“I think it’s… you know, looking at the earth, and being detached from it gives you more appreciation for it. And I think, more appreciation for humanity.” –Scott Kelly
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Astronaut Scott Kelly, the first NASA astronaut embarked on a historic mission…he blasted into orbit and began his record-setting 340 day mission to help study the effects of long-term space flight on the human body. Kelly talks about his long career as a Navy pilot, space exploration, his year on the space station and his most recent endeavor -his new book “Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery.”
Find out how:
- Reading “The Right Stuff” put Scott on track to a career in space
- The value of diversity in a major project
- the importance of Scott’s stay on the Space Station to future space trips, including possible trips to Mars
Kelly is an inspiration going from a below average student to commanding the Space Shuttle!
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Transcript & Shownotes
Hi folks. Welcome back. This is Commander Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for your time. Wherever you are. Driving your car or sitting at home, I super-appreciate it. I know you have a lot vying for your attention and a billion thing to do. And I really appreciate you taking the time to listen as we learn how to develop our Unbeatable Minds, and become a little bit more worthy of taking care of our own shit in the world and helping evolve humanity.
So that said, I’m super-, super-stoked for our podcast guest today. What an honor it’s going to be to talk to Scott Kelly. Before I give him a more formal introduction, just let me remind you it always helps if you rate the podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to it, or wherever you find it. Super-helpful. If you just start with the 5 stars that’d be cool.
And then also… you know, this whole thing came out of our Unbeatable Mind training that we started provide to SEAL trainees back in 2007. Many of you know that the training for those who really took it seriously, has led to about a 90% success rate in getting those guys through their training. And so the SEALs are taking notice, and we’re having meetings with them about how to use this training at BUD/S and whatnot. We’ll see what comes of that, but it works. If it works for the SEALs and Spec Ops guys, it’ll work for you. So check out unbeatablemind.com to learn more about our foundation course which is a 12 month odyssey.
All right, so Scott Kelly is a… I’m super-stoked. Scott, thanks for being here. I’m going to give you a little introduction, but really just can’t wait to get into a conversation with you. But I came across your book literally just like a month ago while I was travelling and it stopped me in my tracks. Because of course I recognize the title…”Endurance” is certainly the name of space shuttle and immediately I said, “Wow. That’s Scott.”
Scott Kelly: “Endeavour.”
Mark: Oh, “Endeavor.” Was that the one that you… I though “Endurance”… Wasn’t there one? There obviously wasn’t.
Scott: No. Maybe that was at Disney World or something.
Mark: (laughing) Probably was, yeah. So there you go. So your book though is called “Endurance.” It’s about a year that you spent on the space station. And I understand it was quite a year. Now you’re back and so you were a former Navy pilot… Navy captain… You were a test pilot and you got a twin brother who’s an astronaut. So there’s just so many cool things about your story, but I want to talk about you and then I’ve thumbed through and read parts of the book, “Endurance.” I can’t wait to dig into it a little bit deeper, but it looks great.
So Scott, tell me… First, thanks for being here. And give us a little sense of where you came from and what was the early part of your life like that got you interested in this odyssey in the space world?
Scott: Yeah so I grew up in New Jersey. You know, born in 1964. Blue collar family. Both parents were cops, and… wasn’t a great student growing up. It was kind of like a rambunctious kid that couldn’t pay attention. I think if I was a kid today I’d be diagnosed with ADD or something.
And did not do well at school ever until I was at college. And I went to college just cause that’s kind of what everyone did in that part of New Jersey. And I was walking across campus one day and happened to go into the bookstore and saw a book on the shelf that just kind of caught my eye. It was it was just the cover that had a red, white and blue cover and colors, and a really cool title. Picked it up and looked at it, and the book was “The Right Stuff,” by Tom Wolfe. And I felt like I had things in common with these guys except for the fact that I was a bad student. And I thought if I could change that then I could maybe fly in space someday. Definitely… not definitely but perhaps be a pilot in the Navy, and a test pilot, and if I was lucky, maybe an astronaut.
Mark: That’s pretty amazing. So what were your parents like? Did you have kind of this sense that you could do anything handed down by your parents? Or did that come from somewhere deep within?
Scott: You know, my mom became a cop when I was… I don’t know, like maybe about 12 years old. And she was one of the first female police officers in the state of New Jersey. And seeing what she went through to achieve that goal I think made an impression on my brother and I. Although it wasn’t… it wasn’t enough of an impression to turn me into a good student. But it still allowed me to see somebody who I had respect for and had this goal that she thought she couldn’t achieve. And then working really, really hard to get it and accomplish it.
