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Scott Kelly via Twitter
Scott Kelly via Twitter

9 Things We Learned From Astronaut Scott Kelly’s AMA

Scott Kelly via Twitter
Scott Kelly via Twitter

This fall, NASA’s Scott Kelly broke the record for longest consecutive time spent in space by a U.S. astronaut. He made history again earlier this week when he became the first-ever person to conduct a Reddit AMA from space.

Kelly recently passed the 300-day mark of his unprecedented One-Year Mission, so he’s the perfect person to ask about all the fascinating—and sometimes nasty—details that come with life in orbit. “A year is a long time to live without the human contact of loved ones, fresh air, and gravity, to name a few,” said Kelly in his introduction. “While science is at the core of this groundbreaking spaceflight, it also has been a test of human endurance.” Here are nine of Kelly's most out-of-this-world revelations.

1. HIS ARMS ARE ALWAYS FOLDED FOR A REASON.

If you’ve watched any of the videos Scott Kelly has made aboard the International Space Station, you may have noticed he has a habit of folding his arms. No matter how cool he looks while doing it, Kelly insists that the pose is less about aesthetics and more about practicality. "Your arms don't hang by your side in space like they do on Earth because there is no gravity,” he told Redditors. “It feels awkward to have them floating in front of me. It is just more comfortable to have them folded. I don't even have them floating in my sleep, I put them in my sleeping bag.”

2. SPACE DOES WEIRD THINGS TO YOUR FEET.

When asked to share an unusual part of life in space that most people don’t think about, Kelly definitely did not disappoint. “The calluses on your feet in space will eventually fall off. So, the bottoms of your feet become very soft like newborn baby feet,” he said. “But the top of my feet develop rough alligator skin because I use the top of my feet to get around here [in the] space station when using foot rails.”

3. SLEEPING IN ZERO GRAVITY IS NO PICNIC.

According to Kelly, zero-g conditions don’t make for a relaxing night’s sleep. “Sleeping is harder here in space than on a bed because the sleep position here is the same position throughout the day,” he said. “You don't ever get that sense of gratifying relaxation here that you do on Earth after a long day at work.” And it probably doesn’t help that Kelly was a poor sleeper long before he ever left the planet. “I don't think I have ever slept eight hours straight in the last 20 years. I wind up waking up a couple of times. My dreams are sometimes space dreams and sometimes Earth dreams. And they are crazy.”

 4. A TON OF WORK GOES INTO EACH MISSION.

When asked about the biggest misconception people have about space travel, Kelly cited the public's underestimation of the amount of work that’s required for each mission. “I think a lot of people think that, because we give the appearance that this is easy, that it is easy,” he said. “I don't think people have an appreciation for the work that it takes to pull these missions off, like humans living on the space station continuously for 15 years. It [takes] a huge army of hard-working people to make it happen.” 

5. HIS FAVORITE DAVID BOWIE SONG ISN’T "SPACE ODDITY."

Though you’d think the cosmic anthem would be an easy choice for Kelly, he said he’d pick “Modern Love” as his favorite Bowie song.

6. THE ISS HAS A DISTINCT SMELL.

If you’ve ever wondered what it smells like aboard the International Space Station, the answer is: not particularly pleasant. Kelly described some segments of the structure as having an “antiseptic smell,” while other areas have an odor that “smells like garbage.” He also claimed that outer space has a distinctive scent: “[The] smell of space when you open the hatch smells like burning metal to me.”

7. SPACE TOILETS PRESENT A WHOLE NEW SET OF ISSUES.

Kelly was asked by one Reddit user to recall the creepiest thing he has ever encountered on the job, and the answer he gave highlights one of the less glamorous aspects of space life. “Generally it has to do with the toilet,” he said. His most recent custodial endeavor involved cleaning up a “gallon-sized ball of urine” mixed with acid used to keep the piping clear. 

8. EARTH-BASED SNEEZING ETIQUETTE APPLIES IN SPACE.

Sneezing in a zero gravity environment sounds like a recipe for disaster, but the protocol astronauts follow to keep sneezes contained is the same one they learned on Earth. "I just sneezed twice coming into my crew quarters. And I do what I do on Earth and cover my mouth with my hand," said Kelly. "If I didn't do that, it's possible the sneeze could be found floating in another module. I generally don't sneeze into open air on Earth or here in space."

9. SPACE HAS CHANGED HIS ATTITUDE TOWARD NATURE.

According to Kelly, the one thing he will forever do differently after he safely returns home is “appreciate nature more.”

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Tony Wilson
A Visit With Doctor Laser: New York’s Resident Holographer
Tony Wilson
Tony Wilson

On an unassuming street in Manhattan’s Kips Bay neighborhood, a man by the name of Dr. Laser toils away. His given name is Jason Sapan, but when you’re at the helm of the oldest (and possibly only) holography gallery-slash-laboratory in the world, a colorful moniker only seems appropriate.

Laser’s Holographic Studios has been in operation since the later 1970s. Before that it was used for making medical instruments, and before that, was the site of a blacksmith’s forge. As the doctor himself says, his business is a logical tenant in that line of succession: he, like those who came before, specializes in taking objects, making them glow red, and giving them shape. Of course his work is a little bit different. He gives shape to things that aren’t really there.

