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Interview with Scott and Mark Kelly
07.29.10
Astronauts and brothers Scott (left) and Mark Kelly are interviewed before their missions

Astronauts and brothers Scott (left) and Mark Kelly are interviewed before their missions. Credit: NASA TV

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Well, we’re here today with the Kelly brothers, Scott Kelly, Expedition 25 Flight Engineer, who will become the Commander of the International Space Station for Expedition 26, Mark Kelly, Endeavor’s Commander for the STS-134 mission to the International Space Station, very unique moment here. You guys were born February 21, 1964, in West Orange, New Jersey. You’ll both be forty-six years old at the time of your encounter on orbit. Right before the launch of Endeavor, actually, you’ll turn forty-six, so the first question naturally, since you’re identical twins is ‘Who’s the oldest?’

MARK: Actually we’ll be forty-seven. So if you do the math from ’64 to 2011 we’d be forty-seven right before I launch and I’ll be six minutes older.

Six minutes older, so you were first, Scott followed you but that’s not necessarily the way your career paths worked as we’ll explore later on.

MARK: But we didn’t know that actually until we were probably, what?, fifteen, sixteen?

SCOTT: Our parents weren’t, they didn’t want to tell who was older because they thought maybe that person would then have some leverage or something like that so we didn’t know who was older or who was younger until probably, you know, thirteen to fifteenish.

Well, before we go into your upbringing, did one become the alpha male, pretty quickly in life?

SCOTT: Isn’t that dogs you’re referring to there?

It could be humans as well, but…

MARK: I don’t think so.

SCOTT: No, no, we’ve always been pretty close and not very competitive with each other, so…

New Jersey has grabbed a lot of limelight particularly recently in television with a variety of programming but those who are not familiar with West Orange, New Jersey, where you were born and grew up, tell us a little bit about your hometown.

SCOTT: It’s kind of a combination of, sort of city-like and the suburbs. It’s a bedroom community of New York City, about twenty minutes west of Manhattan and, it’s really, really was a great place to grow up. That whole area’s got a lot to offer and we took advantage of some of that I think growing up.

MARK: Good school system, you know. We used to do field trips from school into New York City to go to museums so it was, it was a great location.

SCOTT: We used to do our own field trips into New York City on the…

MARK: Sometimes…

SCOTT: …the local bus.

West Orange, aside from the two of you, is the birthplace of other notables. I’ll just read a few: Thomas Edison, certainly historic icon.

MARK: I actually don’t think he was born there but that’s where he had his major factory and his laboratory.

SCOTT: And he lived there for many years.

MARK: And his, the museum, I think it’s a National Historic Monument now for Thomas Edison is in West Orange.

General George McClellan, famous historic figure. Phil Rizzuto, shortstop for the New York Yankees and later one of their broadcasters. Amos Alonzo Stagg and Whoopie Goldberg. Did West Orange every strike you as a place in which notable people would grow up maybe because of its geographic proximity to the Big Apple?

SCOTT: You know, it’s certainly known as a place that Thomas Edison spent a lot of time in. As far as some of those other folks, I wasn’t really aware of that growing up. It’s actually a pretty small town, population-wise about I think when we were there maybe fifty thousand people so, you know, it’s not a huge city. It does somewhat surprise me now when you tell me all the, you know, notable people that were born there.

MARK: Like my brother said, it’s kind of got a little bit of an urban feel to it but it is a suburb of New York City but when you’re growing up there, it’s like it’s all you know, a couple high schools in the town. We went to the one, I guess, essentially further away from New York, a little bit. The town’s somewhat divided by a big hill so we have these terms of from ‘up the hill’ and ‘down the hill’ and not that they really meant anything but there was pretty much a division in, that went right through the town.

Did you all stay in the suburbs more or did you, as you grew up, did you visit New York a lot?

SCOTT: We would go in there with our parents once in a while for, actually go into Manhattan for dinner, weekends occasionally to a museum, but, most of my memories of traveling into Manhattan was with the school trips and then later on as we got, you know, into high school, kind of on our own and with friends.

MARK: I remember once going into New York City when I was probably fifteen or sixteen with just another friend and getting stuck in the staircase of the Empire State Building. That was an experience ‘cuz we decided we wanted to walk down instead of take the elevator down so we got into the stairwell and we walked down most of the way to the bottom and then got to a door that would not open and we wound up having to walk all the way back up and try to get out, you know, the normal way.

Did you guys have favorite sports teams, sports heroes from the Metropolitan Area?

SCOTT: Me, personally, I was a Mets and Giants fan.

MARK: So, of course then, I liked the Yankees. I think I liked the Giants, too, at the time and I still do but, Mets just didn’t do it for me.

Mets, Yankees indicative of the sibling rivalry perhaps as you grew up?

MARK: Not really.

SCOTT: Just, yah, just in that regard I think.

You guys went to Mountain High School. How are twin brothers received? Was there anything in particular, anything notable about the way your classmates treated you?