My dad was a cop, also. He was kinda like one of these stereotypical, 1970s police detective guy that you would see on TV. That was… if he wasn’t a cop, who knows what he would have been doing? But he was… yeah… exactly.
Mark: (laughing) That’s funny. I often thought that about my dad. My dad was literally handed a family business, and I was thinking “Thank God.” Not sure what the hell he woulda done without that. That’s fascinating.
Scott: Yeah. And I guess… you know, my parent both worked a lot and not only did they give my brother and I a long leash. I think when we were teenagers, they kinda cut the leash. So I don’t know what kind of influence that had on me. Maybe it had some…
Mark: You must have felt really independent, right?
Scott: Yeah, we were very independent. I think emotionally we were more… we acted maybe older than our age. And you know, my parents didn’t always get along. Actually, they didn’t get along well at all. And I think that made my brother and I able to deal with stress and conflict at a young age.
So I think my upbringing probably had some influence over where I ended up.
Mark: It sound like it. It sounds like you had a lot of resiliency right out of the chute there.
So “The Right Stuff.” I loved that book, too. I remember reading that. And that was about the Mercury program, right? John Glenn and all those guys…?
Scott: Well, it was about the early days of flight tests and supersonic airplanes with Chuck Yeager. But also followed the military guys that became the original astronauts. And all the way through the Apollo program.
Mark: So you went then, to college with this idea–thinking that maybe you wanted to do something like that. And that led you into the Navy. You went to the Navy right after college?
Scott: Yeah so my first year of college I wasn’t doing well. And like I said, I found the book “The Right Stuff,” and then I went to a military type school. And that had a regimental kind of system that would give me a little bit of discipline and… But I was a Navy ROTC and then when I graduated I went right to the… right to flight school. In Pensacola.
Mark: Where’d you go to college?
Scott: New York Maritime College. It was part of the state university of New York. It was a great place for me. AT the time, it wasn’t hard to get into. It’s a lot harder now, because it’s a… people have done well coming out of there. Including myself. But the discipline, I think for me was important and allowed me to focus on my education.
Navy to Space
Mark: So you went to flight school and obviously you had to focus on one thing at a time, but were you still thinking, “Hey, I’m going to…” Were you charting an application to NASA at that stage into your early career path? Or were you just, like, super-stoked to be there and focused on learning how to fly?
Scott: Yeah, you know, I was flying for flying’s sake. It wasn’t like an all or nothing kind of thing. I didn’t become a pilot because I wanted to be an astronaut. That was certainly like the ultimate goal if it worked out… if it didn’t, I would have been happy just kind of hanging out in the Navy for 30 years and being a pilot and hopefully… I wanted to be the CO of an aircraft carrier maybe someday. Especially with my merchant marine training background. But worked out for me.
Mark: Yeah. Was this something… the interest in the astronaut program something that was talked about? Or you knew a bunch of other pilots who were kind of gunning for that? I mentioned earlier when we chatted that I knew Captain Bill Shepherd and Commander Chris Cassidy who were the 2 SEALs… and there’s a new one now. Forget his name. Who became astronauts. But it wasn’t something in the SEAL community… certainly not before Mr. Shepherd… that we talked about.
Scott: During the Space Shuttle days if you were a test pilot in the military it was… at least it seemed to me that most guys would apply to be astronauts. So it’s not something that was really talked about a whole lot. My brother and I didn’t talk about it at all. We kind of just applied independently of one another. It was kind of the thing you did as a test pilot back in those days.
I don’t know how it is now. Maybe it’s still the same.
Mark: Now your brother was a twin? His name is Mark, right?
Scott: Yeah, he’s still a twin.
Mark: (laughing) Imagine that. That’s funny how that works.
So did you guys go to the same school? Or did you go to different schools not together?
Scott: We did not go to the same college. He went to the US Merchant Marine Academy which is a federal school. Similar to the school I went to, but, you know, was a federal school versus state.
Mark: It’s amazing how your career…
Scott: Where did you go to college?
Mark: I went to Colgate University in upstate New York. And then I went into the business world… went to NYU, got my MBA and became a CPA and then decided that was all just not the right path for me. So I joined the SEALs when I was 25. Completely different path.
So let’s kind of speed through… any real notable lessons or challenges from your Navy career that kind of stand out?
