Space fans are used to seeing double when they’re keeping track of twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly, but this week Seattleites can get a double helping of pure Scott.
Tonight, the U.S. record-holder for continuous time in orbit is the star of “Beyond a Year in Space,” a PBS documentary done in cooperation with Time magazine.
The hourlong TV show is a follow-up on an earlier program that aired just after the end of Scott Kelly’s 340-day stint on the International Space Station in March 2016. Part 2 delves into Kelly’s return in depth, including his painful readjustment to Earth’s gravitational pull. At first, even the weight of his clothes gave his skin a burning sensation.
“Gravity definitely gives you a beat-down when you get back,” he says on the show.
Scott and his twin brother, Mark, were the subjects of one of the most intensive biomedical studies ever conducted in space — running the gamut of blood, stool, urine and genetic testing. While Scott drew his own samples in space, Mark dutifully went through parallel routines on Earth, even though he retired from the astronaut corps in 2011.
In addition to wrapping up Kelly’s space story, “Beyond a Year in Space” sheds light on the stories of NASA’s astronauts to come. Two astronauts who were selected to join the corps in 2013 get the full documentary treatment: biologist Jessica Meir and former Navy test pilot Victor Glover.
Along with their fellow astronauts, Meir and Glover are preparing for future flights aboard NASA’s Orion deep-space capsule as well as the space taxis being built by SpaceX and Boeing.
“When I became an astronaut, we were the class that was going to go to Mars,” Kelly says in a voice-over. “I never actually thought that was a realistic thing. But the most recent astronaut class could be. I hope they are.”
The second dose of Scott Kelly comes on Thursday night, when he’s due to speak at the University Temple United Methodist Church in Seattle at 7 p.m. The appearance is presented by University Book Store in connection with Kelly’s newly published memoir, titled “Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery.”
The 400-page best-seller blends tales from Kelly’s last space mission with the life story leading up to it. Kelly was born in 1964, during the peak of the U.S.-Soviet space race, and recalls exactly when he was inspired to become a Navy aviator and eventually an astronaut.
“Everything changed that afternoon when I picked up ‘The Right Stuff,’” Tom Wolfe’s rollicking chronicle of NASA’s early space effort, Kelly writes. “I’d never read anything like this before. I’d heard the word ‘voice’ used to describe literature, but this was something I could actually hear in my head.”
Scott and Mark led eerily parallel lives in their Navy and NASA careers: Both flew missions in the Persian Gulf, albeit on different types of planes from different aircraft carriers. Both applied to join the same class of astronauts, and they took turns wearing Scott’s business suit for their NASA interviews. Both became the world’s only twins to fly in space (though never at the same time).
“Endurance” touches on the lighter side of Scott’s year in space — for example, the time he dressed up in a gorilla suit that was sent to orbit as a gift from his brother.
Why a gorilla suit? “Of course you need a gorilla suit,” Scott says Mark told him. “There’s never been a gorilla suit in space before. You’re getting a gorilla suit. There’s no stopping me.”
But Scott Kelly’s primary message focuses on the serious side of spaceflight. It’s the kind of inspirational message that he got from “The Right Stuff,” and that he hopes future generations will get from “Endurance.”
The success of the International Space Station proves that “when we set our minds to something hard, when we work together, we can do anything, including solving our problems here on Earth,” he writes.
“I also know that 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,” Kelly says. “But I know now that if we decide to do it, we can.”