SCOTT: You know, we didn’t, we don’t have any other siblings so we don’t know anything differently so with nothing to compare it to I don’t think we were, you know, we didn’t feel any different and..

MARK: We weren’t the only twins in the school. There were John, John and Mike S…

SCOTT: S…, yah.

MARK: …who were a couple years older so, and they were identical twins as well so it was kind of like a…

SCOTT: But back…

MARK: …a little bit more common.

SCOTT: But back then, you know, twins and multiple births were less common than they are today so, at the time I think those two guys were the only twins that I knew.

Did you hang out with those guys?

MARK: A little bit. We were both on the swim team and the track team together and Scott and I both kind of took up pole vaulting on the track team and the coach we had wasn’t particularly interested in it so we actually learned it…

SCOTT: Um huh.

MARK: …from John and Mike S.

You know, the subject of twins is always fascinating to people. They either do or do not understand what twins are all about. I’m just wondering, was it difficult growing up knowing there was a little clone of yourself right living with you, playing with you, going to school with you?

SCOTT: Like I said, you know, we didn’t know anything differently and, you know, he’s not my clone.

MARK: You know, a lot of times people would ask, “So what’s it like to be a twin?” and my, the response I would usually give is, “Well, what’s it like not to be a twin?” I mean, it’s just, it is.

SCOTT: It’s more like it, he’s my brother but we just happen to have the same birthday, to me.

Did you guys take the same classes? Did you, did you have the same, similar academic interests as you went to school?

MARK: Yah, I think I took the harder classes ‘cuz, you know, he had a hard time with those.

NASA astronaut Mark Kelly

JSC2010-E-119542 (25 Aug. 2010) --- NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, STS-134 commander, prepares for a flight in a NASA T-38 trainer jet at Ellington Field near NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA or National Aeronautics and Space Administration

SCOTT: You know, I think we just naturally gravitated towards similar interests because, you know, maybe it’s somewhat genetically based but also because we were always, exposed to the same things growing up and I think that somehow, you know, drives what you’re interested in. So, you know, as far as, maybe academic stuff but also what kind of sports and other interests were similar because of our similar upbringing.

MARK: And I, you know, throughout high school I can only remember of being in one class together…

SCOTT: Spanish.

MARK: …it worked. Okay, then, two, Spanish and Biology in twelfth grade, AP Biology.

SCOTT: That, they tried, you know, in elementary school for instance we were never allowed to be in the same class. I don’t know if that was a school system policy or it was my parents’ desire but that was never, that was actually prohibited. And then later, like in junior high and high school, it was very rare for us to be in the same class.

Did you guys double date, further confuse the social situation?

MARK: Never. Never thought about it.

Deliberately or just by coincidence?

MARK: Well, I think, if you have any brothers or sisters you probably didn’t go on double dates with them and their girlfriend or boyfriend. It’s kind of like the same thing. It just…

MARK: I would think it’s a little bit odd.

SCOTT: I don’t think I’ve ever gone on a double date with anyone, so…

Did you ever pull pranks in school by impersonating each other?

SCOTT: Actually not one time.

MARK: And I think it was because very early on we would get a lot of pressure to do that and we just didn’t want to go with the, the peer pressure. I mean, I would say almost weekly, somebody would say, “You guys should do this. You guys should switch classes. You…”, you know. So we, very early on we just said, “No, we’re not going to do that.”

SCOTT: I think we were saving up for the big prank some day and we have the perfect opportunity now.

Who’s got the better sense of humor, speaking of pranks?

SCOTT: I don’t know.

MARK: That’s, that’s for somebody else to decide.

While you were in school, as you went along year to year, who actually, you may not want to admit this, but who had the better grades? Who was the better student?

SCOTT: He did, clearly until we got to college, I was a little less serious in going through elementary school, junior high and high school, I was more interested in kind of what was going on outside of the classroom versus inside and then later when I got into college I decided I wanted to fly Navy airplanes and eventually be a test pilot so I took my schoolwork more seriously.

MARK: I don’t think I remember him ever once doing homework.

SCOTT: Yah, I did pretty good for not doing, for doing very little homework actually, considering, you know…the little bit of effort.

Well, Mark probably doesn’t want to admit that but that would imply that he’s the smarter of the two.

SCOTT: Well, he did more homework and he had better grades I think is what that would imply.

Let’s talk for a second about your folks. How did they handle twins…

SCOTT: I don’t know how my mother…

…to the best of your recollection?

SCOTT: …I don’t know how my mother handled us as little kids. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to. I mean, we were kind of, you know, pretty wild and would fight with each other all the time, so I really got to hand it to her for puttin’ up with us and not, you know, dropping us off at an orphanage.

MARK: Pretty much every day we would get into fist fights so it was, it was tough for my mom. She’d try to break ‘em up, you know, and then some of these fights would last hours and hours…

SCOTT: Because we were so evenly matched.

MARK: Yah.