Scott: Well, you know…
Mark: Not the astronaut part…
Scott: From piloting airplanes perspective, you know, it’s really good training for… certainly if you’re going to be a pilot or commander of the Space Shuttle, or you’re going to be the person that’s controlling any future space vehicles.
But I wasn’t the greatest pilot at first. And I know that’s hard for people to believe. They think, “Oh, that guy, he landed a Space Shuttle. So he’s probably been the best at everything he’s ever done.” And that was not my experience and what I found in flight school–I did well enough to get to fly jets, but once I started flying the F-14 Tomcat I wasn’t the greatest at it. I disqualified the first time I went to the aircraft carrier in the F-14. And I disqualified during the day, which is supposed to be the easy part.
I almost killed myself on a number of occasions in the Tomcat. And those were good lessons for the amount of focus and discipline and attention to detail you need when you’re flying something as complicated as a Space Shuttle. Or doing a spacewalk.
Yeah, so it was good training
Mark: Leaping ahead here, but how did flying the Space Shuttle compare to flying the F-14?
Scott: In most ways the Space Shuttle is much more complicated and difficult. With the exception of one thing. And that is landing on the ship at night.
Mark: (laughing) That’s largely automatic right now, isn’t it?
Scott: Well, I wouldn’t say automatic but I think it’s gotten a lot easier.
Mark: I’ve got some friends who were carrier… who did what you did… and one of my buddies had over a hundred night carrier landings. And he said it was just an intensely challenging thing. But, you know, much more instinct than anything else.
Scott: I would say that half of the time it was kind of terrifying at night. During the daytime, it could be fun, but it was not easy. Even landing the Space Shuttle–it doesn’t have any engines on landing, doesn’t have any fuel. It’s a big glider. And has some significant deficiencies flying quality-wise. And you’ve been in space, and you have like one opportunity to do this in your lifetime… or maybe 2 or 3… In my case 1.
Still, landing on the ship at night is harder. Especially in the airplane I flew.
Mark: Right. So tell us about your… when you finally decided to apply for the astronaut program… how did that go? Did you get in the first time, and all that kind of stuff? And what was your early career like?
I kind of want to build the foundation for talking more about your year in space.
Scott: So I kind of applied because the guy that I shared the office with was applying too…
Mark: (laughing) That’s funny.
Scott: Cause I didn’t think that I could get in. I didn’t have a Master’s degree, I just didn’t feel like I was competitive at the time.
Mark: So what do you think happened? What was…? I mean, congratulations, by the way. I don’t want to minimize it… but what’s going on there?
Scott: I think that… what’s the saying that… when preparation meets opportunity or something. That kind of thing. I think from a flight test perspective I was doing some cool stuff. I was a test pilot at Pax River I think for this class they were looking for some younger people than they generally look for.
And I think it probably didn’t hurt that the CO of the squadron I was in had some connections at NASA. Cause it seemed like a lot of my colleagues that eventually got selected, we were all kind of working in the same place at the same time.
Mark: Interesting. That helps.
Scott: so I think, yeah, sometimes, you know, for something that competitive I think timing is important. Maybe a little luck if there’s such a thing.
Yeah, so I just kind of applied just not thinking I would ever get a call back, and then got an interview and did well enough during the interview and did okay with, I guess, the psychological stuff and medical stuff all worked out. Got a phone call in May of 1996 to come to Houston a few months later and be an astronaut. Or start astronaut training, at least.
Mark: Nice. So what are the stats like? In those years how many people were applying for those limited slots?
Scott: Yeah, you know, I don’t know exactly. You hear numbers in the 4 to 5,000 range. This last class, I think it was like 18,000…
Mark: Wow. Wow. Interesting.
So what was you’re…what would the career look like for you. I know it’s probably different for everyone, just like it is in the military. What did your career look like? Not including the year you spent in space. I wanna talk about your book…
Scott: Yeah, so I showed up as a… there was gonna be what I thought my career would be was I would do the astronaut training, fly in space a couple of times on the Space Shuttle as a pilot. And then a couple of times as a commander and that would probably be it.
Mark: And each of those go arounds is like 3 or 4 years, roughly? Between the training and the deployment…?
Scott: You know, a Shuttle… the training course shuttle flight would be about a year. But then you wouldn’t get assigned to another one right away. So it just varies. I had people in my class that it took them, you know, 10 years before they flew in space. I was fortunately lucky somehow and was the first American in my class to fly in space. Which is a pretty big comeback for a kid at 18 who couldn’t do his homework…
Mark: (laughing) I’ll say…
Scott: And then read a book. Cause it was 18 years later that I flew in space for the first time.
