Margaret Dean: Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery

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Margaret Dean Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery
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    Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery
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    Alfred A. Knopf
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    Биографии и Мемуары / sci_cosmos / на английском языке
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    New York
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Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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A stunning memoir from the astronaut who spent a record-breaking year aboard the International Space Station—a candid account of his remarkable voyage, of the journeys off the planet that preceded it, and of his colorful formative years. The veteran of four space flights and the American record holder for consecutive days spent in space, Scott Kelly has experienced things very few have. Now, he takes us inside a sphere utterly inimical to human life. He describes navigating the extreme challenge of long-term spaceflight, both existential and banal: the devastating effects on the body; the isolation from everyone he loves and the comforts of Earth; the pressures of constant close cohabitation; the catastrophic risks of depressurization or colliding with space junk, and the still more haunting threat of being unable to help should tragedy strike at home—an agonizing situation Kelly faced when, on another mission, his twin brother’s wife, Gabrielle Giffords, was shot while he still had two months in space. Kelly’s humanity, compassion, humor, and passion resonate throughout, as he recalls his rough-and-tumble New Jersey childhood and the youthful inspiration that sparked his astounding career, and as he makes clear his belief that Mars will be the next, ultimately challenging step in American spaceflight. A natural storyteller and modern-day hero, Kelly has a message of hope for the future that will inspire for generations to come. Here, in his personal story, we see the triumph of the human imagination, the strength of the human will, and the boundless wonder of the galaxy.

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Amiko smiles happily and points to the pendant I had made for her before I left Houston, a silver version of the Year in Space mission patch. Samantha and Charlotte wear the silver pendants too. I will bring a second version of the pendants, in gold with sapphires set into them, with me to give the three of them when I return. Amiko’s smile is sincere and happy, but because I know her so well I can also see that she is tired, not only from jet lag but also from the strain. This is Amiko’s second time going through the process of preparing for a long-duration mission with me, so she’s known what to expect, though I’m not sure that makes it any easier. She also works for NASA, in the public affairs office, so she knows better than most astronauts’ partners what I am facing on this mission. In some instances this knowledge will be comforting, but more often than not—including today—it would have been less stressful to know less.

Amiko was an acquaintance for a long time. She’d worked closely with my brother on a project and also shared mutual friends with my ex-wife, Leslie. In early 2009, Amiko and I both filed for divorce, each unbeknownst to the other, and by coincidence we ran into each other a few times many months later. Amiko says she remembers one of those nights being impressed that though I had jokingly acknowledged she was attractive, I’d turned down a chance to get in the hot tub with her and some other people in favor of going to bed early for a training event in the morning. A few weeks later, I saw her again at a party, and this time I did wind up in the hot tub with her. We talked all night, but again she was impressed that I didn’t make any advances. Anyone who has seen Amiko knows that she has to deal with a lot of attention from men, and I guess I stood out for trying to get to know her as a person. But I’m not an idiot—I did make sure to get her phone number that night.

I’m always curious about how people end up doing what they do, especially when they seem to be especially good at it, as Amiko is. She struck me as different from a lot of the people who work for NASA public affairs, some of whom can be conservative about new ideas and resistant to change. I asked her about how she came to her career, and though she told me only a bit of her history it was pretty compelling. Kicked out of her house at fifteen for standing up to her mother’s physical abuse, with nothing but the clothes on her back, married at eighteen, and with two kids by twenty-three, she got a job as a NASA secretary. From the moment she was hired, she began working toward getting into the agency’s competitive employee education program, in which NASA pays for promising employees to take college classes. Once Amiko was chosen, she began taking the maximum credits possible every semester while working full-time and raising her two small boys. She finished her degree in communications with a perfect GPA and every honor given to undergraduates. I had known she was smart and capable, but the more I learned about her life story, the more impressed I was with her. Her two sons, by that point in high school, were doing well, and she continued to set new challenges for herself. Most people would not have gotten past the setbacks she’d faced, but through intelligence, grit, and fierce determination, she had made the life for herself that she wanted. I could tell she wouldn’t easily change that life for any man, even for an astronaut being as charming as he could.

We started seeing each other that fall, and things between us had become serious by the time I went to space in October 2010. This was my first long-duration mission to the International Space Station and her first mission as the partner left behind. It was an unusual challenge for a new relationship. We were both surprised to find that the separation only brought us closer. I could depend on her as my partner on the ground, and we enjoyed being able to give each other our undivided attention for the hour or so a day we could talk on the phone. I came back more confident than ever that we belonged together. I know some of our friends wonder why we haven’t gotten married—we’ve been together now for five and a half years and have lived together for much of that time. I’ve been there for her sons when necessary, and she is always there for my daughters. We are as committed as any married couple, but because both of us have been married before, and neither of us is especially traditional, we don’t seem to see the point in it. The media sometimes refer to Amiko as my “longtime partner,” and that seems right to both of us.

Sitting next to Amiko is Samantha. I’d been surprised to see her new look when she showed up in Baikonur, her long curls dyed black, thick black eyeliner, dark red lipstick, and nothing but black clothes. Since her mother and I divorced, my relationship with Samantha has been rocky, and in many ways it’s still recovering from the fallout. She was fifteen when Leslie moved the girls against my wishes from Houston to Virginia Beach, an especially tough age to deal with that kind of upheaval. Samantha blames me for the divorce and for many of the problems that have come since. When I look at her today through the glass, her blue eyes sparkling under the heavy eyeliner, I still see her the way she looked the first time I saw her, in 1994, in the maternity ward of the Patuxent River naval air station, where I was a test pilot. Leslie went through a long, difficult labor, and when Samantha was finally delivered it was by emergency cesarean section. When I first saw her tiny pink face with one eye shut and the other eye open, I felt an unbelievable urge to protect her. Though she’s an adult now, I still feel the same way.

Charlotte was born when Samantha was almost nine, an age gap that has made it easy for them to get along. Samantha seems to enjoy having an adoring sidekick, and Charlotte has had the freedom to go anywhere her older sister is willing to take her—including to Baikonur. Charlotte’s birth was even more difficult than Samantha’s; I remember standing in the operating room and hearing the doctor calling an emergency code. When they finally got Charlotte out, she was limp and unresponsive. I still remember the sight of her tiny, blue, lifeless arm hanging out of the incision. The doctors warned us she might have cerebral palsy, but she has grown up to be healthy, bright, strong, and a generous-spirited person. I know she must be experiencing extremes of emotion today, but she seems happy and calm, sitting next to her sister and brushing her light brown bangs out of her eyes to smile at me. I feel grateful that my daughters are able to lean on Amiko for reassurance and to follow her lead in how to deal with the stresses of this week.

I also spot Spanky—Mike Fincke, a friend and colleague from my astronaut class—who has been in charge of helping out my family while I’ve been in quarantine. Between missions, astronauts can be assigned to take on all kinds of earthbound responsibilities, and Spanky, who has been to ISS himself and will probably go back, has been fantastic with my family—answering questions, fulfilling special requests, communicating their preferences to NASA whenever possible. This is the second time Spanky has done this job for me.

On our side of the glass is a mock-up of the Soyuz seat, and one by one, Gennady, Misha, and I get into it, lying on our backs. Technicians check our suits for leaks. I lie there for fifteen minutes with my helmet closed and my knees pressed up to my chest while a large room full of people, some of whom I don’t know, watch politely. Why we need to do this for an audience I’ve never been sure—another ritual. Afterward we sit in a row of chairs before the glass to have a last talk, through microphones, with our families.

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