Astronaut Scott Kelly, the first American astronaut to spend a year in space continuously, is a rage on social media. He started the viral hashtag #YearInSpace and has over eight lakh followers on Twitter.
Kelly, who is about to finish a year-long stint on the International Space Station (ISS), has been tweeting out photos of different places on earth whenever he is not on the job. He has been living aboard the ISS since March 2015.
“A year is a long time to live without the human contact of loved ones, fresh air and gravity, to name a few. While science is at the core of this groundbreaking spaceflight, it also has been a test of human endurance,” Kelly said in a post on a social media platform.
On October 29, 2015, Kelly broke a record after spending 216 consecutive days in space, when he surpassed astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria’s record for the single-longest space flight by an American. Lopez-Alegria spent 215 days in space as the commander of the Expedition 14 crew in 2006.
Kelly is scheduled to return to earth on March 3, 2016. By then, he would have completed 522 days of living in space during four different missions.
The spaceflight veteran decided to take it up a notch and hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on the popular social platform Reddit.
“Connections back on earth are very important when isolated from the entire world for such a period of time. I look forward to connecting with you all back on spaceship Earth to talk about my experiences so far as I enter my countdown to when I will begin the riskiest part of this mission: Coming home,” he said as he started his chat.
Here are a few highlights from his AMA session, where he has sportingly answered all sorts of questions:
Q: Do you and the other crew members play any space pranks on each other?
Q: Why do you always have your arms folded?
Kelly: Your arms don’t hang by your side in space like they do on earth because there is no gravity. It feels awkward to have them floating in front of me. It is just more comfortable to have them folded. I don’t even have them floating in my sleep, I put them in my sleeping bag.
Q: What is your favorite David Bowie song?
Kelly: You might be surprised, but it’s not Space Oddity. Probably Modern Love.
Q: Does the humming of the machinery in the station affect your sleep at all?
Kelly: Sleeping is harder here in space than on a bed because the sleep position here is the same position throughout the day. You don’t ever get that sense of gratifying relaxation here that you do on earth after a long day at work. Yes, there are humming noises on station that affect my sleep — so I wear ear plugs to (sleeping) bag.
Q: Could you tell us something unusual about being in space that many people don’t think about?
Kelly: The calluses on your feet in space will eventually fall off. So, the bottoms of your feet become very soft — like newborn baby feet. But the top of my feet develop rough alligator skin because I use the top of my feet to get around here on the space station when using foot rails.
Q: How (is) the connectivity from up there?
Kelly: Pretty good. I’m chatting with you from space now — so, I’d say good enough. It’s like dial-up, but sometimes it works better than other times.
Q: Does everything seem to take a really long time, or do you get used to that?
Kelly: It absolutely takes longer to do things when you can’t put anything down.
Q: I would like to ask does the ISS have any particular smell?
Kelly: Smells vary depending on what segment you are in. Sometimes it has an antiseptic smell. Sometimes it has an odor that smells like garbage. But the smell of space when you open the hatch smells like burning metal to me.
Q: Hey up there!! What does zero-G feel like on your body when you are just hanging out?
Kelly: It feels like there is no pressure at all on your body. Sometimes it feels like you are just hanging but you are not hanging by anything — just hanging there. If I close my eyes, I can give myself the sensation that I am falling. Which I am — I am falling around the earth.
Q: Mr Kelly, what is the largest misconception about space/space travel that society holds onto?
Kelly: I think a lot of people think that because we give the appearance that this is easy, that it is easy. I don’t think people have an appreciation for the work that it takes to pull these missions off — like humans living on the space station continuously for 15 years. It is a huge army of hard working people to make it happen.
Q: How are you doing this AMA? Are you directly typing it from a laptop on the ISS, or are is it being dictated?
Kelly: I am talking to you live, but someone else is typing this in.
Q: What is it like to work with members of other nations’ space programs? Do the politics that take place on earth affect your relationship with them?
Kelly: I think it’s one of the great things about the space station program, that it’s an international program. We get along very well. We have to because we rely on each other for our lives.
Q: What one thing will you forever do differently after your safe return home?
Kelly: I will appreciate nature more.
Q: Hi, I’m a kindergarten teacher. My students and I have been following you since you went up last year. My past and present students are curious. What kind of things do you do for fun?
Kelly: I read, write and do arithmetic like a kindergartner (just kidding). But I do read, take photos of the Earth and play with my food.
Q: Hi Cmdr Kelly! I am a dad to a couple of boys who are very much into space and astronaut work. Here are their two astronaut questions:
Peter (7 years old) - How long does it take to get used to being in space?
Simon (5 years) - Could a rogue spaceship sneak up on the space station without you being aware, and dock?
Kelly: Peter, 302 days and counting! The longer I am here the more normal I feel. It always seems to be getting better.
Simon, maybe an alien spaceship with a cloaking device. But not your normal spaceship, no. Unless it had a cloaking device, which doesn’t exist, the US Air Force would see it coming.
Q: What’s the creepiest thing you’ve encountered while on the job?
Kelly: Generally, it has to do with the toilet. Recently, I had to clean up a gallon-sized ball of urine mixed with acid.
Q: Do you watch sci-fi while you’re up there, or does some of that stuff hit a little too close to home?
Kelly: I watched the movie Gravity not long after I arrived back in last March. I thought it was a cool movie to watch here aboard the space station, that is also the setting of Gravity.
Q: What’s your camera setup? Your astrophotography truly is out of this world.
Kelly: I use a Nikon D4. Depending on what I am taking a picture of, the camera settings and lens vary.
Q: What is your favorite part of the earth to see from space?
Kelly: My favorite spot on earth to see from space is probably the Bahamas. The brilliant and varied colors of the blue water and contrast from here is pretty spectacular.
Q: After 365 days in space, do you think you will miss being on the International Space Station?
Kelly: Absolutely, I will miss this place. But I am looking forward to returning home.
One user aptly summarised the session saying, “Technology is so fantastic. I asked my question from my cell phone in a car, and I got an answer from an astronaut in space.”