Scott: After reading “The Right Stuff,” so I flew once as a pilot, and then when I got back from that flight, I was offered a job as the head of NASA’s office in Star City in Russia. And I did that for about 9 months.
Mark: I read in the book that’s where you met Captain Bill Shepherd who was the SEAL team guy that I met…
Scott: Yeah, yeah, yeah…
Mark: The first commander of the space station. Rowdy Bill. Interesting guy.
Scott: (laughing) Yeah, he was pretty hard-core.
Mark: Yeah, no question. (laughing) yeah, he was inspiring to all of us and I think a few other… like I said earlier, a few other SEALs kind of took his lead. Chris Cassidy was one and this new guy…
Mark: So that’s where you first met the Russians and learned about that…
Scott: That’s when I kind of got exposed to the space station program… just being the head of NASA’s office there which… it’s kind of like being the mayor of the Americans in Star City. Not a significant leadership role, but something that gave me some exposure.
And then when I got back from that assignment, I was asked to do something I really didn’t want to do and that was fly as a backup for a space station increment… When we’re on the space station for a long time. Space station crews are called “increment’ crews, and the chief of the office wanted me to be the backup and then never fly in space. It was kind of a bad deal, but I tried to get out of it…
Mark: What does it mean to be a backup? That means if something goes wrong with… I think it was her… then you would have to take her place.
Scott: Yeah, it was Peggy Whitson… yeah, if she was medically disqualified or something I would fly in her place.
Mark: so you had to do all the training that she did and kind of mirror her work so to speak?
Scott: Yeah. And but then there was no real space flight attached to it, so it was kind of a crappy deal. But I did it, you know…
Mark: There must have been some kind of give-back for you for agreeing to do that, right?
Scott: Oh yeah. The deal was if I did that then my next flight on the Space Shuttle, then I’d fly as the commander of the Space Shuttle instead of the pilot. Which is not necessarily a great deal because… On one hand it is because it’s recognizing that you’ve done a good job. But it’s like one less space flight on a Space Shuttle which is considered pretty cool thing to do.
But I made the deal that I would be the backup and then I’d go ahead and fly as the commander of the Space Shuttle. And then after that the commander of Space Station. And during that whole process the guy who offered me that left… (laughing)
Scott: but fortunately his replacement… the follow-on chief of the astronaut office, Kent Rominger honored what we had agreed to.
Yeah, and then I flew a couple more times.
Mark: So, is it like being in the Navy where like… is the commander of a Space Station like being commanding officer of a SEAL team, kinda thing? I mean, it’s both a position as well as a job that you do?
Scott: Yeah, yeah. You know, you’re the on-scene leadership. But, you know, you’re still working with a control center, you know. So you’re not… you have some authority. You have the leadership role with the other crew members. Safety and flight kind of stuff.
Certainly there are certain decisions that are not entirely up to you. The flight director and the program make. Which I think is similar to the military… Yeah, you have to work with other folks, on some of the decisions.
The International Space Station
Mark: Right. So did you get to go to the Space Station on any of these gigs prior to your year in space?
Scott: So my first flight I was a pilot of a Hubble telescope mission so not that time. But when I was the commander of the Space Shuttle on Space Shuttle Endeavor, it was a Space Station assembly mission is what it was called.
So, yeah, so we went through the Space Station.
Mark: And what were you assembling up there?
Scott: We brought a small piece of the truss. We brought this thing called a ESP this… can’t even remember what that stands for… but it’s like a spare parts holder.
Mark: Mm-hmm. Was the Station occupied when you did it? When you did that mission?
Scott: Yeah. Yup. It sure was. There was a crew of three people on board at the time. And we flew in 2007…
Mark: Most people have no idea the scope of the station now, and kind of the unbelievable, international team and effort that went to put it together. Can you briefly describe that for listeners? What is the Space Station like and kind of how did it come to be? It’s just extraordinary and I don’t think… it’s kind of like going back to the moon. I don’t think we could do it today without a huge reorientation. It’s amazing.
Scott: Yeah, so it’s 15 countries involved. The European Space Agency is a partnership of a lot of European countries. Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK… many others. Japan. Russia is a big partner. And the US. Between Russia and the US we’re like the two largest partners.
And the Space Station is in kind of 2 halves. The US side and the Russian side. There a lot different than one another as you might expect.
