In 2016, astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth after a record-breaking 340 consecutive days aboard the International Space Station. Kelly’s remarkable voyage is detailed in his new memoir, Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery, an exhilarating saga that looks forward to the future of spaceflight—including an eventual mission to Mars.
Kelly’s book takes readers from his early years as an insouciant kid who took every risk he could “because everything else was boring,” to the day his life changed after spotting a Tom Wolfe novel at his college bookstore, to his time as a Navy test pilot—all of which ultimately propelled him toward a career at NASA. A modern-day trailblazer, Kelly’s time on the International Space Station is already proving invaluable to scientists studying the effects of long-term space travel on the human body.
Pulse emailed Kelly, busy with an international book tour, 10 questions:
PULSE | In the book, you say the sacrifices you have made for space travel have been worth it because you have helped advance human knowledge. But how concerned are you about the long-term health issues you may experience because of your time in space? And will this be an issue for space travel to Mars?
SK | The radiation could be an issue, but I don’t dwell on stuff I have no control over. On a trip to Mars, radiation is a much larger concern as we are away from the radiation protection afforded by the magnetic field of Earth.
PULSE | Would you say understanding the effects of long-term space travel on the human body is one of the biggest hurdles to getting to Mars? A lot can go wrong. You write about fixing a tooth, pulling a muscle while exercising, CO2 levels and some scary swelling after your return to Earth.
SK | Physical effects are a concern. That’s why we did this year-long flight. The biggest hurdle is the money it will take for a human mission to Mars.
PULSE | You were in an enclosed and foreign environment during your year in space, and you coped in various ways. In regard to mental health, what is your advice for those who need guidance when faced with a challenging situation?
SK | Focus on the stuff you can control and ignore the stuff you can’t. This philosophy works for me both professionally and personally.
PULSE | You say the human body and mind are the weakest links in the chain that makes spaceflight possible. How can we strengthen those links?
SK | Research.
PULSE | You are very candid in the book about your personal and professional life. Was this a conscious decision?
SK | Yes, that was on purpose. I think a story with personal anecdotes and honesty is more relatable to the reader—it makes for a better story.
PULSE | You write about visiting your grandmother in her nursing home and thinking about what sort of life you would have to look back on. This was a turning point for you. Could you spin that epiphany into some solid advice?
SK | One bit of advice I’ve heard that seems to make sense is treat every day like it’s your last.
PULSE | Spaceflight helps advance scientific discoveries. In regard to medicine and health care, what important advancements do you hope to see in your lifetime?
SK | I hope our exploration of space will allow us to appreciate Earth more. It would be great if we could cure cancer, too.
PULSE | Is there anything else you’d like to add in relation to science and medicine?
SK | I think people would be surprised by the extent of the medical training astronauts get, from advanced cardiac life support to dentistry.
PULSE | What has surprised you most about your book’s reception or about the book tour?
SK | I’m happy people like the story. I suspected they might. I didn’t know much about book tours, but I like meeting the people who come out.
PULSE | You write that attempting something difficult is the only way to live. Now that you have retired from NASA, what difficult goals will you work toward?
SK | Therein lies my problem. I need to figure that one out—maybe next year.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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