One year in space, a lifetime of discovery
By Scott Kelly with Margaret Lazarus Dean
387 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $ 29.95.
What will the future of human space exploration be like in the 21st century? If Scott Kelly has something to say about it, we will go to Mars and beyond, with the discipline and determination that fill the pages of his memoirs that relate the extraordinary life he has lived on Earth and in space.
influences, and Kelly is close to the first motivations that led him to his unique career. As a young, unfocused college student, he read Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff," a nonfiction classic about why someone in their right mind would submit to the dangers of space flight. Wolfe's description of the most outstanding pilots was just one of the highlights of a star-filled race that would eventually take him beyond the Earth's atmosphere. Another noteworthy inspiration is the book after which Kelly named his, and which he brings with him on multiple trips to the International Space Station: Alfred Lansing's "Endurance", about Ernest Shackleton's historic expedition to the South Pole, during which his The crew cheated death after their ship was trapped in a polar ice pack, surpassing 850 miles of heavy seas in small lifeboats. Both literary tributes shape the structure of Kelly's own "Endurance". While "The Right Stuff" captures the arrogance, reckless aviators bent on reaching the final frontier, the Lansing account is a clear reminder that along with the explorer's rock star image is the omnipresent specter of death . This horror of total isolation serves as a reminder that space flights, like the exploration of the sea in the old days, are not all exciting; confronts human beings face to face with an indifferent and often hostile environment ready to crush any innocent traveler on a whim.
The narrative of the book is divided between Kelly's year in space: a zero-gravity trip of "unprecedented" duration and her personal development since a child reads "The Right Stuff" in a decorated naval test pilot . One would think that the stories of space travel should eclipse any life story of Earthbound, but in "Endurance," Kelly's humor and self-consciousness in recounting their experiences at home make them as absorbing as those on board the station.
That does not mean that his extraterrestrial anecdotes can not entertain. Kelly is responsible for fixing the toilet of the station, one of the most important devices on board; against the protocol, Americans and Russians on board share garbage bags whose contents then shoot into the atmosphere. (The descriptions of Kelly's camaraderie with her Russian colleagues are easily the most endearing parts of the book and offer some hope in calamitous geopolitical times). Other space chapters are exhausting and stressful, while astronauts expect refueling ships to continue to malfunction and explode, exposing how easily things can go wrong after months of calm.
Kelly's keen self-observation and her moving narrative make a fascinating history of a life on Earth as well, and the value of the book is enhanced by her visions beyond the astronaut's veil. Behind the imposing space suit and the perfect smile there is a three-dimensional person, and "Endurance" offers a brilliant view of the human aspect of space travel by paying equal attention to the origin story in terms of its climax among the stars.
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