Thing weighs a million pounds. Size of a football field. Has some incredible capability to do science. Has had people on it since Bill Shepherd, like you mentioned, the first commander of the Space Station. He launched in October of 2000, so that’s the last time all the people of earth were on the planet at one time.
Mark: (Laughing) Wow, that’s interesting to think about.
Scott: Generally has a crew of 6 people on board.
Mark: That’s surprising. It’s that big, and it only has… is that because it costs a lot to send people up? Or could it handle more than 6?
Scott: You know, I’ve been up there with… let me see… I’ve been up there with 12 when the Space Shuttle was up there. With the Space Shuttle it can handle that many because the Shuttle has its own life support systems that can help out. With the Soyuz, I’ve been up there with 9 people. And that’s kind of stretches the capability of life support system a little bit. So…
Mark: Which is mostly the oxygen scrubber. Is that the primary system you’re talking about?
Scott: Mostly it’s… the big thing is the carbon dioxide scrubber.
Mark: Interesting. You mentioned that the Russian side being really different than the US/EU side. And I imagine it being like rigger taped up, and boxy kind of equipment just like in the movies. What is it really like? The Russian side…?
Scott: you know, yeah… their hardware definitely has a certain look and feel to it that looks a little bit dated, I guess. They have to do a lot more, with less money, so that’s understandable. And they’re often… you notice their practicality in the way they do things. I think they’re just forced into it.
And so to me a lot of the hardware kind of resembles, like, what you would imagine some Russian military equipment from the Soviet days would look like I guess. It’s kind of hard to describe but from an appearance perspective… the hardware looks a little bit older. A little bit less sophisticated. The lighting in the Space Station… on their side of the Space Station is a little bit different color. The modules are not as large. Don’t have the same capability to do science, so it’s clear that it was built by a different system.
Mark: Yeah. There’s a lot of back and forth between them? Or is it very specifically the Russians are on their side, and everyone else is on their side?
Scott: Well, you know, no. One of the Russian guys actually sleeps on the US side of the Space Station. And we kind of come and go freely. But when you’re working on the US stuff, you tend to stay on the US side of the Space Station. The Russian guys working on the Russian… during the day, their activity is mostly in the Russian segment. So it kind of seems like its 2 maybe organizations sharing the same space, I guess. Same building.
Mark: That’s interesting.
A Year in Space
You know, I never asked this but how did your brother end up in the astronaut program? Did he apply at the same time as you as pals? Or did he come in later?
Scott: Nah, we were in the same class.
Mark: No kidding.
Scott: I think it’s a… I don’t know, maybe NASA made some kind of clerical error or something…
Mark: (laughing) That’s pretty unusual…
Scott: I was probably the clerical error…
Mark: (laughing) That’s pretty funny.
So, tell us about your most recent mission. Cause we’re already… I could talk to you forever about this stuff, and I feel like we’re just getting warmed up. But tell us about the most recent mission. The one that you ended up retiring out of NASA with and you wrote the book, and now you’re obviously gearing up for the next phase of your life. Whatever that might be, but we’ll talk about that. But how did that come about? And then let’s talk about some of the major insights and challenges with that mission. Where you spent a year in space. Basically being a lab rat for medical research it looks like. Amongst other things, of course.
Scott: Yeah, so in 2010 I flew the flight… the long space-flight as a commander of the Space Station that I was kind of offered as a payment for being the backup. And I got back in March, 2011. And pretty soon after NASA and the Russian partners started talking about having an American and a Russian spend a year in space.
And I wasn’t that interested at first. Because you know how things are, when you have an experience you kind of… the bad stuff is generally fresh in your mind, but as time goes by… not that there’s a lot of bad stuff about flying in space. But 6 months is a long time…
Mark: Yeah, your first tour was 6 months…
Scott: Yeah, it was 159 days, so… So at first I wasn’t interested in it. Then I thought I wanted to fly again and I wanted it to be different. And, you know, I thought being twice as long would make it different and more challenging. So eventually I kind of warmed up to the idea, and put my name in a hat.
We had a lot of qualified people in the astronaut office, and capable folks. But there were certain requirements that you needed to be able to fill. You had to be able to be the commander of the Space Station, which not everyone is considered the right type of person to do that. You had to have flown a long duration flight previously. You had to be able to do a spacewalk. And then you had to be available… which a lot of people weren’t available because they were either in space or training for a flight or just recently–more recently than I–got back.
And then there were medical requirements. When you put that filter on everyone in the astronaut office in the end there were 2 guys left. And I was one of them.
