Mar 7, 2018

Q&A: Astronaut Scott Kelly on science's PR problem

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is seen inside the International Space Station on July 12, 2015. Photo: NASA via Getty Images

Captain Scott Kelly, an astronaut who spent a year on the International Space Station, talked with Axios about the results of a new survey that found the public has mixed views on science, his path to space, and the disconnect some people perceive between science and their daily lives.

Why science matters, per Kelly: “As time goes on, and our population grows on this planet, there are going to be problems with climate change, food, and water availability. These issues and problems are only going to be solved by science."

On the belief that you have to be a genius to be a scientist:

“I wasn’t a good student, I never thought that I could be a part of science or a scientist growing up. And I think, you know, I perhaps would have answered questions in this survey like a lot of people answered them. But it turns out, if you find inspiration somewhere or you work hard, most people tend to be successful.”

How the public views astronauts and the International Space Station:

"As an astronaut, especially coming back from a mission that got a lot of attention, I was exposed to the public. I’m always pleasantly surprised and reminded how interested people are in the space program. I’m not sure how much that interest translates into science in general, but I’m hopeful that this kind of enthusiasm translates over.”

On building enthusiasm outside of high-profile research:

"I think that big research and machines in space get people excited about science and math, but that’s not all of it. Science is something that you can do with your kids on an everyday basis. You can talk about it and encourage your kids to read books about science."

Why getting kids into science matters:

"It’s critical that we have a very diverse wide ranging availability of people to go into these fields. I think it’s important for me, especially as a parent, I have two young kids, that’ll live throughout this century. The quality of the world that we live in, or don’t, will be based on the talent and ability of scientists to solve the problems."

Why we should always have humans in space:

"I think we should make a commitment to never have all humans on Earth at one time. We’ve had people in space [non-stop] since 2000. It should continue somehow, whether on the ISS or elsewhere. We’re naturally explorers, it’s part of our DNA. I think that for us to thrive we need to continue to explore and push our boundaries, whether it’s going to Mars someday or elsewhere.

"The space program is expensive, but the benefits we get through the development of technology are worth the investment. And I think that if it inspires kids to become involved in science or math, then it’s worth every penny. If you have an 18 year old kid, that kid’s whole life, there have been people in space. I’ve never really thought of that before."

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