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Scott Kelly Interview: Watch Repairs In Space & Essential Astronaut Gear

Scott Kelly Interview: Watch Repairs In Space & Essential Astronaut Gear ABTW Interviews

It’s no joke that on April 1st, 2016, Scott Kelly officially retired as a NASA astronaut. He joins identical twin brother Mark Kelly in spaceman retirement as well as in becoming an official Breitling brand ambassador (which I believe is news we are debuting here on aBlogtoWatch first) – two of the many milestones the Kelly brothers have to their names. Scott Kelly recently made international headlines when he returned to earth from the International Space Station after spending a record 342 days aboard the ISS – longer than anyone before him. That is practically a year away from earth’s gravity and, of course, the comforts of home.

Scott Kelly Interview: Watch Repairs In Space & Essential Astronaut Gear ABTW Interviews

Photo credit: NASA

Aboard the space station in orbit with Scott were a few of his most prized possessions – his timepieces. Scott and brother Mark are outspoken in their love of watches, and as former military pilots, their allegiance to a watch brand like Breitling makes sense. Breilting has done excellent work promoting themselves as the ultimate pilot lifestyle accessory in many circles, and both Mark and Scott Kelly were Breitling customers prior to their official relationship with the brand. You may recall back in 2012 when I spoke to Mark Kelly here about how watches are necessary tools in his profession as a pilot.

Scott Kelly Interview: Watch Repairs In Space & Essential Astronaut Gear ABTW Interviews

Scott Kelly takes a quick shot of his Breitling watch collection.

I had the good fortune to speak with Scott Kelly on the very last day of his active duty working for the US Government. He will remain an active part of the space program as a consultant, but his time as an astronaut is over as he warmly hands over this duty to the next generation of capable men and women who will build on the work that he has done. When asked what technologies will make space life more comfortable in the future, he quickly points to “artificial gravity.” While floating around in zero gravity surely has its fun moments, few people consider the mental, physical, and practical problems associated with a zero-gravity environment. Just consider anything related to liquid, from using the restroom to bathing and eating. Each of these seemingly ordinary tasks becomes a potential ordeal when done without the assistance of the gravitational pull we are all so accustomed to.

Artificial gravity-equipped space stations will take a bit longer to develop, as size, weight, and cost are huge issues for governments, engineers, and scientists to overcome. Until then, people with special experiences like Scott Kelly will continue to share with us stories in weightless environments, like the time he had to repair a watch bracelet in space.

Scott Kelly Interview: Watch Repairs In Space & Essential Astronaut Gear ABTW Interviews

Brothers Mark & Scott Kelly wearing matching limited edition Breitling Navitimer 1461 watches. Photo credit: NASA

Scott shared a story about how he and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Volkov needed to perform what they believe is the first watch strap repair in space. Sergey’s Breitling must have gotten caught on one of the countless “traps” in the space station, and it pulled hard enough to dislodge the spring bar from the bracelet. The bar disappeared into the space station never to be seen again. The incident actually prompted Breitling to send a repair kit into space, but it still left Scott and Sergey needing to repair the watch there and then. With a small tray, such repairs are typically simple, but imagine doing it in zero gravity with all the parts floating around.

Scott Kelly Interview: Watch Repairs In Space & Essential Astronaut Gear ABTW Interviews

Photo credit: NASA

A clever technique used by astronauts when working with small parts in space is to use a strip of duct tape as a means of temporarily holding individual pieces. Thus, a spring bar can be attached to the strip of tape to prevent it from floating around. Scott admitted that it was a two man job to repair the bracelet, but the accomplished engineers succeeded in fixing Volkov’s Breitling. In fact, much of the time spent aboard the space station involves repairs and manipulations of machines and other devices. There is little downtime aboard the space station, even after being up there for the better part of a year.

