“Wow! Hey, did you know that Scott Kelly, the astronaut, had aggressive prostate cancer at 43?”, said my wife, Jodie, her head buried in a hard copy of Scott Kelly’s memoir, “Endurance: My Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery”.
“Uh, noooooo…”, I replied while pushing myself up from my pillow, interested.
“Yeah, he had surgery to get his prostate removed and was allowed to return to space.”, she said.
“Really?”, I asked excitedly.
“Yeah, I really think you should read this book, You’d enjoy it.”, she replied.
“I think I will…”.
Jodie was right, I enjoyed it a lot.
It’s hard not to like Scott Kelly, a rebellious, unmotivated kid who, after reading a book, “The Right Stuff”, by Tom Wolfe, hunkered down and fulfills his ultimate dream of becoming an astronaut. The lessons he learns along the way help him thrive later during his last mission, a year-long stay on the International Space Station (IIS) to measure the effects of long-term space travel.
As it turns out living in space is no pleasure cruise. Scott and his crew mates spend a lot of time fixing things which on earth, would be trivial, but in space are detrimental to survival. For example, my house has three toilets, and a plumber is at my beck and call; not so on the IIS where a malfunctioning toilet can be life threatening. Furthermore, everything needs to be flown in ( or out ), and the method of shipment, space flight, isn’t always reliable. Food, oxygen, – even garbage are at the mercy of successful launches.
Scott survives by what he calls “compartmentalization”, or the ability to focus on the most pertinent problem while ( temporarily ) putting aside the rest. Compartmentalization allowed him to focus during a strenuous spacewalk while numerous technical problems and the universe itself ( in the form of an enormous looming earth above him ) were both vying for his attention. It’s definitely a valuable life skill, and not just one for astronauts.
From his vantage point on the IIS, Scott concludes that the only thing protecting earth and its inhabitants from the harshness of space is a thin veneer of atmosphere. He makes it clear that life is both fragile and precious and that, aside from a handful of people of the IIS, we really only have one home. After reading about the diverse crews that Scott works with on the IIS, I get the impression that aside from language barriers and political posturing on earth, it’s important to respect everyone as you might not know when your life depends on them.
Lastly, on a personal level I am happy to see that there is life after cancer – even for an astronaut. As Jodie had told me, Scott Kelly was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer at age 43 and, after surgery to have it removed, was permitted to return to space – twice. This is incredibly reassuring to me given that I am scheduled to have the same surgery in a few short weeks. If Scott Kelly, the astronaut, can ride a rocket into space after having his prostate removed, I can surely return to my own ( much more modest ) life as well.
Till next time.
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