The Right Stuff

By Dudley, Michael | Winnipeg Free Press, December 9, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Right Stuff


Dudley, Michael, Winnipeg Free Press


When he returned to Earth from his historic “year in space” mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on March 1, 2016, astronaut Scott Kelly set a record for the most accumulated days spent in space by an American — 520 over a career spanning two space-shuttle flights and two extended stays at the ISS.

In Endurance, Kelly recounts that 340-day “year” (over precisely 365 pages of text) and also tells the compelling and inspiring story of how he got there — his journey from a directionless, mediocre student to becoming one of America’s most accomplished astronauts.

Kelly is fortunate to have as his co-author Margaret Lazarus Dean, who wrote two previous books related to the space program: The Time it Takes to Fall (2007), a novel set in the aftermath of the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster, and most recently, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight (2015), which recounts the end of the space-shuttle program.

Together, Kelly and Dean have crafted a highly engaging book that is at once a celebration of humanity’s great accomplishment in the form of the ISS and a story of individual perseverance, equally at home in explaining the technological complexities of human spaceflight as it is the psychological, interpersonal and emotional ones.

Kelly makes the science and engineering behind the ISS quite accessible, while also on occasion offering surprisingly frank assessments of certain problematic NASA procedures or behaviours on the part of colleagues.

Even more fascinating are Kelly’s many observations about the cultural differences and intercultural relations aboard the ISS, particularly as they relate to the Russians, on whom the U.S. has had to depend for transport to and from the ISS since its shuttle fleet was retired.

When faced with the possibility of a collision with a large piece of space debris, for example, the American astronauts are immediately ordered to engage in numerous time-consuming safety precautions, while the Russians reason fatalistically that the station would be destroyed in such an event, so do nothing.

Fans of Chris Hadfield’s 2013 book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth will quickly recognize certain similarities between that book and Endurance.

Both authors — both commanders of missions on the ISS — recall how their years of training prepared them for their months on the station, where they gained huge followings on social media while coping with loneliness and mourning the impacts their careers have had on their families and romantic relationships. …

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