So in March of 2015 I launched from Kazakhstan. In the former Soviet Union. In a place called Baikonur to the Space Station to spend a year up there.
Mark: Your Russian cosmonaut friend was named “Misha”? Is that right?
Scott: “Mikhail Korneyenko.” My Russian brother from another mother.
Mark: And now he came from a family of cosmonauts, right? His dad or grand-dad was one, I read in your book?
Scott: No, that’s Sergei Volkov, who I was up there with too. He was the commander of the Soyuz that Misha and I came back in. his dad was a cosmonaut, but Misha’s dad… he worked in the Space program. He was a helicopter pilot in the rescue forces that would… the guys that help us when we land.
Mark: Like the UDT guys.
Scott: Kind of. Maybe more like the Air Force like PJs. But he was the helicopter pilot for them. And he got killed when Misha was really young in a helicopter crash.
Mark: So you and Misha were assigned together to spend a year up there. And to do a bunch of different types of research. What were the expectations or objectives of NASA for this whole endeavor here?
Scott: Well, the idea was that someday we wanna go to Mars. It’s a long ways away. And the people that go are gonna have to spend a lot of time in space on the way there and… 200 days to get there, 200 days to get home and they’re going to have to spend a year on the surface. And, you know, there are things that happen to us physically in space and psychologically that we feel like we need to understand better. To be able to do that someday.
And the Space Station is really the best opportunity we have while we have it right now to understand those physical and psychological effects of some day in the future when we have the… you know, the resources and the political will to do it,, we’ll be able to understand and protect the crew from this harsh environment.
Mark: Right. And so I think your particular part was also interesting because your brother from the same mother was back down on Earth. And then he could be studied kind of simultaneously. And since you’re twins, you guys share essentially the same DNA. Was that part of the interest in the study?
Scott: Yeah. Well, I was actually assigned to the flight and that was kind of an afterthought. But that was another study. That was actually a bunch of studies that were conducted as part of this “twins” study between Mark and I. So a lot of the stuff was genetic research. Some cognitive. Psychological. Yeah, it was part of the research program we did.
Mark: so what were some of the most challenging things that you faced up there during the year? Both technical or dangerous. Also psychological and just dealing with that time away and that environment?
Scott: Yeah, so the physical challenge was you’re in micro-gravity and you have bone loss. Muscle loss. Our bodies are real smart and they realize when we don’t need something then they get rid of it. Like our bones.
Mark: Yeah, they try to be very efficient…
Scott: Yeah, yeah. So, you know, you exercise to prevent that. And the exercise works well. When you do it 6 days a week.
Mark: So for exercise–since I’m a SEAL and I understand that probably better than anything else–you just basically… I always see guys kind of running on treadmills. But we like to do weight training. Is there any way to weight train up in space? Cause the weights don’t have any weight, so… (laughing)
Scott: Yeah, so we have this thing that it’s great device that NASA made that is called ARED–the Advanced Resisted Exercise Device. And it uses evacuated cylinders to mimic lifting real weight. And it feels like real weight. When you’re doing bench presses, feels like you have some 45 pound plates on a 45 pound bar…
Mark: And it’s just pressure, right?
Scott: Well, it’s evacuated air cylinders, so it’s kind of pulls on a vacuum. And then we have the treadmill and a stationary bicycle. Those 3 things. And you exercise 6 or 7 days a week. That helps you with the bone loss and muscle loss.
There’s also effects on your immune system. There is effects on our vision, structurally there’s some negative effects on the structures of our eyes.
And then, of course, the radiation that we get up there. Which is not insignificant.
Mark: Right. I read now something about the “fluid shifts study.” does that have to do with… is that what affected your eyes? Or are there other issues?
Scott: Yeah, we’re trying to figure out… that’s really trying to figure out what this issue is that causes astronauts to have swelling of the optic nerves. Things called choroidal folds which is like the fleshy part that feeds your retina. And some guys have even had blind spots.
But, yeah, that fluid shifts experiment is part of understanding why we have issues with our eyes.
Mark: And there’s no way to protect against the radiation through the structure? You’re just… is it coming from the space walks? Or is it just the constant bombarding and penetration of the structure that’s getting you?
Scott: It’s cosmic radiation, it’s solar radiation. There are certain areas of the space Station where you’re more protected than others. Our crew quarters has some radiation protection in the form of these bricks that are made out of a certain material.
But you can’t get away from it completely. And we get a lot of radiation up there which is going to be one of the big challenges when we go to Mars someday. Protecting the crew from radiation when you don’t have the protection of the Earth’s magnetic field.
