When Barry Wilmore returned to Earth on March 11, it took UT out of space for the first time in six months.
That absence didn’t last long, though.
Scott Kelly—who, like Wilmore, is a graduate of UT’s Space Institute—began a one-year mission in space at the end of March, giving UT an impressive span of being represented almost eighteen consecutive months in space.
Kelly, who was honored as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2015, recently spoke about the rigors of becoming an astronaut and the promise that science and technology hold for graduates.
“It’s a great field to work in, it’s very challenging, very rewarding,” said Kelly. “There’s a very bright future for aerospace engineers, or any engineers, or people in technical fields across the board.”
Kelly—one of nine astronauts with UT ties through UTSI and the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering—said his experience with UT was unique in and of itself.
He was a test pilot in the US Navy at the time, and was able to earn his master’s degree in aviation science as part of UTSI’s collaboration with them. The program allowed pilots to earn class credits for the intense training that they were doing.
He also explained that since it was at the time when the Internet was coming into widespread use, tapes of classes and lectures would be physically mailed to him, he would study them and do his projects and mail them back.
“The amount of effort it takes to become a test pilot and the academics and flying that we do is very relatable to a degree in aviation systems,” said Kelly, in an interview from Moscow. “The reason why so many guys have gone there is because it is a great partnership with the Navy and a program that allows us to leverage our test pilot school training toward a master’s degree.”
Kelly, who was a featured guest at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, is part of a mission designed to compare the effects of long-term space travel on a person’s health.
While he spends the next twelve months on the International Space Station, his twin brother Mark will remain on Earth, with the comparison of their bio-data being used to study what the effects of a trip to, say, Mars might due to a person.
Being away from home for that long might bother some, but that challenge is just one of many that fuels Kelly and astronauts like him.
“It’s the challenge of the whole thing, working at something that’s very difficult and working very hard at it,” said Kelly. “Working with not only your crewmates on board, but the people on ground, the control center, the engineers, the scientists, the instructors that prepare us to do this, you know, we’re all one big team.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction that goes into working hard at something that is hard and being successful at it.”
Kelly, and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, called the “One Year Crew,” launched on March 27, along with cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.
UPDATE 11/4/15: As of October 2015, Scott Kelly became the record holder for the longest continuous amount of time in space (216 days) by an American.
Photo: NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly is seen inside a Soyuz simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC), Wednesday, March 4, 2105 in Star City, Russia. NASA/Bill Ingalls