Born out of what? What caused you guys to fight? Just natural…

SCOTT: Hatred, natural hatred for one another until the fight was over. Then we were friends.

MARK: You know, there were actually some other twins than the S__. I remember a couple other guys in the neighborhood and a similar situation. You know, I think it’s very common for twins or siblings that are about the same age to be in this constant conflict.

Did your folks ever play favorites that you can remember?

SCOTT: Absolutely not.

MARK: No.

SCOTT: They’ve always been very good at trying to be, you know, treat us exactly the same.

MARK: And even today, you know, you can sometimes get a sense that they want to be exactly the same with each of us even at forty-six years old.

What influence would you say they had on you as you were growing up? What was the most important thing that they encouraged you to do or steered you to doing?

SCOTT: For me, the main, the major influence that I can remember them having is that they always encouraged the both of us that nothing was beyond our abilities so, although you know, there were times where I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and what kind of opportunity I had, what opportunities were out there, I always knew and had a sense of, if really, you know, decided that I wanted to do something, put enough effort into it, it was achievable.

MARK: I think the other influence might be because they were both police officers that it was this kind of subtle influence of ‘Don’t get, don’t get into too much trouble’. I mean, I remember getting into, you know, the normal kind of trouble that a young kid in the neighborhood would get into but there was certainly this line out there because of, you know, our parents were both police officers in the town.

Were they strict, though, with you?

SCOTT: They actually gave us a lot of, freedom, you know. My dad worked nights mostly and while we were growing up and my mother also worked so there were times where, when it was just the two of us at home and you know, they gave us a pretty long leash actually.

What kind of students were you guys overall? I mean, we, you talked about sort of the IQ thing and the fact that one of you had to study and do more homework, but overall…

SCOTT: Well, it’s not that he had to study and do more homework. It’s that he studied. He did more homework, studied, and did better in school which is, you know, understandable and I did less and did worse.

Were you guys athletes back then?

MARK: Yah, we were actually co-captains of the swim team for a couple years, right? Eleventh and twelfth grade…

SCOTT: Yah, eleventh, twelfth grade and then…

MARK: …and we were both on the track team, played baseball when we were younger, played Pop Warner football. I mean, both little league and Pop Warner football was something we did for, oh, probably seemed like ten years. They were, you know, great programs in the town for both those sports. So, we kept pretty busy.

On the same teams?

SCOTT: Yah, I think so.

MARK: Yah, always actually.

MARK: Always, yah, always on the same team.

Did both of you always, as, as you grew up and matured and started looking at, you know, post high school, college, a career, did you always have similar career paths or was there enough of a difference in your interests to lead you in different directions at some point?

MARK: Well, initially there was. I went to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and Scott actually took a totally different path for a while, going to the University…

SCOTT: Yah, I went to the University of Maryland for a year and was considering maybe, you know, being a medical doctor but decided my other interest was maybe flying airplanes in the Navy and just kind of changed my mind and changed schools and changed majors and decided to focus a hundred percent on that. So he’s actually a year senior to me in the Navy.

MARK: Actually remember going to visit him at the University of Maryland, probably towards the end of his first year and showing him all these pictures of Navy airplanes and tellin’ him I was going and, go ahead and do this…

SCOTT: That’s not how I remember it.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly

JSC2010-E-106992 (13 July 2010) --- NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, Expedition 25 flight engineer and Expedition 26 commander, responds to a question from a reporter during an Expedition 25/26 preflight press conference at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA or National Aeronautics and Space Administration

MARK: …and then he said something like…

SCOTT: Yah, right.

MARK: …“That sounds a lot better than being a doctor.’ (chuckle)

SCOTT: That’s not how I remember it.

No fistfights on the set. Okay, so, for you, Scott, ultimately you wound up with an interest in electrical engineering and ultimately aviation. Mark, what peaked your interest in maritime engineering and transportation?

MARK: Well, we spent a lot of time on the New Jersey shore. My parents always had a boat from the time we were very little. We’d go out fishing, well, we’d go down there for, usually for the summer…

SCOTT: Not like the TV Jersey Shore.

MARK: Yah. So we’d go down there for the summer and spent a lot of time on the water. Later, when we were teenagers, we were able to stay down there in the summer by ourselves on our parents boat, you know, not a big boat, like in the thirty-five foot range but big enough for the two of us to live on so I was very interested in, you know, seamanship and maritime related stuff. So probably when I was thirteen or fourteen I started looking at either going to the Merchant Marine Academy or the Naval Academy, the Coast Guard Academy. But the Merchant Marine Academy really got my interest.

And for you, Scott?

SCOTT: Well, plus our, you know, our grandfather was a, an officer in the U.S. Merchant Marine and a fire boat captain in New York City so that was a, I think, also a, you know, a, played a small part in the interest and, you know, having a Third Mate’s license which I actually still have. I kind of kept it current all these years and never actually thinking I would sail on the license but the reason I went to the, the school that I did was because it was a, you know, they had Navy ROTC there and they also it was a regimental type of environment. I thought it’d be better for me, give me more time to focus on schoolwork and I was, I was obviously right.

