Review | Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery, Scott Kelly

29947651I’m a huge space geek. I remember being a child and meeting a family friend who worked at NASA. I no longer remember exactly what he did, but I do remember demanding he tell me everything about his job. He showed me a photo of a space shuttle before he left, and I wanted nothing more than to work in NASA someday. My love for space eventually found its outlet in science fiction, thanks to a high school Biology teacher who was a super-nerd for Star Trek’s Mr. Spock and introduced our class to the series. But real-life astronauts and real-life space missions have always held a fascination for me.

I’ve heard of Scott Kelly because of the Twin Project, which studied the effects of space on the human body. Scott and his twin brother Mark, both astronauts, presented an incredible opportunity to science when Scott was assigned to spent a year in the space station while Mark stayed here on Earth. I was fascinated by this study, and to be honest, had originally thought Endurance would have a lot more information about the project and its findings, so was somewhat disappointed that it didn’t. Kelly does mention in the book that findings are still being studied by NASA scientists, so likely we’ll learn a lot more about the results years down the road.

In the meantime, Endurance is a wonderfully quotidian glimpse into life in space. Kelly talks about his fellow astronauts and how their lives on the space station differ from here on Earth. He writes about learning some Russian, since he and other American astronauts will be working alongside their Russian counterparts, but mostly their experiments and studies appear to be fairly independent.

Kelly has a light-hearted humour that at times belies the potential seriousness of what he says. For example, he jokes about why their supplies include an equal amount of chocolate, vanilla and butterscotch pudding when science clearly dictates that the chocolate ones will run out much quicker than the other flavours. A lack of chocolate is a minor inconvenience on Earth, but beneath his jocular tone is a reminder of how dependent the astronauts are on supplies from home. Poignantly, another scene shows him and other astronauts chatting about the food they miss most from Earth — Kelly mentions a beer he barely enjoys on Earth yet inexplicably misses in space. More seriously, Kelly later talks about a couple of supply shuttles from Earth being delayed, often because they were destroyed en route. Suddenly, we are reminded that it’s not just chocolate pudding in limited supply, but all their food and equipment needed to keep the space shuttle running and habitable. Kelly talks about the challenges they face mostly in passing — the water purifier needed repair, they made a mistake disposing of a piece of equipment because the shuttle bringing the replacement was destroyed, etc. He acknowledges the risk, but responds so immediately with practical action that it’s alarmingly easy to forget at times that most of these challenges have life or death consequences.

Kelly talks as well about the challenge of being so far away from your loved ones. He writes about how he and Mark try to stagger their space flights, so that if anything happens to them in space, or to one of their loved ones on Earth, the twin on Earth can step in to provide support. He also talks about using video conferencing to talk to his family. In probably one of the most relatable scenes, he and his partner Amiko get into an argument when Kelly tries to instruct her on how to fix the pool and she clearly wants to leave the pool for another time. The connection breaks abruptly, and Kelly realizes that if something happens to either of them, their last memory of the other would be an on-screen image frozen in a look of annoyance.

Endurance is a fascinating glimpse into the life of Scott Kelly and his time at the Space Station. I personally found Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth more engaging and better at capturing the absolute wonder and awe of being in space. Hadfield as well is a bit clearer at explaining the structure of life in space, and the way in which astronauts must train their minds to solve multiple complex problems practically by rote. So Kelly’s book was a bit of a letdown in comparison. But it’s still a strong book, and a fascinating glimpse into a life very few of us will ever get to experience.

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Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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