Scott Kelly Interview: Watch Repairs In Space & Essential Astronaut Gear ABTW Interviews

Photo credit: NASA

Scott Kelly immediately announces that an accurate watch is easily the most essential piece of gear that an astronaut requires on a daily basis. When asked what features he and other astronauts use the most, he quickly mentions that in addition to knowing the time in various time zones, the most regularly used functions are the stopwatch (chronograph) and alarms. Kelly loves the idea of the Breitling Exospace B55 Connected because of its ability to make programming the various features of the watch easy and more useful. Kelly also likes the vibrating alert because he points to the fact that the space station is very noisy, and that even loud audio alarms can be difficult to hear.

Scott Kelly had at least a couple watches with him in space that included his Breitling Emergency as well as a 1,000-piece limited edition black Navitimer 1461 chronograph moonphase that was a gift from his brother Mark. I found it interesting that Scott enjoyed wearing both mechanical and quartz watches, each for different reasons. Scott also wears a sort of activity tracker watch on his wrist during the entire mission which was part of a sleep-tracking study. Scott decided to wear both his activity tracker and Breitling watch on the same wrist – setting a new style trend, perhaps?

Kelly also shared an interesting story about how the Russian space program’s team didn’t allow him to wear his Breitling Emergency during a part of the mission as they feared what might happen if the distress beacon were accidentally activated. If so, the signal might “theoretically” hamper the performance of on-board radio equipment. Scott seemed to feel the decision was arbitrary, and it reminded me of the feeling I used to have when airplane staff would tell you to stop using your mobile phone during takeoff and landing. It goes to show that, airline passenger or astronaut, there are sometimes silly rules to follow based on absolute conservative respect for the fallibility of technology and the value of safety.

With almost a year in space, I asked Scott Kelly about the few pieces of gear that were totally essential to him. Things that he needed on an almost daily basis that he would recommend for anyone entering space to bring with them. His answers were interesting, and fortunately, all items easy for anyone to acquire. The most important thing, in Kelly’s opinion, for any astronaut or space traveler to have is a good watch. Given the importance of time and timing things – this is not surprising, but of course, it’s good to hear as a watch lover. Next is a good folding multi-tool such as a Leatherman. Good thing I have a few of those.

Next comes light. Scott informed me of how useful a small yet powerful flashlight that you can grip with your teeth in your mouth is. That makes sense. Related to that is a headlamp, which simply is a flashlight that you wear like a headband. Of course he didn’t say it, but I’ll just throw in there how useful I am sure duct tape is. So if you are planning on being in space, what you need is to be on time, have a good tool in your pocket, and be able to see where you are going. Apparently, many parts of the space stations are dark or not well-lit enough.

Scott Kelly Interview: Watch Repairs In Space & Essential Astronaut Gear ABTW Interviews

Photo credit: NASA

Scott Kelly currently owns four Breitling watches, but that will likely soon change as his relationship with Breitling expands. He and his twin brother Mark are the first duo of astronaut brothers, and now they also become the first duo or brother Breitling brand ambassadors. Only a few brands such as Omega and Breitling are lucky enough to have astronauts, true heroes of science and adventure, as enthusiast brand partners. Thanks to Scott for taking the time to chat with me, and I am sure that I’ll run into him again soon in his new life as a watch brand personality.

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  • IG

    I’m surprised he doesn’t have a Breitling Cosmonaute…

  • LapYoda

    I had been wondering about Cdr. Kelley’s watches in space as I had been following his year in space on Instagram. Great interview!

  • SuperStrapper

    That aurora photo is stunning.

  • Pierre Savard

    Thanks Ariel for this interesting interview. You wrote: “I found it interesting that Scott enjoyed wearing both mechanical and quartz watches, each for different reasons”. What reason would an astronaut wear an mechanical watch unless it is the same reason why I am wearing one right now? I understand why pre-quartz astronauts like Carpenter and Aldrin wore Breitlings and Omegas, but now, I think a G-Shock-like watch sounds like the way to go. If you are concerned about battery life, there are long-life batteries out there (e.g Breitling colt SQ). As an aside, all positions of the mechanical movement are equivalent in a weightless environment. Maybe a mechanical watch keeps better time up there…

    • IanE

      “I found it interesting that Scott enjoyed wearing both mechanical and quartz watches, each for different reasons”.