Mark: That’s fascinating.
The Scariest Moments
Mark: So what was the scariest moment of that whole year? There were probably several times where you did something or you had something happen where you just weren’t sure if you were going to make it out alive. What was something… some of those moments for you?
Scott: The worst things for me have always been associated with what’s going on on Earth. Not my personal safety. When I was in space for 159 days, my sister-in-law–congresswoman Gabby Giffords–was shot.
Mark: Oh my God. I remember that.
Scott: And I still had a couple of months of being on the space station ahead of me. This time… I don’t know if you’d call it “scariest moment” but I would say the worst moment was also involving my kid. And getting a call, it was an emergency and I needed to get in touch with her as soon as I could. And then I didn’t have any… went down to my crew quarters to call her and then I didn’t have any connectivity. We lost the line of sight to the satellite for about 20 minutes. Just wondering how she was and if she was okay.
Mark: Well, I know all military folks can appreciate that, right? We all deal with that around deployment.
Scott: Yeah. In this case, you’re not getting a… forget what they used to call it in the Navy when someone had a family issue and then they’d send you home.
Mark: Yeah, get some sort of family emergency leave.
Scott: Yeah, like emergency leave. There’s no such thing in space. You’re not coming home. Period. Unless something happens to the space Station or physically to you.
Mark: Right. What were the… I’m sure that tests are going to be done for years… but what were as far as you can tell or say, the most pronounced physiological effects or psychological effects from a year in space on you?
Scott: You know, I don’t have any physical symptomatic things. I know I still have some issues… like structural changes in my eyes–but that doesn’t affect my ability to see.
The big thing, I think, is the radiation and whether that’ll cause any long-term problems.
Hopefully not. I mean I kinda know what my increased chances of cancer are as a result… and it’s not that much… it’s a few percent from what I would normally… a few percent more risk of what I would normally have.
But, you know, it’s 1% of higher risk is still something. If you’re in that 1% it kills you. You don’t want to be in that 1 percentile.
Mark: I have a note here from Allison in my show-prep that they did a study of your telomeres which are supposed to be associated with longevity. And they just assumed that from stress and all the other things that you’re talking about, that it would have a deleterious effect.
But that wasn’t so. What do you think about that?
Scott: Yeah. Mine got better…
Mark: Is it possible that space travel can actually improve our longevity? (laughing) Maybe cause of the lightness and anti-gravity…
Scott: I doubt it. Who knows? Maybe it was all the exercise and clean living.
Mark: (laughing) That’s… you didn’t touch alcohol for 12 months. Telomeres got bigger.
Scott: Yeah. They went back to normal though. But it’s interesting research when you expect one thing to happen and the exact opposite happens.
Mark: Yeah, no doubt.
Scott: but I don’t think it’ll be a fountain of youth…
Mark: Yeah. No, I doubt that too… fascinating.
Let me… we gotta get going here, cause I super-appreciate your time, but we already been on for, like, 50 minutes and most people check-out at, like, 35. And I’m sure they’re listening. And they want to hear some of the lessons learned… more about life. Because Unbeatable Mind, we really feet on the Earth trying to make our lives better and help people as you’re doing… Live more meaningfully and also make and impact.
But what were some of kind of the life lessons you learned from your year in space that are going to kind of change or have changed how you think about yourself and Earth and what your future holds?
Scott: Yeah. You know, one thing I’ve learned working at NASA… When I went to NASA, I was a lieutenant in the Navy in 1996. And I think it was a different Navy than we have today. You know, it’s more diverse. We didn’t have… there were no women in my squadron. Very few minorities. And coming to NASA which is kind of a civilian, government organization there was more diversity but over time it even got more so. And then working with an international partnership of people with different backgrounds and different cultures, you realize the strength that that kind of diverse experience base brings to an organization.
And I learned that diversity makes us stronger.
I learned to appreciate the environment that we have. It looks very fragile from space. You can see how thin the atmosphere is. You can see certain parts of the earth that are polluted.
You know, and I think also being off the planet and seeing how beautiful it is… how incredibly lucky we are to have this place. But when you hear the news in the evening, it’s mostly bad news, and especially today–today’s climate–when you watch the news it’s like… all we do is argue with one another and we don’t accomplish much of anything. At least on a political level. So I think it’s… you know, looking at the Earth and being detached from it gives you more appreciation for it. And I think more appreciation for humanity.
