Past Event On November 17, 2018
Captain Scott Kelly
Lessons from a Year in Space
“It was about having a goal and a plan, it was about taking risks, being willing to make mistakes, at times being willing to fail. It was about focusing on the things I could control, and ignore what I couldn’t. It was about testing the status quo, and about working as a team. When I put all of these things together, what I learned is that the sky is not the limit.”Captain Scott Kelly
Lessons From A Year In Space
Program Date: November 17, 2018
U.S. astronaut Captain Scott Kelly, known for spending 340 consecutive days aboard the International Space Station (ISS), addressed a crowd of 4,500 gathered at Altria Theater on Saturday night to kick off the 33rd season of The Richmond Forum.
Scott Kelly actively chases what is hard. Drawing from his career as a Navy fighter pilot and test pilot, and ultimately a NASA astronaut, he distills his life’s lessons to a single idea: set impossible-seeming goals, then work as hard as you can to achieve them.
He did this when he spent a year in space.
“It was about having a goal and a plan, it was about taking risks, being willing to make mistakes, at times being willing to fail,” Kelly explained. “It was about focusing on the things I could control, and ignore what I couldn’t. It was about testing the status quo, and about working as a team. When I put all of these things together, what I learned is that the sky is not the limit.”
This philosophy did not come naturally to him, however. As a child he struggled paying attention in school. He says that if he were a child today, he’d likely be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, but that wasn’t done in the 1980s.
Captain Scott Kelly on the Twins Study
It wasn’t until college that he stumbled across what would become a sort of guidebook for his life: The Right Stuff by the late novelist Tom Wolfe (a Richmond native and also a past speaker at The Richmond Forum). He felt connected to the test pilots that Wolfe described, and was inspired to become one himself—or maybe even to become an astronaut one day.
Evoking the famous words of fellow space traveler Neil Armstrong, Kelly elaborated: “I know what you might think, you know, an 18-year-old kid reads a book, decides he or she are gonna become an astronaut. That’s a giant leap. But really what it was, was a bunch of very much smaller, manageable steps.”
On December 19, 1999, nearly 18 years to the day from when he read The Right Stuff, Kelly launched from Kennedy Space Center aboard the space shuttle Discovery. He went on to complete two more spaceflights before being selected for the “One-Year Mission” to the ISS.
For Kelly, having that goal was just the push that he needed to work through the “manageable steps” to go to college, earn his Naval wings, graduate from test pilot school, and apply to NASA’s space program.
NASA’s mission was to prepare for travel to Mars, Kelly explained. The trip would be seven months there, one year on the surface, and seven months back. Scientists need to gain a better understanding of the physiological changes that could occur during long-distance spaceflight before Mars travel is possible.
As a result, Scott Kelly and his twin brother, Mark, became participants in NASA’s Twins Study. Scientists observed the brothers before the year-long trip, during the flight, and will continue to study them for the rest of their lives. Preliminary research from the study showed that 7% of Scott’s gene expression had changed during his year in space.
Captain Scott Kelly answering an audience question about going to Mars
In addition to the science aboard the station, Captain Kelly spent a lot of his time in space photographing the Earth. Seeing the planet through a new lens, without its political borders, impressed upon him a common humanity and empathy that he didn’t have before traveling to space.
Kelly gained a new appreciation for the world’s natural beauty and familiarity with Earth to the point where he could identify a location like a patch of desert in Somalia in half a second, and he witnessed firsthand the visible effects of pollution and deforestation on the planet.
But he was most impacted, he said, upon his departure from the ISS.
“I’m leaving the space station for the last time and I’m looking out at the truss. And I’m thinking, we built this million-pound structure while flying around the Earth at 17,500 miles an hour in a vacuum in extremes of temperatures of plus and minus 270 degrees, built by an international partnership of 15 different countries, different languages, different cultures, different technical ways of doing things.
This space station—the hardest thing we’ve ever done, harder than going to the moon. And if we can do this, we can do anything. I was absolutely inspired after spending a year in space that if we can dream it, we can do it […] We can choose to do the hard things. And if we do that, then the sky is definitely not the limit.”
Captain Scott Kelly answering an audience question about dealing with personal emergencies while in space
“It was terrific! We read his book which was excellent and he is a fabulous engaging speaker! Wonderful start to the year.”– Subscriber Comment
About Captain Scott Kelly
Captain Scott Kelly captivated the world during his record-breaking year aboard the International Space Station (ISS). A former military fighter pilot, test pilot, engineer, and a retired U.S. Navy captain, Kelly completed four consecutive expeditions aboard the station during NASA’s “One-Year Mission,” helping to lay the groundwork for the future of space travel and exploration.
Kelly was a flight engineer for expeditions 43 and 44 of the mission, and commander of the ISS for expeditions 45 and 46. His flight included 5,440 orbits around Earth and three spacewalks before returning home after 340 continuous days in space. Captain Kelly also broke the record for most cumulative days living and working in space by a NASA astronaut: 520 days. (The record is now held by Peggy Whitson, who has spent 665 days in space.)
A major scientific goal of the mission was to better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to the harsh environment of space. During the flight, over 400 experiments were conducted on the station. Data from the expedition will be used to reduce risks to the health of future crew members as NASA prepares to advance space travel beyond low Earth orbit, ultimately to Mars.
In space and since his return, Kelly and his identical twin brother, Captain Mark Kelly (The Richmond Forum, 2013), have been the subjects of NASA’s Twins Study, which is designed to provide broader insight into the subtle effects and changes that may occur in spaceflight by studying two individuals who have the same genes, but have lived in different environments for one year. NASA published preliminary findings in early 2018, saying that the Twins Study will “continue to inform NASA’s Human Research Program studies for years to come.”
Captain Kelly retired from NASA in 2016.
In November 2016, Kelly was appointed to a two-year term as United Nations “Champion for Space” by the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs to promote space as a tool for reaching sustainable development goals. He gave the keynote address at the organization’s UNISPACE+50 symposium in June 2018.
Kelly is the New York Times bestselling author of Endurance: My Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery, a memoir of his life, career, and time aboard the ISS. Sony Pictures has optioned the rights to the book and is developing a film adaptation with Scott and Mark Kelly on board as co-executive producers.
Kelly holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the State University of New York Maritime College and a Master’s in Aviation Systems from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Today, Kelly is “location independent,” traveling the world with his wife, Amiko.
“Endurance: My Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery”
Scott Kelly, 2017
“Infinite Wonder: An Astronaut’s Photographs from a Year in Space”
Scott Kelly, 2018
“The Right Stuff”
Tom Wolfe, 1979
- NASA Twins Study