WEST ORANGE, NEW JERSEY, native Mark Kelly is a retired astronaut and a former U.S. Navy combat pilot with 6,000 flight hours in more than 50 different aircraft, 375 aircraft carrier landings, 39 combat missions and more than 50 days in space. Selected by NASA as an astronaut in 1996, he flew his first of four missions in 2001 aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour, the same space shuttle that he commanded on its final flight in May 2011. Kelly has also commanded Space Shuttle Discovery, and is one of only two individuals who have visited the International Space Station (ISS) on four different occasions.
His identical twin brother, astronaut Scott Kelly, spent a year aboard the ISS so NASA could study the medical effects of long-term space travel.
Today, Mark Kelly is the Director of Flight Crew Operations at World View Enterprises, Inc., a private, American, near-space exploration company. Here are his thoughts on America’s space program, and the potential for discovery if we invest in exploring the final frontier.
America and Space Exploration.
“Exploration is in our DNA, and the value of exploring space is real. It offers many benefits from expanding our understanding of scientific principles to inventing new technology to solve the complexity of space travel.”
Innovation and Leadership.
“The United States continues to be an innovator and a leader in space exploration. In about two years, we will have access to space with two vehicles. One will be from Boeing, and the other from SpaceX. After that, we will have the ability to fly Orion, NASA’s new spacecraft, to more distant destinations.”
Priorities for the U.S. Space Program.
“We must fly humans into space using U.S. rockets. We have this incredible space station that we will operate for another decade, if not longer. We must also decide what part of the solar system we want to explore—the Moon, an asteroid or Mars. It’s a tough decision, and each one of these programs is expensive, but very worthwhile. I’d like to see us make the decision to go to Mars by 2035.”
A Report Card.
“When SpaceX successfully landed the Falcon 9, that was a great example of the state of the U.S. space program today. Here’s a company, SpaceX, that did not exist just 11 years ago. It’s managed to transform rocket science. And it’s not just SpaceX. They’ve demonstrated what they can do, so other companies are now going to put what SpaceX accomplished high on their agendas. Six years ago, I would have said accomplishing that landing was not possible.”
Lessons Learned from Being an Astronaut.
“This may not make a ton of sense, but slower is faster. If you slow down and take your time with things, you’ll be able to be more thoughtful and methodical during the process and have better results. And ‘better is the enemy of good enough.’ This means that when you’re doing something difficult, sometimes it’s more important to get the job done adequately, especially when you’re an astronaut—a lot of stuff needs to be
done in a very short time.”
Key Message from the Book and Memoir, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope. “The power of the human spirit is amazing, and the ability to fight to come back is inspiring. You have to realize that when things seem really dark and desperate, there’s only one place to go—and that’s up.” (In January 2011, Kelly’s wife, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in an assassination attempt; her courage to get well and fight against gun violence are chronicled in this best-selling book.)