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Five Miles Up with … Mark Kelly

Bekah Wright
November 27, 2012

During his inaugural flight into space, astronaut Mark Kelly served not only as pilot of the space shuttle Endeavor, but as a flight attendant of sorts. The passengers he was tending to:  18 mice on board as part of a research program. What he noticed during their beverage and dinner service? "Seventeen of them seemed pretty terrified and latched onto their cage. There was one, though, that floated around, got his own food and seemed to get it (the experience)." The floating rodent became the inspiration of Kelly's foray into writing a children's book — "Mousetrounaut."  As for his ideal vacation, it involves his wife, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. And where would the astronaut like his final trip to take him? Read on.

What's something you never fail to pack?
The razor I use to shave my head.

Carry-on or check-in?
I always carry on my bag.

The one thing you're willing to splurge on above all else.
Once I started traveling a lot, it's been sitting in business class.

Window or aisle?
I have gone back and forth about this. Because of United's 737s, I started asking for front row in business class because I could put my feet on the wall. Then I flew on a US Airways flight and the wall was so close, that didn't work. So now I ask for second row and the aisle.

The longest flight you've ever taken?
17 days.

Do you bring food with you on plane?

Not on airplanes. If it's a multiple day mission to space, then we bring all our food and it's freeze dried. I like the spinach and shrimp cocktail.

What surprised you about space?

How amazing the planet looks from that perspective. Before I flew into space, I thought it would be just like being higher than an airplane, but it's a totally different thing. It's not like looking at a map; you don't see borders between countries. It gives you a different perspective of our planet -- the thickness of the atmosphere and how things are so interconnected.

What's your idea of the perfect vacation?
This year I went to the Mediterranean — Spain, France and Italy — on a Crystal Cruise with Gabby and my daughters, Claudia and Claire. Because of Gabby's physical issues, it's a little more difficult for her to get around, so it was nice to be on a ship where everything was so close.

What's the worst vacation you've taken?
In high school, I went on a Spanish trip to the Costa del Sol. You know the saying, "The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain?" Wasn't true that week. We were at the beach and it rained every single day.

What's the most unusual souvenir you ever came back with?

A guy named Sergey Volkov gave me the patch off his Russian space suit.

Ever try a food that you wished you hadn't?
I was in the Philippines once and had a balute; a partially developed duck egg that's fermented underground.

Favorite travel accommodations?
That Crystal Serenity Cruise Ship. Also, a yurt I stayed in in Kazakhstan.

What's the biggest travel regret you've ever had?
When I was at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, we spent six months of our sophomore and junior years at sea. I came very close to having the opportunity to go to Antarctica, but it didn't work out. In hindsight, I should have advocated for myself and fought for it more.

Three artists on your travel playlist?
U2, Calexico, Coldplay

Where would you take someone visiting your hometown so they could see what you love about it so much?

Sabino Canyon, five minutes outside of Tucson. It's certainly not the Grand Canyon, but to be out in the Coronado National Forest with great hiking trails and incredibly scenery, especially when you look up into the canyon, it's a nice place to be.

You only get one more trip in your lifetime. Where will it be?

To the planet Mars, but that ain't gonna happen. So I'd love to go back to the space station for a fifth time.