5 Things to Know About UH's Commencement Speaker Astronaut Scott Kelly's 'Year in Space'

Retired astronaut Scott Kelly is going to talk about his 340 days in space at University of Houston's commencement.EXPAND
Retired astronaut Scott Kelly is going to talk about his 340 days in space at University of Houston's commencement.
Photo from Scott Kelly's Twitter

When retired astronaut Captain Scott Kelly takes the stage to deliver the University of Houston commencement address at TDECU Stadium on Saturday, the audience will be in the presence of a real live history-making space man. 

Kelly spent 340 days aboard the International Space Station as NASA's first "year-round" astronaut, logging more than 143 million miles during his stay. Taking a page from the Hadfield playbook, he snapped pictures and shared them on social media to show the world the view from the ISS, gaining tons of fans and more than one million Twitter followers in the process.

Now, Kelly is back on Earth and due to give what we expect to be a fascinating speech about  his experiences in space, leadership and the commitment to discovery that led him to spend almost an entire year floating in micro-gravity 250 miles above us. We've rounded up some interesting things to know about his time aboard the ISS that he might draw on to give the graduates some lessons to live by for getting along in the wide world, and beyond, post-graduation:

5. When the Commander-in-Chief tells you to Instagram stuff from space, you do it and do it well. President Obama was actually the one who helped get Kelly's social media blitz going. Before Kelly went up for his mission, he was given direct orders from President Obama during the Commander-in-Chief's 2015 State of the Union address: "Make sure you Instagram it." Kelly, who started out as a naval test pilot before being selected by NASA to become an astronaut in 1996, duly followed orders when he got to the ISS. He became an avid social media user, uploading gorgeous high-resolution photos almost every day he was in space on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Tumblr. 

All of those photos came with fascinating tidbits of information about what life is actually like in space, including the facts that the water on the station is made from processed urine, he saw 16 sunsets each day and that to him, space, the final frontier, smells like burned metal, according to Kelly's Reddit "Ask Me Anything" chat. 

4. When you have an advantage, like, say, being a twin, use it to do something that helps others out, like studying how the body does in space. When Kelly was selected to be the astronaut spending the "year in space," the fact that his twin brother, Mark, is also an astronaut ended up giving NASA the chance to do a bonus project. NASA scientists collected data and samples on how Mark's body was faring on Earth while Kelly took samples of his own body and tracked how he was doing in orbit. 

Spend a lot of time in space, and the body slowly begins to break down from the effects of too little gravity and too much radiation. Some of the effects are pretty obvious — bones thin, muscles atrophy and the heart even shrinks because in a micro-gravity setting, it no longer has to work as hard to pump blood to the legs. Since NASA is slated to send astronauts to Mars by the 2030s, a trip that is expected to take at least a year to make, the compare and contrast between the twin astronauts was a huge opportunity to find out what else happens to a body when it's in space. It'll be anywhere from six months to six years before we see any published results from the research, though. So far, we know that Kelly came back about an inch taller. He immediately shrank back down, though. 

3. Do actual science on the ISS in between all the tweeting.   Kelly got tons of attention for his amazing Twitter feed, but in between taking shots of the Aurora Borealis and the Himalayas and such, he was working on about 400 scientific studies. This included eating pieces of "space lettuce," the first vegetable ever grown in space (as far as we know.) Kelly also participated in three space walks performing basic maintenance during the first walk in October, working on the station's plumbing in November and freeing up the Mobile Transporter, a rail car that moves the ISS robotic arm, after the brake got stuck. "Somebody did a really good job on this wire tie here — like for all eternity," he cracked as he worked to get the wire unstuck during the final walk. 

2. Bring some humor to the office. And a gorilla suit if at all possible.  Not everyone would still have much of a sense of humor after spending months in space without a shower or the chance to eat food that doesn't come out of a pouch, but that's why not everyone becomes an astronaut. Seriously. Bringing cargo to the ISS isn't cheap or easy, so it's fascinating when you find out the items that people choose to bring up with them. Kelly, in his infinite wisdom, decided that one key item he had to bring along was a gorilla suit. And then, when he needed a bit of levity, he put on said gorilla suit and floated around the station. Video of such an occurrence ended up on social media so now, on top of all the important scientific work he did, we owe Kelly for the unforgettable image. The video was posted in February. When asked about how he got the suit up to the station, Kelly explained that you can actually vacuum-pack a gorilla suit.  

1. Anything worth doing won't be all fun, twin studies and gorilla suits. By the time Kelly landed in March, he had logged the most consecutive days in orbit of any U.S. astronaut with his 340-day "year in space" mission, and had also racked up about 520 total days spent in space, the most time any U.S. astronaut has ever spent in space to date. But it wasn't all fun. Kelly has already said that the psychological toll of being away from Earth wore on him. “The hardest part is being isolated in a physical sense from people on the ground that are important to you,” he said during one ISS-to-Earth press conference. “I could go another 100 days. I could go another year if I had to. It would just depend on what I was doing and if it made sense." 

It would be one thing if he said he could stay another year on the ISS if it were only after a week or even a month in orbit, but this came in March when he was just a week away from returning to Earth. 

We can't wait to hear what else he's got to share about his time in space. 


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