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Wednesday, September 27, 2023


Scott Kelly says Houston to remain Space City, Mars the next frontier

Scott Kelly, keynote speaker for the 2016 University-wide commencement, said leaving the planet brought him closer to Earth, not farther from it. | Ajani Stewart/The Cougar

Captain Scott Kelly, keynote speaker at UH’s second ever University-wide commencement, made it to campus Saturday despite inclement weather.

After spending a year-long sojourn in space and touring the country to discuss his time aboard the International Space Station, Kelly spoke to The Cougar about his experiences as the first American to spend a full year in space and his views on Houston’s involvement in the future of space travel.

The Cougar: Do you think Houston will remain Space City or do you think that title will shift somewhere else?

Scott Kelly: Oh, absolutely. It has been for almost the entirety of our space program, and will continue to be so in the future, especially for human spaceflight. With NASA as the leader of that, certainly there are commercial companies out there that are getting involved, and that’s great for NASA and that’s great for our country, but Houston will maintain the center of human spaceflight.

TC: Will the University of Houston play a part in that?

SK: Oh, I hope so. It’s the largest university that’s associated with NASA, being so close by. So many of your graduates work at the Johnson Space Center, so I can’t imagine NASA’s Johnson Space Center without the University of Houston.

TC: What do you think is the future of space travel?

SK: The future of space travel is very bright. I bet you there’s a kid alive today, whether a boy or a girl, that will go to Mars someday. I’m a big believer in that, and I think that our country reaps great benefits from the space program. I think it’s important to our economy. The technologies we develop to do the hard things of flying in space are stuff that we use every day here on Earth. I think space travel has a bright future.

TC: How will NASA continue to execute its goals with SpaceX and other private companies competing?

SK: SpaceX and Boeing and these other companies are there to help NASA. It’s a partnership. Without NASA, these companies wouldn’t have been able to do what they’re doing because we funded their research and development to build these rockets and spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station. It’s a great partnership. Having these companies doing what they’re doing now and even greater things in the future, in low earth orbit, will allow NASA to go in low earth orbit. Hopefully these private companies will do that, too. I know that SpaceX has plans to land a capsule on Mars in 2018, which is very, very exciting.

TC: How did space live up to or challenge your expectations?

SK: It is an incredible place for a lot of reasons. You know, people often ask me what the best part about being an astronaut and flying in space is. Is it launching, which is incredible? Is it landing? Is it looking out at the earth? Is it floating? You know, those things are all great, but the best part about it for me is that it’s really hard. It’s hard work. And it’s really rewarding when you work hard and are successful. It’s always lived up to its potential. It’s never, for one moment, ever disappointed me.

TC: What is your favorite movie about space?

SK: I’m probably somewhere torn between “Apollo 13” and “The Martian.” It’s hard to choose one of those over the other.

TC: What’s the most frightening part about being on the International Space Station?

SK: Something going wrong on Earth with your family.

TC: What is the coolest Earth feature you’ve seen from space?

SK: Certainly, the Aurora that exists in the Earth’s atmosphere is pretty amazing at times. Completely stunning, breathtaking at times. There are not adjectives to describe just how incredible of a sight it is. You know, the Bahamas always look great from space. Incredibly blue, refreshing water, makes you want to just jump out of the spacecraft and jump right in. I’m preferential to these little lakes that are on the northern side of the Himalayas, multi-colored lakes, and someday, I’m going to have to go visit.

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