Monday, October 19, 2020

Endurance by Scott Kelly

 Endurance by Scott Kelly is from the retired astronaut who spent a year on the International Space Station, returning to Earth March 2016. It's a solid book that largely alternates chapters between this voyage on the space station, his second long-duration visit there, and the events of his life that led up to it.

Scott's twin brother Mark is also a retired astronaut (and Arizona Senate candidate) and was interesting how the two of them didn't seem to have an exceptional childhood, other than their parents drank a lot so the two kids were often on their own to entertain themselves and wander wherever they wanted. When they were with their parents, there was often fighting or other drama due to the drinking. Scott did note how when he was eleven, his mom decided to become a police officer, just like his father, and how proud he was of her for going through the process to become one, especially passing the difficult physical fitness test. 

Scott wasn't a good student when he was young, but did find something he interested in, working as an EMT while still in high school. He graduated in the bottom half of his class and while in his freshman year of college at University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus happened across The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. He was captivated by the idea of doing something immensely difficult, risking your life for it, and surviving. After reading the book, Scott had a goal to become a Navy pilot, landing on aircraft carriers, and perhaps even an astronaut. 

In his second semester of school, Scott signed up for a precalculus course, something that was going to be very difficult for him, and after putting in the work, he understood the material, with a B-. Out of this he saw that with effort, he could learn something difficult, and later noted how he saw it was just as easy to try to excel at something as to just do something halfway. He then transferred to the State University of New York Maritime College, a small, military-oriented school in New York City. He found that he liked the military discipline, something lacking while growing up. He then did well there, something that he kept building on. 

As Scott progressed through college he knew he wanted to pilot the space shuttle, with it the most difficult craft to fly and he graduated from Maritime in 1987. Having signed up for five years of military service in exchange for an ROTC scholarship, he was assigned to flight school in Pensacola, Florida, continued to thrive and was assigned to fly jets. He progressed to serving as a test pilot and was accepted into the astronaut program in 1996, at the same time as Mark. He got his first shuttle assignment in 1999, going into space on Discovery in December and later serving as commander piloting the shuttle. He notes how he a pilot, not necessarily a scientist, but understands how important the science they do is. The shuttle program ended in 2011 and Scott spent a 159 day stint on the International Space Station in 2010-11. While he on this tour, Mark's wife Gabby Giffords was shot in Tucson, Arizona and Mark three months later flew as commander of Endeavour, its last mission before being retired, with her urging him to complete the assignment. 

The ISS has been inhabited non-stop since Nov 2000, and has been visited by more than two hundred people from sixteen nations. A standard long-duration visit there was five to six months, but a year-long mission was announced in November 2012, with Scott and Russian cosmonaut Misha Kornienko as the two people sent for this stretch in large part to see how the human body would respond to a year in space, something terribly important if we're ever going to send anyone to Mars. Scott and Misha left in 2015 and it was remarkable reading of just how much work had to be done while on board, both in science experiments and ongoing repairs to things breaking on ISS. There were so many systems that had to be fixed and problems solved while they there, it's difficult stuff, this space thing. Recounted in the book are the multiple 7+ hour spacewalks Scott did to do necessary repairs to the outside of the Space Station. During their year in space, Scott and Misha saw a total of thirteen other people come and go from the space station and it was interesting reading of the interactions with crew and the views they experienced, with him noting that of the Bahamas from space.