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Retired astronaut Scott Kelly set a record for spending nearly a year in space and his newest book “Infinite Wonder,” is a compilation of thousands of pictures he took while he did it. Kelly talks to Megan Thompson about the experience, the images he produced of life on the International Space Station and also the magnificent views of planet Earth.
In 2016 Scott Kelly set a record for the longest space mission by an American astronaut. During his 340 days on the International Space Station, Kelly conducted science experiments maintained equipment and took pictures thousands of them. His new book "Infinite Wonder" showcases his photography. He spoke with me recently from Washington D.C. about his new book and how he's feeling after spending nearly a year in space.
Scott Kelly, thank you so much for joining us.
Oh you're very welcome.
So most people probably know you as a record setting astronaut fewer probably know you are also a photographer. Is photography something that you've always been interested in?
You know, not always. I became an astronaut in 1996 and that was you know a few years before everyone had a camera in their pocket at all times, so you know I think before then you know photography was something a maybe did on vacation a little bit. But as an astronaut photography is a really big part of your of your job because we take pictures for scientific reasons we take pictures for engineering reasons and then we take photos to share with the public what we're doing in space. So you know it became part of my job and I you know became interested in it but really as a result of flying in space.
The book is called "Infinite Wonder." I mean what were you trying to capture, what story are you trying to tell?
Well you know I think the book has three three sections it talks about the mission of flying in space and there's a section called the natural world which has pictures of the earth or space that you can kind of recognize what they are and then the last section is a section that we call Earth art, how you can take photos of the earth and really make it look like a wall worthy piece of artwork.
You write in the book about the first time you launched into space and you looked down on Earth. I mean you are one of the few human beings will ever be able to see Earth from this vantage point can you describe in words how it feels to see the Earth from there?
Yeah. So you know my first flight we launched at night and it being my first mission even on my second mission when I was the commander of the space shuttle I didn't look out the window during ascent really one time because I was kind of focused on my job which was being either the pilot or the commander of the space shuttle. And on my first flight it wasn't until we were in space for about 20 minutes that I just noticed you know something on the outside that caught my attention. I actually didn't even know what it is and I asked the commander of the crew Kurt Brown. This was his sixth flight and I said, "What's that?" And he said, "Well, it's a sunrise."
And as you know the sun came up I just saw how incredibly breathtakingly beautiful our planet Earth is. I knew right then and there I would never see anything like Earth again from space just, it's almost like someone took the most brilliant blue paint and just painted it on a mirror right in front of my eyes and it was absolutely spectacular.
As you said some of the photos in the book are of life on the International Space Station. Tell us a little bit more about your time up there. What were you doing and what was it like to be up there for almost a year in this small space?
Well you know in those photos I tried to capture you know a little bit of what people don't generally see on the space station a little more of the mundane stuff of just you know living and working in space watching TV you know the having having a meal.
You know when you're there on the space station for a long time our days are filled with work. We do a lot of work on the space a lot of science experiments over the course of the year I was there we had 400 different science experiments going on. So most of your time is spent either you know doing science, repairing the hardware that you know fails. The space station just had its 20th birthday. The first piece was launched in 1998. So you know you have to do a lot of maintenance, then just taking care of the space station stuff but you do you know have a few hours every day for you you know doing things that are just for your own enjoyment. One of the things I did was take a lot of photos.
A lot of the photos are abstract, you're just not quite sure what you're looking at. I mean what inspired you to take those?
Well you know my mother was an amateur artist and I think I got part of her artistic brain so I over time developed a technique where I could take a you know close up picture of the earth with a really long lens which is challenging when you're moving that five miles a second. So the camera has to move at a very fast but also steady rate to get an image that's in focus and then using a software program I would enhance the colors.
I wouldn't add any colors but just enhanced them to you know bring out the natural colors.
Can you talk a little bit more about how you took these pictures? Were there challenges to taking photos in outer space? SCOTT KELLY: Oh there's a lot of challenges. You know not only are he moving really really fast. So you know it takes a long time to develop to get comfortable enough in space where you have you know steady enough hand to get the pictures and focus especially when you take pictures at night and you use you know camera settings that are you know you're more likely to get is due to your you know your ability to track the earth's surface in a very steady and controlled way.
Part of the reason why you were up there for as long as you were was so that researchers could study the effects of being in space that long on your body and you've been back now for a little over two years. How are you feeling?
Well, I feel fine. I mean I don't have any symptoms of being in space for that long. I still have structural changes in my eyes. Some astronauts have spent less time in space have that as well. I mean it's a fairly common thing that we're trying to understand. I have some genetic changes in gene expression. My understanding is 7 percent of my genes are expressing themselves differently but those aren't anything that I can feel or symptomatic. So you know to answer your question I feel fine.
Retired astronaut Scott Kelly's new book is called Infinite wonder. Thank you so much for being with us. Thank you for having me.
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Megan Thompson shoots, produces and reports on-camera for PBS NewsHour Weekend. Her report "Costly Generics" earned an Emmy nomination and won Gracie and National Headliner Awards. She was also recently awarded a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship to report on the issue of mental health. Previously, Thompson worked for the PBS shows and series Need to Know, Treasures of New York, WorldFocus and NOW on PBS. Prior to her career in journalism she worked in research and communications on Capitol Hill. She originally hails from the great state of Minnesota and holds a BA from Wellesley College and a MA in Journalism from New York University.
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