PIONEERING A NEW FRONTIER. DA MAN chats with Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and patron of Breitling watches who has literally worn the brand’s fine timepieces among the stars
Watch enthusiasts might have come across Mark Kelly in some Breitling events or articles. This patron of the brand is actually a retired astronaut and captain in the U.S. Navy who flew combat missions during the 1990-1991 Gulf War. In 1996, Kelly was selected as an astronaut, and he flew his first of four missions in 2001 aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour, the same craft that he commanded on its final flight in May 2011. He has also commanded Space Shuttle Discovery and is one of only two individuals who have visited the International Space Station on four occasions. Interestingly, his identical twin brother, Scott Kelly, was on the station for a special year-long mission, which began in March 2015.
Today, Mark Kelly is known primarily as one of the founders of World View Enterprises, a Tucson, Arizona-based company that is “pioneering a new frontier at the edge of space.” It plans to use helium balloons to lift people and payloads 20 miles above earth for space tourism, scientific research and commercial applications.
DA MAN met with Kelly when he visited Reno, Nevada, to watch the Breitling Jet team perform, and talked about piloting, spaceflight and, of course, his favorite timepieces.
DA MAN: How are you enjoying catching up with the Breitling Jet Team?
Mark Kelly: It’s great to be here. This is the only air race event like this in the world.
DA MAN: How does piloting a space shuttle compare with flying a fighter jet?
Mark Kelly: It’s a lot different. The space shuttle is a decent rocket ship, but it’s a bad airplane. It does not fly well. When you come in to land, you have no engines. You glide down, controlling it manually. The craft has no thrust, but you still have to deal with weight and drag. It’s a high-pressure landing because after being in space for a couple of weeks you have become incredibly dehydrated. Something happens to your inner ear and you feel like you are tumbling over and over if you move your head. You are wearing a high-pressure space suit, and it’s very hot.
DA MAN: How does being in space affect you?
Mark Kelly: You feel stupid. Your brain gets foggy, and you don’t know why. But it’s not a big problem. You just take your time to get things done, and it’s okay. They allot eight hours for sleep in space, but I could only sleep for five hours. When my brother got assigned to doing a year in space to see how it affected him, it was an opportunity for the scientists that might come along once in a hundred years. They are spending a lot of money on comparing him and me. Scientists from Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, and Johns Hopkins are doing genetic and molecular studies of us. We obviously have a lot in common, but we are different people.
DA MAN: When you saw the earth from space for the first time, how did you feel?
Mark Kelly: I looked over my shoulder and there was the planet in the space shuttle window, and I thought: Holy s–t!
DA MAN: Did you have any kind of religious or spiritual experience up there?
Mark Kelly: I was so busy; there was no time for anything like that. I was concerned about getting things done and that my people were okay.
DA MAN: On a different note, how long have you been a fan of Breitling watches?
Mark Kelly: A long time. I’m a collector! My first Breitling was the original Emergency model [the world’s first wristwatch with a built-in dual-frequency personal locator beacon]. I never had to use the beacon, but it was good to know it was there. I think every pilot in the military should have an Emergency. The Association of Naval Aviation asked me to wear the Breitling Naval Centennial Limited Edition Airwolf watch for my last shuttle flight, which I was happy to do. My brother was wearing a Breitling Navitimer 1461 on the space station.
DA MAN: Last but not least, how is your balloons-in-space project going?
Mark Kelly: Good. We are in the middle of the first stage of development and testing. We hope to fly a full-size vehicle by the end of 2016. In three or four years, we will be flying passengers every week. I think we are close to getting back to the feeling for aviation that people had in the 1930s, when flying airplanes was new and exciting. There are people alive today who one day will be flying around the world regularly—and it will take them 40 minutes, not 18 hours.
This article first appeared in DA MAN February/March 2016. To get a copy of our back issues, click here.