#YearInSpace is the viral hashtag of astronaut Scott Kelly — the first American astronaut to spend a year in space continuously, apart from being a record holder for longest total of days spent in space (300+) and longest single mission — whose social media following is HUMONGOUS. Currently, he has about 820,000 followers on Twitter. He is especially popular for being probably the most social astronaut ever. He has been tweeting pictures of life aboard the International Space Station (ISS), and presenting a bird’s-eye view — or rather, an astronaut’s-eye view — of what ‘spaceship Earth’ looks like from up there.
He took his interaction with distant Earthlings to another level when he conducted a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session, prompting one user to comment, “Technology is so fantastic. I asked my question from my cell phone in a car, and I got an answer from an astronaut in space.” He kicked off the session with a friendly hello:
Astronaut Scott Kelly: Hello Reddit! My name is Scott Kelly. I am a NASA astronaut who has been living aboard the International Space Station since March of last year, having just passed 300 days of my Year In Space — an unprecedented mission that is a stepping stone to future missions to Mars and beyond. A year is a long time to live without the human contact of loved ones, fresh air and gravity, to name a few. Connections back on Earth are very important when isolated from the entire world for such a period of time. I look forward to connecting with you all back on spaceship Earth to talk about my experiences so far as I enter my countdown to when I will begin the riskiest part of this mission: Coming home.
Here are a few highlights from his AMA session, where he has sportingly answered all sorts of questions:
Why do you always have your arms folded?
Kelly: Your arms don’t hang by your side in space like they do on Earth because there is no gravity. It feels awkward to have them floating in front of me. It is just more comfortable to have them folded. I don’t even have them floating in my sleep, I put them in my sleeping bag.
Do you and the the other crew members play any space pranks on each other?
Does the humming of the machinery in the station affect your sleep at all?
Kelly: Sleeping here is harder here in space than on a bed because the sleep position here is the same position throughout the day. You don’t ever get that sense of gratifying relaxation here that you do on Earth after a long day at work. Yes, there are humming noises on station that affect my sleep — so I wear ear plugs to (sleeping) bag.
Could you tell us something unusual about being in space that many people don’t think about?
Kelly: The calluses on your feet in space will eventually fall off. So, the bottoms of your feet become very soft — like newborn baby feet. But the top of my feet develop rough alligator skin because I use the top of my feet to get around here on space station when using foot rails.
How (is) the connectivity from up there?
Kelly: Pretty good. I’m chatting with you from space now — so, I’d say good enough. It’s like dial-up, but sometimes it works better than other times.
Does everything seem to take a really long time, or do you get used to that?
Kelly: It absolutely takes longer to do things when you can’t put anything down.
Hey up there!! What does zero G feel like on your body when you are just hanging out?
Kelly: It feels like there is no pressure at all on your body. Sometimes it feels like you are just hanging but you are not hanging by anything — just hanging there. If I close my eyes, I can give myself the sensation that I am falling. Which I am — I am falling around the Earth.
Mr. Kelly, what is the largest misconception about space/space travel that society holds onto?
Kelly: I think a lot of people think that because we give the appearance that this is easy, that it is easy. I don’t think people have an appreciation for the work that it takes to pull these missions off — like humans living on the space station continuously for 15 years. It is a huge army of hard working people to make it happen.
How are you doing this AMA? Are you directly typing it from a laptop on the ISS, or are is it being dictated?
Kelly: I am talking to you live, but someone else is typing this in.
What is like to work with members of other nations’ space programs? Do the politics that take place on Earth affect your relationship with them?
Kelly: I think it’s one of the great things about the space station program, that it’s an international program. We get along very well. We have to because we rely on each other for our lives.
What ONE thing will you forever do differently after your safe return home?
Kelly: I will appreciate nature more.
Hi, I’m a kindergarten teacher. My students and I have been following you since you went up last year. My past and present students are curious. What kind of things do you do for fun?
Kelly: I read, write and do arithmetic like a kindergartner (just kidding). But I do read, take photos of the Earth and play with my food.
Simon (5-years old): Could a rogue spaceship sneak up on the space station without you being aware, and dock?
Kelly: Simon, may be an alien spaceship with a cloaking device. But not your normal spaceship, no. Unless it had a cloaking device — which doesn’t exist. The U.S. Air Force would see it coming.
Can you describe your sleep cycle over the last 300 days in space? Always a solid 8 hours? Did you ever get strangely tired, or have you consistently felt well rested? Bonus Question: When sleeping, is your dream world mostly in zero-G?
Kelly: I am not a great sleeper. I don’t think I have ever slept 8 hours straight in the last 20 years. I wind up waking up a couple of times. My dreams are sometimes space dreams and sometimes Earth dreams. And they are crazy.
What’s the creepiest thing you’ve encountered while on the job?
Kelly: Generally, it has to do with the toilet. Recently, I had to clean up a gallon-sized ball of urine mixed with acid.
Do you watch sci-fi while you’re up there, or does some of that stuff hit a little too close to home?
Scott Kelly: I watched the movie Gravity not long after I arrived back in last March. I thought it was a cool movie to watch here aboard the space station, that is also the setting of Gravity.
What is your favorite David Bowie song?
Kelly: You might be surprised, but it’s not Space Oddity. Probably Modern Love.
If you had a big scoop of something powdery — like if you were measuring out cinnamon or another powdered spice — would it float around in a little powdered blobby cloud, or would it disperse into the microgravity air and be all over the place? Similarly, if you tried to use a salt shaker on your NASA approved dinner, how would the little salt pieces behave?
Scott Kelly: It would be a disaster to have something powder like that. Depending on how much it was, we would possibly consider shutting down the ventilation to stop it from spreading. For salt, we actually use liquid salt that we put on our food.
What’s your camera setup? Your astrophotography truly is out of this world.
Kelly: I use a Nikon D4. Depending on what I am taking a picture of, the camera settings and lenses vary.
What is your favorite part of Earth to see from space?
Kelly: My favorite spot on Earth to see from space is probably the Bahamas. The brilliant and varied colors of the blue water and contrast from here is pretty spectacular.
After 365 days in space, do you think you will miss being on the International Space Station?
Kelly: Absolutely, I will miss this place. But I am looking forward to returning home.