I suppose those of us who live on Earth can be forgiven for taking a little pleasure at using eye-rolling space puns for those who travel to space. I just finished reading Scott Kelly’s book, Endurance: A Year in Space, and the temptation is to joke exploiting the different possible meanings of the astronomical number of words around space travel in his book.
Punning aside, Scott Kelly didn’t just write a book about his expeditions to space. He wrote a book about going to the ends of the earth – through his lifelong work — to leave the Earth. He traveled from New Jersey, where he and his twin brother, also an astronaut, were born, to the International Space Station, 249 miles above our planet, where he commanded several expeditions and lived for 350 days on his last expedition before he retired to pursue more earthly matters. I consider one expedition a stellar achievement. But three times, well, it is out of this world. He holds the record – his 350 days — for the single longest space mission by an American astronaut.
His story, however, is made more remarkable for a kid who graduated at the bottom half of his class in high school. He didn’t apply himself to his schoolwork and some of his teachers didn’t know what to do with him so they just ignored him.
There’s a certain justice restored if his science teacher was among these teachers. On his way to becoming an astronaut, this kid — the one they ignored — became an engineer, a fighter and test pilot and a U.S. Navy captain. Holy cow. Then he eventually helped expand our capacity to live in space longer (and was one of the astronauts during his last expedition to grow and harvest red romaine lettuce in space).
As a parent, I really like Kelly’s book, an inspirational blueprint of sorts for the ranked-in-the bottom-half students, and am now looking at a daughter differently. This daughter who peels her backpack off like an unwelcome leech when she gets home after school. She struggles with low working memory, and rote memorization is about as excruciating as peeling off that said leech. She can memorize her multiplication facts for say 8’s but the next day it seems like she’s re-learning her 8’s again.
But, back at home, she immerses herself into the zone where she does her best work. Take that 8’s! Our mason jars are transformed into snow globes and she uses Q-tips to make earphones for her dolls. Our leftover cardboard becomes a shower, toilet and a bed, and her model clay rises on four legs as she kneads them into animals. She fixes broken things and sells the things she makes. I’d venture to say she would relish the challenge to help Kelly fix things, like the toilet, at the space station where the lack of gravity makes repair jobs more challenging than ordinarily would be on Earth.
After I finished reading Kelly’s book last night, I went outside on the porch squinting at the dark expanse of the starry sky for an improbable glimpse of the space station, wondering who might be looking down at us. One of his favorite things to do was to view the Earth from his window whenever he could. At times throughout his book he snapped shots of what he was seeing through his descriptions. “One of my favorite views of the Earth is of the Bahamas — a large archipelago with a stunning contrast from light to dark colors. The vibrant deep blue of the ocean mixes with a much brighter turquoise, swirled with something almost like gold, where the sun bounces off the sandy shallows and reefs,”
Forget the camera analogy. Is he a poet laureate in the works? Who was his ELA teacher? Another time he identifies the land that makes up Asia, lamenting the pollution covering most of the country, which I also find very troubling.
In his last chapter he describes his landing back on Earth, a my-heart-in-my-throat roller coaster of a ride he thoroughly enjoyed, and talks about his hope for the future of space travel. He hopes the space station — the largest peacekeeping initiative between countries — will continue as such and his last landing — he’s now retired — is a stop from where other equally brave astronauts and their teams can fuse the rocket further into space to Mars.
“If we want to go to Mars, it will be very, very difficult, it will cost a great deal of money, and it may cost human lives,” he says. “But I know now that if we decide to do it, we can.”
Aw, heck, lettuce try.