Which one of you decided to become a pilot first?

SCOTT: My recollection, it was me, but because he was a year ahead of me in college, he actually was in the Navy first and flew first but that’s just my recollection.

MARK: Yah, I’m not sure.

And did that influence you to follow in his footsteps basically?

SCOTT: You know, I was pretty committed to the Navy before he was because I was on a Navy scholarship in college.

MARK: Yah, that’s true. I mean, I actually looked at even going, hate to say this but for a while I looked at going into the Air Force and actually considered it, took the test and they offered me an option of going to Air Force Flight School. But certainly, I’m pretty convinced I took the right path there. Nothing against the Air Force people out there, but…

You were both five years old when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon on Apollo 11. What recollection might you have of that, at that age, and ultimately was that a big influence on your developing an interest ultimately in aerospace or space, space flight itself?

MARK: I don’t think I have any recollection of Apollo 11 at all. I think at that age, I don’t know what the situation was there but I don’t remember the significance and I don’t remember, you know, man first walking, taking the first steps on the moon. I do remember what I’m pretty sure was either Apollo 16 or 17, one of the later flights a couple years later and I was interested in it. You know, it’s one of those things when you’re that age you can be interested in something but it just seems like it’s so far off and so difficult to do that you don’t really take a lot of time to consider it.

SCOTT: And I do have a recollection of it. I can remember being in our living room and our parents, you know, sitting us in front of the television and having us watch it and, but as far as did that influence me? You know, certainly being an astronaut was something that, like many kids, I was interested in but, you know, I really never thought it would be a possibility.

So with that in mind, give us a little background on how you were both selected to join the Astronaut Corps at the same time which is unique in and of itself which parallels many other events in your lives together.

MARK: Well, we both wound up in the same Test Pilot School class. We didn’t apply at the same time. I was in graduate school in Monterey on this combined program which includes going to the Naval Test Pilot School, and then Scott applied to Test Pilot School. We actually wound up in the same class. The school didn’t even realize it until a week before we showed up and Dick Clark, who now works here at NASA, was looking through the roster. He was the Chief Flight Instructor at the time and he noticed two guys with the same last name which, you know, that’s kind of common, right? But then he noticed the social security numbers and our social security numbers are three digits apart and he was like, “Okay, well, these guys must be related or…” actually he realized we must be twin brothers. So after Test Pilot School, say most test pilots apply at some point to the astronaut program and we both did and were fortunate enough to be selected to the same class in 1996.

So, Scott, it took you only three years after your selection before you flew in space for the first time as the pilot on STS-103, Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission, and, Mark, you didn’t fly until a couple years later on your first flight which went to the International Space Station. Was it frustrating for you, Mark, to see your bother fly first? Were those competitive juices flowing at the time?

MARK: Not at all, you know, he was the first American in our class to fly of thirty-five so it was great that, you know, if it wasn’t going to be me it was great that it was Scott flying for the first time and then, I think it was probably two or three years later that I had the opportunity to fly on STS-108 so…

What were your first impressions of space once you got on orbit, each one of you?

SCOTT: Well certainly when the solid rocket motors light, you know, for the first time that gets your attention. I mean, there’s nothing that prepares you for the amount of energy that’s involved with getting the space shuttle into space. It’s, you know, seven and a half million pounds of thrust all in an instant. You know, you get the impression you’re going somewhere. You’re really not sure where but you’re going there in a hurry and you’re not coming back to Florida. I mean, it just, kind of looks slow when you’re watching it as a spectator but when you’re inside there’s nothing slow about it. I mean, it just really takes off. That certainly makes a significant impact, significant impression and also, you know, just seeing the earth for the first time. It’s incredibly blue, you know, brilliant color blue and incredibly beautiful.

NASA astronaut Mark Kelly

JSC2010-E-087706 (25 May 2010) --- NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, STS-134 commander, participates in a food tasting session in the Habitability and Environmental Factors Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA or National Aeronautics and Space Administration

MARK: I have this very vivid recollection of about Mach 15 on my first flight, looking over my right shoulder out the window and seeing this blue planet behind me and it’s a view I’ve never had before, you know, it was the first time seeing something like that and it was really, really impressive. I even said something to, to Dom at the time, Dom Gorie, my, the Shuttle Commander, that, you know, it’s like, “Wow! That is really amazing.”

SCOTT: I, obviously we’ve had similar, like we’ve discussed, you know, similar backgrounds and experiences, you know, similar training as astronauts and between the time I flew my first flight and when Mark flew his, I tried to explain to him what that first eight and a half minutes was going to be like and after his flight, when he landed I was there in the crew transport vehicle when the hatch opened and the crew came out and the first thing he said to me when he came out of the shuttle after his first flight was, he said, “__, I had no idea what that ascent was going to be like.”

