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  • Former astronaut Mark Kelly talks to the media before speaking to a small group of students prior to his evening lecture in the 2017-18 Omnibus Lecture Series at IPFW. (Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette)

  • Mark Kelly greets engineering students before his evening lecture at IPFW. In his lecture, Kelly talked about American accomplishments in space.

Friday, October 13, 2017 1:00 am

Astronaut: US still leading the way in space

Kelly touches on gun debate in lecture

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

The view from space is incredible, says Mark Kelly, former astronaut and mission commander for the space shuttle Endeavour's last journey in 2011.

“You see how incredible our planet is from space, just floating there in all the blackness of space,” he said Thursday at a media conference leading up to his appearance as the first lecturer in the 2017-18 Omnibus Lecture Series at IPFW.

His lecture, “Endeavour to Succeed,” took place in the Auer Performance Hall in the Rhinehart Music Center.

Kelly also spoke to a small group of students preceding the evening lecture and entertained questions about his career, first in the U.S. Navy which he joined with his twin brother, Scott Kelly, and where the brothers both became military test pilots, and later as an astronaut.

Kelly also addressed his activism in the national debate on gun control, a role he took after his wife, Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, at the time a congresswoman, was shot and nearly killed in 2011.

A lot has changed since he joined NASA in 1996, including a push to commercialize the government agency. Whether that will succeed depends on how the business angle is approached.

“Space is a really difficult thing to do,” Kelly said.

The federal government has budgeted $20 billion annually for NASA, compared with $600 billion for the Department of Defense, but NASA is also an industry that creates financial opportunity by multiplying dollars in the private sector, he said.

Space and defense are also “very much linked in a line,” Kelly added.

The U.S. has a number of international space partners, but still leads when it comes to technological developments.

China, he said, has “some ambitious goals,” but said the country “doesn't spend a lot of time in space.” And while Russia is another leader, when further advances are made, “I guarantee you it will be us (the U.S.)  leading the way. We do the hard thing. We turn science fiction into reality,” he said.

Asked what NASA's biggest accomplishments were, Kelly did not hesitate.

“No other country has landed a person on the moon,” he said. “No other country has landed something on Mars in excess of a dozen times.”

Kelly compared the space shuttle take-off to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, a reference to the impulsive main character and his predilection for fast motorcars in A.A. Milne's “Toad of Toad Hall,” a children's book. “You get yanked back and forth for the first two minutes,” he told the students.

When he was asked about the latest U.S. mass shooting in Las Vegas less than two weeks ago, Kelly said he didn't believe Washington, D.C., meaning the legislative and executive branches of government, were ready to tackle gun control.

“We don't see mass shootings in other countries like ours,” Kelly said. “We have a much higher rate of dying from gun violence – 33,000 every year.”

Not only does gun violence account for loss of life, but associated costs amount to about $2 billion a year, he added.

Fort Wayne, Kelly said, was one of the bigger cities he had never visited before, but he was pleased to be a visitor.

“To get to know Fort Wayne is nice,” he said.

jduffy@jg.net