Scott Kelly: “The sky is not the limit”

Scott Kelly on campus
Scott Kelly addresses the crowd during his appearance at UCCS Sept. 24, 2019.

Captain Scott Kelly, the astronaut who spent nearly a year on board the International Space Station, encouraged a sold-out crowd to push themselves to do the hard things at the Gallogly Events Center Sept. 24.

Nearly 1,500 people, including two children dressed in astronaut jump suits, learned how Kelly went from being an admittedly bad student in school to become a Navy test pilot and later a NASA astronaut.

“The best thing about being an astronaut and having the privilege of flying in space is that it’s a really, really hard thing to do,” Kelly said. “It’s about having a goal and a plan. It’s about taking risks and being willing to make mistakes, and at times, even being willing to fail. It’s about focusing on the things I could control and ignore what I couldn’t. It’s about testing the status quo and about working as a team. Because in my experience, when I was able to put all those things together, what I learned, is that the sky is not the limit.”

Scott Kelly addresses the crowd during his appearance at UCCS Sept. 24, 2019.

Kelly shared the memories of his first space flight on the space shuttle Discovery to service the Hubble Space Telescope, and the experience of his first launch. His fourth and final flight was a 340-day mission on the International Space Station with cosmonaut Mikhail Korniyenko to study the health effects of long-term spaceflight for humans. Using his twin brother Mark as a comparison, NASA developed the Twins Study to study the changes in Scott’s genetics to measure the impact of long-duration flights.

“Someday we want to go to Mars. It’s going to take 200 days to get there. You have to spend 500 days on the surface and 200 days to get back. And when we’re in space, and even on the surface of Mars, bad things happen to our physiology. We lose bone mass at one percent a month if we don’t do anything about it…you lose muscle mass at the same rate. There are effects on our immune system, our vision, there’s the effects of radiation, anywhere from 10 to 20 chest x-rays equivalent of radiation every single day in space. So, these are the things we have to know more about if we’re going to have astronauts and cosmonauts go to Mars someday.”

Kelly conducted his first spacewalk during his year in space and commented on the views of Earth he observed during his four missions. He also shared the humorous moments of his spaceflight, including being trolled by fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin while answering questions on Twitter:

Everett Morgan shakes hands with Scott Kelly.
4-year old Everett Morgan shakes hands with Scott Kelly, while his parents, Ron and Jamie, look on.

Kelly retired shortly after his return to Earth. Among the lessons he earned as a member of the astronaut corps was NASA’s commitment to diversity. “It wasn’t until I got to NASA and I saw the power of having people that are different, that came from different places, different cultures, different languages, different educational experiences, different whatever, it’s really a force multiplier. Our job is to solve problems, and when you have people with different experiences, they bring different solutions. Diversity is so, so powerful in my experience at NASA.”

Kelly answered questions from audience members, ranging from what his favorite meal was on the space station (his answer: if there was good food in space, you’d have restaurants called space food) to what’s the next steps he would like space exploration to take (his answer: go to the Moon, and then to Mars). He also took photos with multiple people in the crowd, including 4-year Everett Morgan.

Chancellor Venkat Reddy introduced Capt. Kelly, and highlighted the role that UCCS and Colorado Springs has played in space exploration. John Herrington, the first Native American astronaut, earned his bachelor’s degree from UCCS in applied mathematics, and Ron Sega completed his Ph.D. in electrical engineering on campus and was later dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science. Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs was also named the temporary headquarters for the new U.S. Space Command in August 2019.

The visit was sponsored by the College of Engineer and Applied Science, the Department of Student Life, the Office of Veteran and Military Student Affairs, and the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative at UCCS.

Scott Kelly addresses the crowd during his appearance at UCCS Sept. 24, 2019.

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