- Scott Kelly is a retired NASA astronaut who has been to space four times, including a 340-day trip on the International Space Station.
- Kelly decided to pursue a career as an astronaut after reading Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff” in college.
- Kelly and his brother, Mark, had always been mediocre students, but Mark improved his grades years before Kelly – and had some advice.
Scott Kelly didn’t always know that he was going to be an astronaut. In fact, he wasn’t even a particularly good student.
“As a student, it’s just really hard, especially at first, when you don’t have the habit-patterns to study and pay attention,” Kelly told Business Insider for our podcast “Success! How I Did It.” “But once I got over that, I was able to go from a kid at 18 years old that was always like a very average, underperforming student and then fast forward almost to the day 18 years later, I flew in space for the first time. It was a pretty remarkable comeback, I think.”
Kelly remained an average student until he went to college, where he stumbled across Tom Wolfe’s book, “The Right Stuff.”
“I read this book, and I could relate to a lot of the characteristics these guys had, with regards to their personalities, their risk-taking, their leadership abilities, ability to work as a team. That made me think,” Kelly said.
“I related to a lot of those characteristics with one exception, and that is I wasn’t a good student, especially in science and math,” he continued. Kelly said he then thought, “Wow, you know, if I could fix just that thing, then I could maybe be like these guys.”
“At the time I was thinking you’ve got to be really smart to be an engineer or scientist. What I realized is really what it takes is just hard work, and it’s not any particular gift you might have.”
He continued: “It was the spark I needed to motivate me to do more with my life than I was currently doing.”
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“The Right Stuff” inspired Kelly, but it was a phone call from his brother that showed him what hard work really looks like.
According to Kelly, his twin brother Mark, who also became a NASA astronaut, was also a mediocre students – but Mark turned things around in high school, while Scott kept skating by. Mark pinpoints his turnaround to an event Scott doesn’t remember.
“I was this kid that could not pay attention. Was not a good student,” Kelly said. “Always wondering how in the ninth grade my brother went from being like me to getting straight A’s – I never knew how that happened.”
- Getty Images/Bill Ingalls/NASA
“But apparently, what [Mark] tells me, is that our dad sat us down in like the eighth grade, and said, ‘Hey, guys. You know, you’re not good students, not college material. We’re going to start thinking about a vocational education for you.'” Kelly said. “And my brother thought, ‘Whoa! I want to go to college and do something more.'”
“I, on the other hand, had no recollection whatsoever of this conversation,” Kelly said. “Probably only because there was like a squirrel running outside the window and I was like, ‘Squirrel!’ Otherwise, I probably would have been a straight-A student, too.”
In his memoir “Endurance,” Kelly wrote that his mind began to wander and he lost focus as a student at the State University of New York Maritime College.
His grades had risen above average and he was studying for his first calculus exam. Having decided to take a break, Kelly planned to attend a big party at Rutgers. When Mark found out about his brother’s attempt to forgo more studying for a party, he scolded Kelly over the phone.
“Are you out of your goddamn mind?” Kelly remembered Mark telling him. “You’re in school. You need to absolutely ace this exam, and everything else, if you want to get caught up.”
Scott Kelly buckled down, became a NASA astronaut, and has been to space four times.