MARK: That’s true, you know. You just try to describe it to other people that are getting ready to do this and, you know, I remember after the solids lit and the main engines looked okay and I had a few seconds, I looked over, you know, I started thinking, “Well, this just doesn’t feel like I expected it to feel, you know.” It’s not as smooth as you expect, kind of feels like you’re on a runaway train going a thousand miles an hour. I remember looking over at Dom because I thought, “Well, this wasn’t, this isn’t quite right” and he, you know, he was okay with it, so like, “Well, must be what it’s supposed to feel like.”

Was, how much of a ‘wow moment’ was it for you, Scott, when you first pulled up alongside the Hubble Space Telescope knowing this icon of astronomy you were about it, you and your crew were about to go service it, upgrade it and for you, Mark, to see the International Space Station at that time in its fledgling state but nonetheless pretty impressive. What were your thoughts?

SCOTT: Well, you know, just knowing what we’ve learned from Hubble and how far back in time it can see, it’s impressive for those reasons. It’s about the size of a school bus so as far as telescopes go it’s pretty big but just understanding, you know, the impact it’s made on our understanding of the origins of the universe makes it a very impressive sight. Now, compared to the space station, especially the last time I, well when I saw it on my one flight, it’s, you know, Hubble’s a lot smaller and less visually impressive.

MARK: As the pilot of the space shuttle doing a rendezvous, approach and a docking like the ISS, you’re actually not doing the piloting. The Commander is. He’s doing the flying and the final phases of the rendezvous and the approach so as we first approach the space station, I’m sitting in the left seat so I can’t really see anything so I didn’t have you know, my first look at the space station was after we docked and, you know, having that big picture view of station as a shuttle pilot you don’t get until you undock and you’re leaving space station and it’s impressive. I’ve seen the thing grow over the years. I’ve visited ISS in 2001, 2006 and 2008 so I’ve seen through, from the beginning here through a lot of different stages.

Scott, as Commander of STS-118 and, Mark, as Commander of STS-124, I have to ask who, who threaded the needle the best for docking?

SCOTT: I don’t know.

MARK: I watched his approach which looked really, really good. I think it was almost as good as mine.

Scott, what led you down a different road after STS-118 to begin training for a ride to the space station in a Soyuz vehicle and training to become a space station Commander, and for Mark, why did you remain on a shuttle rather than follow in your brother’s footsteps to go for Soyuz and Russian training?

SCOTT: My, you know, after STS-103 who, one of the crew members on 103 was Mike Foale who was also at the time doing double duties as an Associate Center Director, I think was his title, and, you know, he thought I would be a good person to be the, what’s called the Director of Operations in Star City. So, we talked about that and I decided that maybe that’d be a good experience never intending to get on this space station track as soon as I did. You know, I thought my career would be flying a couple shuttle flights as a pilot and then a couple as the shuttle Commander and then later flying, maybe flying a long duration flight. But then, you know, after I was the DOR, Director of Operations in Star City for, I don’t know, about nine months, soon after I got back I thought I was going to get assigned as a pilot again but for whatever reason the Chief of the Astronaut Office decided to ask me to be a backup for Expedition 5 and the plan was for me not to fly as a prime but just be the backup and he said he would then assign me as the Commander of a shuttle flight and then the Commander of the space station. Actually wound up, you know, being true what he said was the plan for me but it just, because of the Columbia accident obviously took much longer, but it wasn’t really something I was particularly interested in at the time. I would have rather flown the two pilot flights and two commander flights but being just the military type of guy I am I couldn’t say no and I said, “Well, you know, if that’s what you want me to do, that’s what I’ll do.”

MARK: So, Rob, you ask that question like we have a lot of control over this and we actually really don’t. I mean, it’s not you go into the office and you say, “Hey, I want to this flight and then I want to be on this one.” It’s really, you know, the Chief of the Astronaut Office, Peggy Whitson now, I mean, she makes the decisions of who is on which flight and it’s to a large extent it’s really out of your control. You know, my case, I’ve been fortunate enough to fly, you know, three shuttle flights so far and this flight which I think’ll wind up being the last flight of space shuttle Endeavor and it’s been certainly a great opportunity and a privilege to get to do that.

Scott, how different is it going to be when you strap into a Soyuz vehicle knowing you’re basically a passenger in the right seat heading uphill with your knees up in your throat, very tight capsule, Mercury-style maybe, Gemini maybe at the most? What do you think that’s going to be like in contrast?

SCOTT: Well, I’ll certainly have a lot less to do than you know, during that time in the Soyuz than on a shuttle ascent or entry for that matter. As the Flight Engineer Number 2 you’re sort of a passenger. You do have some responsibilities but you’re, it’s kind of like being somewhere between Mission Specialist Number 1 on the shuttle and sitting on the mid-deck, your role. In that regard it will be different. It’s kind of neat that it’s you know, a rocket, like a traditional rocket, so it’ll be good to have that experience especially as we move on to a new vehicle after, after the space shuttle program.