Mark: Yeah. Yeah, I love that. And I think I’ve heard other astronauts in different words say something similar. That you get this awesome perspective for the whole planet and cosmos. You know, how all human beings are required to act together and not independently to solve some of these problems. That’s neat.
What’s next for you, Scott? I mean, gosh, you’ve accomplished so much and you’ve had experiences that very few individuals get to experience. As a SEAL when I got off active duty, and then I left the SEALs altogether I felt kind of like, “Oh shit. Life is kinda over as I know it.” Which it was. Cause I don’t get to contribute at that level anymore.
So what’s next for you? How can you make a difference? It’s a weird feeling, you know?
Scott: It is a very weird feeling. When I became an astronauts I remember a few people saying, “You’re going to leave this job someday. You need to make sure you leave at the right time.” It was the right time for me, and I had a lot of opportunity… I still have a lot of opportunity but I’m sure like you experienced, there’s nothing like being part of a team that’s doing something incredibly challenging and incredibly important. And also risky. That makes you feel like you’re making a contribution. An important contribution.
And I don’t have that technical challenging work that has some real-world, physical consequences to it anymore.
And it takes a while to get used to that. To be honest with you, I don’t think I’ve gotten used to it yet. I’ve been out of NASA now about a year and a half. And been incredibly busy. And I look forward to January and having some… little bit more time to consider what that next chapter is. I have no idea.
Mark: Hmm. What about civilian space flight? Or looking at one of those billionaires’ organizations who are trying to put people on Mars? Is that something that would interest you?
Scott: I tell you what, I would absolutely be open to the idea. I would love to be involved. I’m not looking for a full-time job at one of those companies but absolutely if Elon or Jeff Bezos are listening, I’d be more than happy to be in some kind of advisory role.
Mark: Yeah. I mean, they’re doing some pretty incredible and ground-breaking work. And I know there’s a lot of back and forth with NASA and all that. But it’s cool to see from my perspective the civilians getting into the game and kind of like almost challenging NASA to up their game. Which is been kind of bogged down a little bit in bureaucracy and has financial issues and whatnot…
Scott: Yeah. Well, you know, with SpaceX and Boeing NASAs in like an official partnership with them. For providing access to low-Earth orbit. But all those companies are very exciting. I think we’re on the cusp of like the… kind of like a revolution in access to space for more people. And it’s an exciting time.
Mark: Yeah. No doubt. Well thank you very much for your service. It’s pretty incredible what you’ve done. And I certainly appreciate it. And thank your brother and everyone else. And also NASA doing their work. It’s really very inspirational and crossing my fingers that our government will keep the pressure on and the focus in the right place. (laughing) And if not, we know the civilians Elon and crew will do it for them.
And your book is excellent. It’s called “Endurance.” Everyone should go check out Scott’s new book “Endurance.” is there going to be any follow-on work to that? What’s happening with this? Are you on book tours, or how can people support you?
Scott: Yeah, well actually the book tour’s almost over. I have a few more stops, but been going at it since the book was published October 17th. Actually Sony bought the rights to turn it into a movie.
Mark: Oh, no kidding?
Scott: We’ll see what happens.
Mark: Terrific. Good luck with that. That sounds great.
Okay, so thanks again. And, of course, reach out if we can help out in any way. And Godspeed. Thanks very much, Scott.
Scott: Take care. Bye.
Mark: All right. What an incredible guy. That was former astronaut Scott Kelly. Former Navy captain, fighter pilot, test pilot, shuttle pilot, shuttle commander, Space Station commander. What an incredible journey.
And, gosh, he’s 53 years old if I’m not mistaken. He was born a year after me. 1964. So he’s just getting warmed up. Look forward to a lot more from Scott and that was super-cool for all of us to get to know him a little bit.
So check out his book, “Endurance,” at Amazon or anywhere else. It’s fantastic and I’m plowing my way through it right now. It really is a fascinating read.
All right, everybody. That’s it for the Unbeatable Mind podcast this time. Enjoy your holiday season. If you’re listening to this… I’m recording it literally a week before our annual Summit in December 1st through 3rd of 2017. Now some of you will be coming at this a lot later, cause this stuff is evergreen. But there you have it, that’s my date/time stamp.
And gearing up for our year end planning and just getting ready for the holidays so I wish you all an incredible holiday season. And a fantastic end to 2017. And we’re looking forward to 2018 being just an extraordinary, breakthrough year for all of us. And lots of cool things going on.
And I think we’re in for some interesting changes in ’18. Not just in our business, but I mean in the world. So strap-on and pay attention.
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