Often people assume that because I’m the fiction editor here I only read fiction. Well, I read mostly fiction, it’s true, but every so often a non-fiction title captures my imagination.
Another thing you might not know is that my fiction team colleague Tracey and I are both slightly fascinated – OK, obsessed – with space in general and the International Space Station in particular. My interest dates from when I learned that you can actually see it flying over in the night sky. Wow!
So, when we learned that Commander Scott Kelly had written his auto-biography we were both hyper-excited.
For those of you not familiar with Kelly, he’s the American astronaut who spent a record-breaking year aboard the ISS. You might also not know that he has a twin brother, Mark, also an astronaut, and the two are part of an ongoing study as to how long-duration space flight affects the human body. It’s necessary knowledge if we’re ever to fly to Mars.
Now, Tracey bought and read the book, and I’d read lots of extracts from it in the press, though hadn’t got round to buying it, and then, lo and behold, my office Secret Santa gifted it to me! Brilliant.
And the book is indeed brilliant. NASA astronauts tend to highlight the good exciting aspects: the views, the fun experiments, weightlessness – the PR exercise that really engages the public and is especially terrific at capturing the interest of children.
Kelly takes a different, perhaps more honest, approach. He tells his story in two parallel strands: how he got to be an astronaut, and what life aboard the ISS is really like. And that’s dangerous. Space junk; loss of supply ships; spacewalks; fire – all are a constant threat to their very survival. You tend to forget that when you see the fun stuff.
The Right Stuff
You also assume astronauts were kind of born clever and studied diligently, but Kelly is very open about not making much of school or college until he read Tom Wolff’s “The Right Stuff”, which literally changed his life.
He’s honest about his failures, both personal and professional, and that makes him a very likeable guy – though you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him. He’s a tough, fearless straight-talker, and his memoir is absolutely riveting.