Mark, you’re going to be traveling to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to watch your brother’s launch. What do you think that’s going to be like for you, knowing ultimately that you’re going to be meeting up with him in space?

MARK: Well, I’ve been to Russia once and it was a long time so I’m lookin’ forward to that. I’m actually taking Russian classes right now to see if I can get a little bit of Russian…

SCOTT: I thought you quit?

MARK: ability. I kind of quit. I quit last week but, you know, I was, I did a couple months. For me it’s really a great opportunity to not only see, you know, another space launch with people on board but to see my brother climbing into the Soyuz and, you know, launching from another country. I mean, it’s going to be amazing. I think at least one of my parents are going to be there, one of our parents, a lot of friends, some of the family members so it’s really something I’m really looking forward to.

And for you, Scott, knowing that your brother’s there, not necessarily next to you but certainly in spirit, how’s that going to be from a support standpoint mentally for you?

SCOTT: Oh, it’ll be great and you know, I’ll have friends and other family members there. He’s going to be one of the family escorts. Hopefully at least one of my kids’ll be there and so it’ll be good that he’s there, you know, with my daughter.

MARK: And then if something happens to him, just like accidentally, you know, and he can’t fly, he’s got another backup.

Who do you think’s got the harder job? This is sort of a loaded question and you’re going to be biased about this, of course, in your answer but who’s got the harder job, a Shuttle Commander for a short sprint type of mission, if you will, or a Station Commander who has to oversee a giant complex for a half year in a multi-national environment?

SCOTT: Well, I think I can probably better answer that question although, you know, I haven’t been the Station Commander but having had all the training and having a fairly good understanding of what the job entails, they’re clearly different, you know. The missions are different, you know. The shuttle is very, a shuttle mission timeline is very scripted. You train practically everything you’re going to do multiple times. You have a, you know, larger support structure, I think here at the Johnson Space Center when you’re training. As a station crew member the, in some ways the training’s somewhat more autonomous in that you do a lot of it by yourself. It’s in, you know, various countries, different systems and different types of philosophies of design in the hardware. And then, you know, the other thing, too, is it’s more of a, we call it an expedition for a reason. It’s a long duration mission that involves being isolated from friends and family. The training also has somewhat of that aspect, that you travel around to these different countries so I think overall I think probably the station flight presents more difficulty but they’re kind of really hard to compare ‘cuz they are so much different.

MARK: I think, Rob, I think you almost answered the question in your question. You said the short sprint or the long duration, expedition and I think just like sprint, right? What’s harder, the sprint or the…

SCOTT: Um mm. MARK – you know, the long run and they’re just, they’re hard for their own reasons and you know, they just have unique different things about ‘em that are both difficult.

Scott, before we press ahead with a few other types of personal questions about what lies ahead for you all, I’m intrigued always by Soyuz’ landings. I’ve been to the landing site many times myself. You’ve seen the landings on TV. Obviously you’ve trained now for them. It’s not wheel-stop Houston. It’s thump and bang and they call it the E-ticket. Any, any U.S. astronaut who has rode home on the Soyuz calls it the E-ticket basically. What do you think that’s going to be like for you?

SCOTT: Well, I think it’s an E-ticket if you consider like crashing, an E-ticket ride. I mean, you know, my understanding is it’s kind of a violent reentry and impact with the earth that has really gotten some people’s attention. I’m glad I’ve talked to a lot of people about it so hopefully it won’t be as big of a surprise but, it can be higher G-forces. You know, the, the Soyuz spins up underneath the parachute. There’s an equalization of pressure that causes the inside of the vehicle, depending on atmospheric conditions to fill up with condensation seem, can seem rather smoky to people and then you know, when you hit the ground it’s hard and then the vehicle as you’ve seen can roll and be in a weird orientation and all that, combined with the fact that your body’s somewhat de-conditioned and your vestibular system is affected can make it for, quite the violent surprising event.

Was it a dream of yours, both you guys, um, perhaps far-fetched, to fly together on a shuttle mission or fly together in some way, shape or form at some point in your careers?

MARK: We’ve talked about it, you know. We’ve been here for fourteen years now and thought that that would be a pretty neat thing to do, didn’t think it would ever really happen. When, Scott’s been assigned to this Expedition flight for pretty long period of time. I got assigned about a year ago to STS-134 with a launch date which is actually the day today that we’re doing this interview…

SCOTT: July.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly

JSC2010-E-057260 (23 April 2010) --- NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, Expedition 25 flight engineer and Expedition 26 commander, participates in a routine operations training session in an International Space Station mock-up/trainer in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Credit: NASA

MARK: …In July, so July 29th was the planned launch date of 134 so I would have launched and landed before he ever got to space station. But when we were assigned and it, you know, the way the shuttle program you do realize that there’s certainly opportunities out there for flights to get delayed. So we thought it was actually pretty likely that we may fly together, so it’s something we thought about, didn’t really think would happen.

