Astronaut Scott Kelly opens up about his attention issues

Astronaut Scott Kelly is best known as the first American to spend a year in space. He lived aboard the International Space Station for 340 days, and holds the record for the longest space mission by an American. (His identical twin brother, Mark, is also an astronaut.)

But in a recent interview in the Santa Barbara Independent, Kelly shared that as a child, he thought being an astronaut wasn’t an option because of his attention issues.

“I never believed it was possible because I had a little bit of a problem paying attention in school,” he said. “If I was a kid today, I would have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. It was impossible. Every year, I thought, ‘This is the year I’m going to start paying attention and doing my homework.’ And that would last all of two days.”

Kelly was born in 1964, years before ADHD was officially recognized. It wasn’t until 1980 that “ADD” first appeared in the DSM. That’s the manual that mental health professionals use to make diagnoses.

Kelly says he was “not the greatest student” in high school. He was easily distracted and bored, and ended up graduating in the bottom half of his high school class. Seeking a more regimented environment to help him focus on schoolwork, he enrolled in the Navy ROTC program at the State University of New York Maritime College. That turned out to be just what he needed.

One day at the college bookstore, he stumbled upon Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, a book about the early days of America’s space program. It was one of the first books he ever bought and read. He devoured it and decided right away that he wanted to be an astronaut.

The rest is history. Kelly got an engineering degree and became a Navy pilot. He went on four space missions, logging a total of 382 days in space.

In 2016, after returning from his last mission, Kelly retired from NASA. He’s now writing a memoir about his experiences called Endurance: My Year in Space and Our Journey to Mars. The book is due out in November 2017, and Sony Pictures has already acquired the movie rights.

Below is a video montage from NASA’s Johnson Space Center about Kelly’s year in space:

Learn more about opportunities in science and technology for kids with learning and thinking differences:


Explore related topics

Read next