Astronaut Capt. Scott Kelly Sees the Good in Stupidity
Capt. Scott Kelly spent 520 days in space over four missions, including one that lasted 340 days, yet before every flight, he thought to himself, “boy this is a stupid thing to do.”
That so-called stupidity, however, allowed him to literally reach heights he of which he never dreamed.
During Kelly’s hour-long talk at the University of Colorado Mackey Auditorium Wednesday night, he urged the packed house to follow their own stupid dreams and be willing to take risks, even fail, as long as they have a goal and a plan.
“When I was leaving the space station for the last time and I’m looking out the window at it, I think to myself, ’we built this million pound structure in space while flying around the Earth at 17,500mph , in a vacuum, in extreme temperatures of plus or minus 270 degrees, this space station is the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” he said. “After spending a year in space I was absolutely inspired that if we can dream it we can do it if we have a goal and a plan if we’re willing to take risks, make mistakes and work as a team.”
As a poor student through all of the high school and even the beginning of college, he said NASA seemed worlds away, but that after reading “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe, he was inspired to turn his life around and teach himself how to become a good student so that he could become a pilot.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” he said.
Four years later, however, he graduated college with a degree in engineering, a commission in the Navy and a slot in flight school. The hard work, however, was just beginning.
“The first thing I realized when I got down to flight school was that I wasn’t a particularly good pilot,” he said. “But what I learned from that experience is how good you are when you start something is really no reflection on how good you can become with a lot of hard work and just never, ever giving up.”
Though he eventually got his Navy wings and was assigned to fly the F-14 Tomcat, he nearly crashed on his flight and the Navy sent him back to shore in an attempt to get him to change career paths. They told him he can either take a job flying cargo planes or stick with the F-14 Tomcat program, but if he failed again, they would never let him fly in the Navy.
Despite the risk of losing his dream job, he told himself that he would rather fail trying to accomplish something that might be out of his reach so that at least he could better understand his limitations.
Yet again that risk paid off, for when he returned to the aircraft carrier one of his many mentors taught him a lesson that changed his entire life.
“After a while he says, ‘you know Scott, you can fly this plane, OK, but your too comfortable when everything is just alright. You’re not making very small corrections all the time,’” he said. “What he taught me is never being comfortable with the status quo. Always make very small positive corrections all the time. If we don’t do that things are going to deteriorate and get worse.”
Though many of the students at the talk had hoped Kelly would elaborate more on the scientific side of his missions to space, Tanya Roussy, a Ph.D. candidate in physics who was rushing back to her lab after the speech, was inspired.
“He’s right,” she said. “If we can all work together across nations we can accomplish a lot.”
John Spina: 303-473-1389, email@example.com or twitter.com/jsspina24