Scott Kelly had his brother send him a gorilla suit so he could pull pranks on his coworkers. Pranks look…a little different on the International Space Station.
And now, some quotes.
The space shuttle, fully fueled with cryogenic liquid, creaked and groaned. Soon this sixteen-story structure was going to lift off the Earth in a controlled explosion. For a moment I thought to myself, Boy, this is a really dumb thing to be doing.
We called this abort mode “return to launch site,” and it required the shuttle to fly Mach seven backwards. No one had ever tried this and no one wanted to. (John Young, when he was preparing to command the first shuttle launch, said he hoped never to attempt an RTLS because it “requires continuous miracles interspersed with acts of God.”)
It’s a strange sight, glinting in the reflected sunlight, as long as a football field, its solar arrays spread out more than half an acre. It’s a completely unique structure, assembled by spacewalkers flying around the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour in a vacuum, in extremes of temperature of plus and minus 270 degrees, the work of fifteen different nations over eighteen years, thousands of people speaking different languages and using different engineering methods and standards. In some cases the station’s modules never touched one another while on Earth, but they all fit together perfectly in space.
I tug and push and pull for a few minutes, and finally the hatch cracks open. The reflected light of Earth rushes in with the most abrupt and shocking clarity and brightness I’ve ever seen. On Earth, we look at everything through the filter of the atmosphere, which dulls the light, but here, in the emptiness of space, the sun’s light is white-hot and brilliant. The bright sunshine bouncing off the Earth is overwhelming. I’ve just gone from grunting in annoyance at a piece of machinery to staring in awe at the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen.
At one point I post a picture of one of the zinnias on social media and get back criticism of my botany skills in return. “You’re no Mark Watney,” quips one smart-ass commenter, making reference to the stranded astronaut in The Martian. Now it’s personal.
It’s a great Twitter moment, unplanned and unscripted, and it gets thousands of likes and retweets. Not long after, a reply appears from Buzz Aldrin: “He’s 249 miles above the earth. Piece of cake. Neil, Mike & I went 239,000 miles to the moon. #Apollo11.” There is no good way to engage in a Twitter debate with an American hero, so I don’t.
NASA plans for everything—we even have an early pregnancy test and a body bag.
This is one of the things that some people find difficult to imagine about living on the space station—the fact that I can’t step outside when I feel like it. Putting on a spacesuit and leaving the station for a spacewalk is an hours-long process that requires the full attention of at least three people on station and dozens more on the ground. Spacewalks are the most dangerous thing we do on orbit.
I’m acutely aware that if I become detached and run out of fuel and the station is just one inch from my glove tips, it may as well be a mile. The result will be the same: I will die.