      2 different ambassadorships?

    • IG

      Go for a spacewalk wearing a quartz shite LOL

    • Ariel Adams

      I think there is general agreement among astronauts and other professionals of this ilk that mechanical watches are simply not precise and accurate enough for some of their needs. In a world where a two second delay can mean missing something it is important to the accuracy and synchronization that can only come with electronic timekeeping.

      With that said there is an allure to the independent working and craftsmanship of a mechanical watch. You can see that even in space Scott Kelly enjoyed mostly wearing his mechanical Navitimer 1461 while he also had his quartz Emergency with him. I too vacillate between wearing high-end quartz with my mostly mechanical timepieces. It can depend on my mood, but I do know that when timekeeping is of vital importance it would be silly to not rely on something electronic.

  • Boogur T. Wang

    Is that Phil Collins?

    • DanW94

      LOL… Don’t know, but I’m sure he has a cool space su-su-suit-io….

      • mclonts

        Susudio! LOL!

    • mclonts

      Yeah, Phil is Mark & Scott’s other identical sibling separated @ birth.

  • Mark Baran

    We all have probably become too blasé regarding the high level of risk that is associated with these men’s jobs. Tragedies in space don’t happen often, but when they do, they are usually catastrophic. I hope the U.S. government takes good care of them in their retirement years. Nice to read they are both “watch guys.” Hope they both get some nice [free] watches out of the deal.

  • Epictime

    Interesting. So theoretically an astronaut watch nerd would use a watch with a standard mechanical movement while in zero gravity but use one with a tourbillon when in an “Artifical Gravity” environment. If he/she wore both simultaneously they could measure the differences in timekeeping (if any?) and use their Quartz G Shock as the standard.

  • iamcalledryan

    I love these guys. I can also see the strap repair saga being the subject of a major Hollywood blockbuster in which the brightest and best of the Swiss watchmaking industry spend hours and hours running the numbers, reperforming the procedure in a simulator over and over again (by his brother on Earth), before the repair kit is shipped into space (along with a $350 bill).

    Geneva, we have a problem…

  • FilmEditorFL

    I’ve had the pleasure of toying with a camera (Canon C500) that was sent to the space station. My buddy knows all of the astronauts and cosmonauts well and makes IMAX movies you see about space. I’ve wanted to ask him about watches for a while. Good to see someone else has done so already.

  • zorgborg12

    A very interesting article!

    However I must take issue with the statement in the beginning that Kelly spent more time in space than anyone else. In fact the record of 340 days on a single flight is shared between Kelly and Mikhail Korniyenko who flew with him and which places them both jointly 4th place for longest single mission. The all time record holder Valeri Polyakov spent an incredible 437 days on the far less comfortable Mir space station.

    Kelly does have the record for the longest flight by a NASA astronaut but the Russians/Soviets dominate the endurance records. Gennady Padalka has spent a cumulative 879 days in space over multiple missions. (Kelly again holds the US record with a cumulative total of 522 days)

    I watched the press conference after Kelly and Korniyenko landed and the Russian spokesman made a rather pointed comment about existing and longer Russian records which I thought was unnecessary raining on their parade. However in view of subsequent inaccurate reporting by american media declaring Kelly the all time record holder (without the US/Nasa qualifier) shows why they felt it necessary.

    While I greatly admire Kelly and what he accomplished this type of reporting does a great disservice to the Russian acheivements.

    • Boogur T. Wang

      Good points and a rather important distinctions.

  • egznyc

    Great read – I cannot have too many articles that involve watches and space exploration. These guys (and gals) are really the “right stuff”!

  • Bob Nogueira

    Great Article! I have a Navitimer 1461 black steel. Great watch indeed! worth to use on ISS! lol

  • Bob Nogueira

    great watch!

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