SCOTT: But, you know, earlier on in our career, both being pilots and shuttle commanders, there’s only one pilot and Commander on the space shuttle was, you know, it was very unlikely that we would have been on the same shuttle mission together.

So when STS-134 just by circumstance slipped to February of 2011, you looked at the calendar, was pretty obvious that you had a shot at being together but not just that, but two Commanders, twin brothers, at the same time. What a moment that must have been!

MARK: Yah, but, you know, these things just don’t happen all at once so you kind of see ‘em comin’ and there’s a little bit of build up to it. I mean, then you know before the launch date changes that it’s actually going to change so there isn’t like this, you know, one point where you say, “Oh, this is all going to work out.” It’s kind of a gradual thing but…

SCOTT: It’s quite possible this launch could slip a month and you won’t even be showin’ this interview on television.

Let’s assume that the stars align and you are in space together at the same time next February. What thoughts do you think are going to be going through your head as the hatch is opened for the first time and you guys greet each other?

MARK: These missions are incredibly complicated where, you know, we’re going to have twelve people in space. All of us have to work together. Scott and I have to work together to make sure this thing gets executed correctly with nobody getting hurt and everything getting accomplished so it’s really going to be more about the mission than “Hey, we’re in space together.”

SCOTT: Yah, I would have to agree. I mean, there’ll probably be, you know, five to ten minutes of just kind of greeting and reacquainting but after the safety brief there’s a lot to do. I will have been there almost five months when these guys show up so, you know, I’ll be rather comfortable but having been in Mark’s shoes before I will understand the sense of urgency that you feel to kind of get movin’ along on the timeline so there’s not going to be a whole lot of time for jokin’ around.

I read someplace, I find it hard to believe, that you guys have never shaken hands.

MARK: I don’t think so. You know, when you’re a little kid, right…

SCOTT: Yah.

MARK: …you don’t shake hands. You know, little kids don’t shake hands, right? When you’re like three or four? Or, in our case, when we were fifteen or, you know, it was just something we’ve never really done so it’s actually weird sometimes. You’re standing around in a group and all these guys’ll shake hands. I don’t think we actually.

SCOTT: And until very recently I kind of noticed that. Like I’ll go up to some, we have mutual friends and see ‘em and shake their hands and he’s standing there with one of them and I won’t…

MARK: Yah, it’s just, just something we’ve never done.

Okay, so the hatch is open after docking, what are you going to do? Say, “Hi, nice to see you” and just go about your bu-, I, clearly you have to shake hands or hug each other or something?

MARK: No, we don’t. We just do whatever we want to do. See, he’s the Commander of the space station. I’m the Commander of the space shuttle. So we will figure it out.

SCOTT: I’ll go like this. I’ll go and do one of these.

Mark, as you mentioned, when you reach the station as Commander of Endeavor and Scott alluded to it, Scott’ll be within weeks of coming home if the current dates hold. Is, is your time together during the week or so of docked operations, how joyous will that be for you having realized the dream that you talked about a little earlier?

MARK: Oh, it’s going to be a lot of fun but, like I said earlier, I mean, these missions are really complicated. It’s a lot of work to be done so you tend to be focused on that. I mean, we’ll have a little bit of free time I guess you would call it in space to talk about how unique this opportunity is and I’m sure we’ll discuss that. The thing I got to figure out is how I’m going to land the space shuttle in Florida and then convince my boss to send me over to Baikonur for when he lands.

SCOTT: You know, it wasn’t like a dream of ours to fly in space. It’s not like something we’ve dreamed about since being little kids or thought would ever happen. It’s something that I both, I think we both consider would be really neat if it happened but, just having the privilege of flying in space, without flying together is just an incredible opportunity and I always thought it’d be great if it happened but if it didn’t, you know, I have no control over that.

And regardless of the timing of you two being in orbit together, you will be flying in space as the shuttle program is drawing to a close. Can you reflect for a moment, each of you, on what significance that holds for both of you and what your thoughts are going to be about what this program has meant over the course of all the decades that it has been in existence?

MARK: So when the space shuttle was designed, it was designed to build the space station. Early on, I mean, the plan was you’re going to build this space truck that could bring all this stuff up onto orbit, also to be able to service satellites in space. But it was really designed to build the space station and we didn’t get to that until rather recently, ten years ago when we started construction of ISS. So when we attach the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, AMS, on the outside of the space station truss, I mean, that’s going to be assembly complete of ISS. So I think the space shuttle will have completed and will have done what it was built to do. It’s going to be sad not have the shuttle around any more to fly. It’s an incredible vehicle. Nobody has ever built anything as I think as complex but as capable as well. But, you know, it’s necessary, I think, to stop flying the space shuttle so we can move on and build another spacecraft and get out of low earth orbit and explore our solar system, so in some regard it’s going to be sad but it’s, I think it’s a necessary step so we can move forward.

