A four-time veteran of off-planet missions, including a year aboard the International Space Station, offers a view of astronautics that is at once compelling and cautionary.
Why go into space in the first place? Kelly ponders that existential question early on, the whys and wherefores of entering into the strangest of strange environments and potentially suffering all manner of consequences. He replies, “I have a few answers I give to this question, but none of them feels fully satisfying to me.” Among those answers, perhaps, are because it’s extremely exciting to go where no one—very few people, anyway—has gone before, and after all, Kelly still holds the American record for consecutive days spent in outer space. Naturally, that comes at a cost; his book opens with an alarming portrait of edema, rashes, and malaise, and hence another answer emerges: we can’t go to, say, Mars without understanding what space flight does to a human body. Some of Kelly’s descriptions seem a little by-the-numbers, the equivalent of a ball player’s thanking the deity for a win—a spacegoing colleague is “sincere and enthusiastic without ever seeming fake or calculating,” while a Russian counterpart is “a quiet and thoughtful person, consistently reliable.” Nonetheless, Kelly’s book shines in its depiction of the day-to-day work of astronautics and more particularly where that work involves international cooperation. On that score, there’s no better account of the cultural differences between Right Stuff–inculcated NASA types and Yuri Gagarin–inspired cosmonauts: “One difference between the Russian approach to spacewalking and ours,” he writes, “is that the Russians stop working when it’s dark.” It’s fascinating stuff, a tale of aches and pains, of boredom punctuated by terror and worries about what’s happening in the dark and back down on Earth.
A worthy read for space buffs, to say nothing of anyone contemplating a voyage to the stars.