time, so when those guys are floating in there, it looks good.
Do you think that civilization could thrive in space?
With artificial gravity and a good way to protect ourselves from radiation, I don’t see why not.
If you had to give away all your memories from space, which one would you keep?
One would be the first time I launched into space when I was a pilot of a space shuttle mission.