Kim Jong-un is messing with Scott Kelly’s gimmick.

The recent breakdown of U.S.-North Korean diplomatic relations is affecting a decorated astronaut on his lecture circuit. And it deals with the nickname “Rocket Man.”

As if exploring outer space doesn’t already make Capt. Scott Kelly a notable man of science, the fact he spent a record 382 days hovering above Earth makes him a spaceman legend.

So, why is he hot that President Trump insulted North Korea’s dictator by calling him a term made famous by an Elton John song?

“I use ‘Rocket Man’ in my presentation,” Kelly replied when I asked him who sang the better space song: David Bowie or Elton John? “It seems like an appropriate song. The term ‘Rocket Man’ has been used negatively lately. I wished it would not be so negative,” Scott said, referring to the latest Trump-Un war of words.

“Rocket Man! It sounds cool.”

Kelly’s appearance Sept. 27 at the opening Valley Town Hall lecture may have been his first official visit to Fresno, but the fact is he’s already been here for a while. He has been hanging on the walls at The Discover Center in poster form. In one, he is in full spaceman gear. In another, he is dressed up like a Jedi. My children know him as the guy who spent a year in space.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that Kelly’s new book “Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery” releases Oct. 17. Nonetheless, in a pre-lecture meet and greet, the astronaut was mobbed by selfie seekers (I did not see one traditional camera). A large American flag was set up as the perfect backdrop for the souvenir. No kneeling here.

The lecture started with an anecdote and jokes. Kelly proved that even a serious space guy can have a sense of humor. “I changed positions so many times in space, I thought I was running for president,” he said, eliciting chuckles from the audience.

Kelly’s Mom Inspired Him to Reach for Stars

Kelly grew up in New Jersey, where his mother, Patricia, inspired him to achieve beyond the sky’s limit. By his own admission, Kelly wasn’t a great student. His father worked as a police officer, “fighting in bars more than fighting crime,” he said, possibly joking with the audience.

Patricia wanted to follow in her husband’s beat, becoming a member of law enforcement herself. Female officers were rare and she would need to get into physical shape. So, Kelly’s father built a backyard obstacle course, complete with a climbing scalable wall. That proved to be a challenge.

Step by step, Patricia learned to scale that wall. Kelly helped with Mom’s training by acting a dragging dummy to be rescued. Finally, Patricia achieved her goal of becoming an officer. Perhaps, more importantly, she inspired two astronauts. Scott and his identical twin, Mark, both joined NASA.

“Clerical error on NASA’s part,” Scott joked during a pre-lecture media Q&A session. “We were both test pilots in the military at the time. Timing played a part. “I don’t think he knew I filled out an application.”

With a slight smile, Scott said he was the better astronaut: “Definitely me. I flew before him. I flew first, I flew last and I flew longest.”

Motivated by ‘All The Right Stuff’

What else propelled Kelly into outer space?

“I read the book ‘The Right Stuff’ my first year in college. That’s what motivated me,” he said.

In his year-plus in space, Kellly ate space food, which he described as freeze-dried camping edibles.

“It’s good enough,” he answered to the question if the selections tasted good day after day.

Just like those posters at The Discovery Center say, Kelly believes science is the answer for a robust America.

“STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) subjects are critically important to our country for our economy.,” he said. “People who work in the technical fields are the innovators that make things. Any inspiration we can give kids for STEM is important to all of us.”

Kelly turned philosophical when asked about the view from outer space.

“When you spend a lot of time looking at Earth, you appreciate its beauty. You get the sense that there are seven-and-half billion people on our planet. They don’t look like they are from any particular country. You don’t see political borders from space. It does give you more empathy on the human condition and the environment,” Scott said.

Valley Town Hall’s next lecturer is former Mexican President Vicente Fox on Oct. 18.


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