Ever since I was a kid I’ve been interested in space exploration and travel. I remember one time, shortly after my dad had his first heart attack and he was convalescing in our living room, he made me get up bright and early to watch the shuttle launch on TV. I was hooked.
I didn’t, and couldn’t watch every space shuttle lift-off, but tried to. I wanted to go to Space Camp but knew it was too expensive for us: watching the movie Space Camp repeatedly was done instead. I was in 7th grade study hall in the library of Vincent T. Lombardi Junior High when the librarian came in and told us the Challenger blew up.
After school I raced home and watched the coverage on TV. I remember, a few months later, Buzz Aldrin showed up on Punky Brewster to talk about the space shuttle explosion. For you young ones who might not know, Buzz Aldrin was the second man on the moon, and a living freakin’ legend. He helped write a lot of books, but there’s this really cool book for kids on the Moon Landing that I bought last year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that even.
So I started to read more about space and the early years of the program. I watched The Right Stuff, and when I got a little older, read Tom Wolfe’s book that the movie was based on. Then came Ron Howard’s gripping Apollo 13 movie, I wanted to know more, so I read Astronaut Jim Lovell’s book of the same name. It was all very exciting and unbelievable because it was real life.
I sort of lost touch of NASA and what was going on after the shuttle program was shut down in 2011. Until Space X happened some months ago, American astronauts didn’t take off into space on American soil. They go to a former Soviet country and take off on the same launching pad that has been used since the first cosmonauts went into space. I tried to pay attention to whenever Americans were visiting the ISS, the International Space Station, and would occasionally see an interview on the news, or news that they’d launched, or landed safely.
That’s the long story of my interest in the space program. I was perusing PBS one day and caught A Year in Space featuring Scott Kelly (only $.99 on Amazon Prime right now!). Astronaut Scott Kelly was a very visible member of NASA’s space program. He flew two shuttle mission, spent some time on the international space station, did joint interviews with his twin brother Mark, who is also an astronaut. Then NASA picked him to spend 340+ days in space in an effort to learn more about long-term effects to the body in space. If we are going to send a manned mission to Mars some day, this is crucial information.
Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery, is the story of Scott Kelly’s year on the International Space Station, as well as a look at his life leading up to the mission. Kelly’s path to astronaut was a bumpy ride. He was an unfocused student with middling grades and no interest in anything, until he read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. Then, the switch flipped for him and he knew he wanted to fly jets, and maybe someday become an astronaut. His brother Mark followed a more direct path to becoming an astronaut.
Kelly studied hard, finally, and applied himself to his studies. He became a Navy jet pilot, then a test pilot, and finally, interviewing in the same class as his brother Mark, an astronaut.
Endurance is not chronological, and I thought that would bug me, but it didn’t. The story jumps back and forth from Kelly’s “current” time on the ISS, back to his childhood, alternating back and forth until Kelly’s backstory is brought up to the current time. It involves everything from his personal life to the mundane details of being in space for a year, like unclogging a space toilet. Sometimes Endurance is laugh-out loud funny, but it’s mostly a serious book written by someone with a scientific mind.
That doesn’t mean Endurance is dry, though. Kelly explains certain procedures and operations onboard the ISS in an easy-to-follow prose. And don’t expect an emotional read when talking about his personal life, like how he knew his first marriage was a mistake before he even got married, and his relationship with his daughters. He’s a man of science, not of flowery literature. But his time away from life on earth does affect him, but he repeatedly mentions how he tried not to dwell on it while he was gone. There are moments of reflection that are eye-opening.
What strikes me more than anything about the book is the international cooperation with all the countries involved with the space station. If only it were that easy here on earth. The other takeaway is the toll weightlessness takes on the body and what a future Mars mission would be like for the astronauts.
I was so impressed with Endurance that I bought the Young Reader’s Copy for my 10-year old and her school’s library, who studied a unit on space about the time I first read this book, and for even younger kids, My Journey to the Stars (Step into Reading) for the library as well.
Kelly also took some stunning photos during his year in space, and they can be found in the coffee table book, Infinite Wonder: An Astronaut’s Photographs from a Year in Space.
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