SCOTT: Well, you know I think, certainly we need to reflect back on the shuttle program and its successes and I agree with Mark a hundred percent. It’s an amazing vehicle. It’s been an amazing program, but it can’t leave earth orbit by design. I mean, it wasn’t designed to do that and if we want to do something else, our country does not have the resources to do both. We cannot fly the shuttle program, support the space station program and build something else and I think we need to build something else and move on and the way we’ve chosen to do that is by retiring the shuttle.

Mark, you mentioned earlier, of course, all, including 134, all four of your flights will have been to the International Space Station so your career essentially has mirrored the expansion and development of this complex. What do you think it’s going to be like to say good-bye to your brother at the time of hatch closure knowing that you’re about to pull away and Endeavor will be leaving the station for the final time?

MARK: It’s going to be tough. It’s, I’ve seen the space station over, what’ll be over a ten year period and I’m not sure if I’ll be going back again so, from a personal standpoint, it’ll be difficult to leave a place that’s so amazing and incredible to live there and to work there and I’m certainly going to, if it does turn out to be my last flight I’m certainly going to miss it. To see Endeavor leave ISS and come back to earth, you know, when we come to full stop on the runway hopefully at the Kennedy Space Center, it’ll be a little bit sad to see Endeavor rolled off into a museum, but, you know like I said, it’s, I think it’s what we need to do in order to eventually get out of low earth orbit and explore.

And, Scott, for you, what do you think it’s going to say good-bye to Mark knowing that you’re just days away from coming home yourself to Kazakhstan?

SCOTT: Well, you know, I’m not sure what day they undock, I think probably around the, maybe March eighth or tenth…something like that. The plan is to land on the sixteenth. I’ll be home on the seventeenth so I’ll just see him in, you know, a week or so later.

You guys have plans once your flying careers are over?

SCOTT: I hope my flying career isn’t over. I’d like to fly again if the opportunity presents itself so I don’t look at this as my last flight, you know. Assuming everything goes well, I don’t mind being in space for six almost months. I think I’d like to have another opportunity to fly another long duration flight.

MARK: This is a thing that’s very difficult to give up. You know, it’s very hard for people to put flying space missions behind them and I’m focused on STS-134 now and I’m going to figure out what I’m going to do later after I land. But, you know, it’s a hard thing to retire from so I think there’s a real possibility that I could be maybe making a fifth trip to the space station. It would be on a Russian Soyuz or maybe it would be on a new U.S. spacecraft in five or six years.

What advice do each of you have for kids, twins, siblings growing up together about future aspirations in life? What, what path would you steer them down?

MARK: I don’t think we give specific advice but the kids, you know, I always tell ‘em, you know, “You’re doing yourself a really big favor to do as well as you can in school. I mean, it’s like the best gift you can give yourself because then you put yourself in the position where you can make choices and if you don’t do well in school, you don’t have so many choices.” I also encourage people to try to find something that they’re really interested in, ‘cuz it makes going to work great every day. It’s something you want to do. If you’re not interested in it, you know, you’re probably going to be, you’re probably not going to want to do it. You’re probably not going to be very good at it either.

SCOTT: Well, you know, a lot of times we’ll do these public appearances and kids’ll ask about, you know, “I’d like to become an astronaut some day. What, what advice do you have?” And, and what I tell ‘em is, you know, “You need to put yourself in the best position to further your career and that means having a good education, doing well.” But as far as being an astronaut, I think it’s important that they choose something that they like and they’re interested in because if they like it and they’re interested in, they’re generally going to do better in it and, you know, NASA looks at people that have done well in their career, but also because we spend, as adults a lot of time at work and I think it’s more important that you do something that you like rather than do, doing something just for the sake of you think it might lead to this other opportunity. It’s not a whole lot of astronauts out there. There are a lot of people that are qualified but, you know, the only way you would ever have a chance of getting this job is if you try and put yourself in the best position that you can.

And finally, when you look back as growing up as twins, your education, your military service, your respective careers with NASA, and your contributions to the space program, what’s going to be the most significant moment for you, if you can pick one out, the, that one nugget that you’ll cherish for the rest of your life?

MARK: Well, I think for me, I was the Commander of STS-124 which installed the Japanese laboratory on the space station which was a significant piece of the Japanese space program, to get the opportunity to do that, work with Japan, have a Japanese crew member on board, have a great crew, successfully accomplish that mission is certainly, is the highlight now and I hope STS-134 goes as well and we successfully get AMS and our other payloads installed and transferred, but, you know, having the opportunity to command the space shuttle two times is certainly going to be the highlight of my career.

SCOTT: My goals for Expedition 26 are, primarily we don’t hurt anyone and we don’t break anything and we complete all the mission, primary mission objectives, and if I can do those three things, you know, I’ll be satisfied and that to me’ll be the highlight of my career as an astronaut to date.

Scott Kelly, Mark Kelly, twin brothers, Commanders poised for a very unique moment in space together if all goes as planned, thank you very much.

MARK: You’re welcome.

SCOTT: Thank you.