When you ask Dr. Laser to explain the nuts and bolts of holography, his eyes light up (they do that a lot, actually). "Well grasshopper…" he starts, and from there, you just do your best to keep up. In brief, "a hologram is a recording in light waves of the surface of an object," but the process of capturing that impression is, of course, a bit more complicated. Luckily, he’s up to the task: "I wanna trip people out," he says.

The studio itself is pretty much exactly what you’d hope for when seeking out a holographic hotspot—it feels a bit like a real-life wonder emporium, and Laser’s larger-than-life persona only adds to the effect. The walls are lined with various holograms—some from his work with clients like Goodyear, Tag Heuer, and IBM, along with portraits (the one of Andy Warhol, made in 1977, is his favorite) and other holography miscellanea. In the next room, a wall bears the signatures of former visitors like Isaac Asimov and Cher. Downstairs, a cluttered subterranean workspace leads into a dark lab where lasers and light shows abound. If you’re lucky, Dr. Laser might even queue up the Flock of Seagulls music video he was in, which—fun fact—was also the first music video on MTV to use screen credits.

Holographic Studios is open Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., and tours are available if you want the full, personal experience. And if a trip to New York isn’t in the cards, fear not: you can secure a hologram of your very own in their online store.

All photos by Tony Wilson.

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Showtime
Surprise, Motherf@#&er: Erik King on 10 Years of Dexter
Showtime
Showtime

At first, Erik King wasn’t sure he liked being a meme. As the relentless Sergeant James Doakes, who was immediately suspicious of co-worker and closeted serial killer Dexter Morgan on Showtime’s Dexter, King’s boiling-point performance arrived just as the internet was discovering new ways to capture bits and pieces of film and television.

“It was weird,” King tells mental_floss. “I had never had a performance taken out of context before, so it took some getting used to. But I found it flattering.”

As Dexter celebrates its 10th anniversary, King took some time to talk with us about Doakes’s untimely death, how his father inspired the character, and the art of surprising serial killers with tirades of profanity.

Was the intensity of Doakes on the page from the beginning?

I think it was clear who Doakes was. The intensity was there, but the disdain came later. The more Dexter eluded Doakes, the more he got pissed off. My father was in federal law enforcement and I have a lot of family and friends who are cops, so I knew a lot of them.

Was there any of your dad in the character?

There’s a lot of him in Doakes. He passed away in 2011, but I used to joke with him all the time. “You know, this guy is you.” It’s exaggerated, but he didn’t suffer fools. If someone parked in front of his house, there might be a colorful word or two coming out of him. And it was a public street. [Laughs]

Doakes and Dexter were usually playing a pretty cerebral cat and mouse game, but it occasionally got physical. Michael C. Hall once said he was taken aback by how strong you were while shooting a fight scene. Do you remember that?

I’m surprised he would say that, actually. If he thought that, he never let on. Michael is taller than me, you know. I had to bring my A-game. Doakes had to come at him like a bowling ball, had to hold his own, because I knew what was gonna happen in the end. As an actor, he always brought it.

The great flaw of Doakes is that he was suspicious of Dexter from the outset, which probably didn’t help his chances of survival. When did you know he would be dying at the end of season two?

It was either four or six episodes in out of the 12. One of the producers very kindly called me, which doesn’t always happen. He said, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is, we’re writing some great stuff for you. The bad news is, you won’t be around much longer.” [Laughs] My first thought was how the rest of the cast would react, because I was and am good friends with them. I know the energy Erik King brings to the set and the energy Doakes brings, and I didn’t want to have it become, “Oh, what a shame.” So I kept it a secret for as long as I could.

Were you happy with the way he went out?

In order to maintain the integrity of who he was, he had to find out something [about Dexter]. It couldn’t have been eight or nine seasons of, “I’m watching you, motherf*cker.” That’s not going to work. Even though I wanted the character to hang around longer, I totally understood the choice.

Was there ever any discussion of Doakes surviving the cabin explosion?

Not with me. Once the cabin blew up and pieces were flying through the air, there was never a doubt in my mind.

Doakes had a way with words. How did you find out some of his choice profanity had become a meme?

I was at a gym in North Carolina trying to put some size back on when I was asked to return for season seven [in a flashback]. This guy comes up to me and says, “Did you see this website? They put Doakes in all these other movies.” You know, like Ghost—“surprise, motherf*cker.” Just little scenes. Someone would turn around and Doakes would be there.

As an actor, it was arresting to me, and kind of weird that Doakes had taken on a life of his own. Now it’s flattering. “French fries, motherf*cker,” all of that. I’ve seen it. [Laughs]

If that was weird, the Doakes bobblehead must have thrown you, too.

I have a couple of them. They have to send it to you for approval. “Does it look like you?” “Yeah, I guess it looks like me, kind of.”

What do you think would have happened to Doakes if he hadn’t crossed paths with Dexter?

Probably a police captain. The guy was really driven. He had a dogged determination. He and Dexter both. I always said they were like two pitbulls sniffing each other out. He keeps going until he finds what he’s looking for. And you see where it got him.

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