Astronaut Scott Kelly's new book recalls life-threatening emergency during WDRB interview
Although we didn't know it at the time, our interview took place during an emergency that put the crew's lives at risk.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The raw video above contains the complete, unedited video from the July 16, 2015, live WDRB in the Morning interview of astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, referenced below.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- On July 16, 2015, WDRB in the Morning viewers were given a special treat when anchors Sterling Riggs and Candyce Clifft conducted a live interview with two members of the International Space Station crew.
But as a new book reveals, it took place during an emergency that placed the crew's lives in jeopardy -- and the astronauts were not particularly happy about NASA's decision to go ahead with that interview.
NASA had not yet made the emergency public when Riggs and Clifft spoke live with American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko while they were aboard the International Space Station, 400 kilometers up. During the interview, Kelly, who had posted an aerial image of Louisville, Kentucky, on his Twitter page on Derby Day, said calmly that he was able to watch the Kentucky Derby from the station.
The interview took place without a hitch, but what no one at WDRB knew until later, was that, behind the scenes, the crew of the International Space Station was responding to an emergency situation. Just before the interview, the crew members had been told that the station was at risk of colliding with orbiting space debris from a Russian satellite, and were ordered to take emergency precautions.
Kelly outlines what happened that day -- and the role the WDRB News interview played -- in his new book, "Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery." He recalls the following conversation with ground control, shortly after learning about the emergency:
"Scott, Misha, it's time to get ready for your event with WDRB in Louisville, Kentucky."
"What?" I ask incredulous. "Is there really time to be doing this?"
Misha shows up in the U.S. lab for our joint public affairs event, as he always does, with no time to spare, but right on time.
"Public affairs events can't be canceled," comes the answer. The anchors want to ask us about watching the Kentucky Derby, which was almost two months ago. This is insane.
Kelly goes on to call the interview a "bad decision," by ground control given the emergency, but added that it was also, "not a good time to get into an argument with the ground."
"We spend the next five minutes answering questions about what we think of the probe that just reached Pluto, what landmark we may be passing over, and whether we got to watch the Kentucky Derby back in May," Kelly wrote. "This kind of interview is part of our job, but today we can't help but grit our teeth."
"There is a danger in becoming too complacent about the reality of life on an orbiting space station and the decision to go ahead with this interview is, to me, clearly a symptom of that," he added.
The crew ultimately had to relocate into the Soyuz capsule, which was docked with the International Space Station. If a debris strike would have damaged the station, the crew could theoretically use the Soyuz capsule to escape and return to earth, assuming the capsule itself remained undamaged.
NASA said that at the time, it was only the fourth time a space station crew had ever been forced to take such a precaution.
Eventually, the threat passed with no damage, and the crew was allowed to resume normal duties.
Although WDRB and its audience were unaware of the potential danger to the crew at the time of the interview, there are, in retrospect, hints that something unusual was happening. When Riggs asked about what landmark the station was over, Kelly remarked that he couldn't say for sure, noting that there were covers over the windows.
"I was gonna find out, but we got busy all of a sudden," Kelly said.
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