Scott Kelly

UT Knoxville, ’96

Scott Kelly confessed that he spent 13 years staring out of school windows, graduated in the bottom half of his high school class, and found himself attending an unexpected college after not paying attention to the admission application when he filled it out.

But a book changed his life around. Walking into the college bookstore for a snack, he saw the cover of The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe and bought it. “That was one of the first books I ever bought and read that I didn’t have to,” Kelly told a crowd at UT Knoxville in fall 2016.

Inspired, he wanted to be like the Project Mercury astronauts, who were part of the first human spaceflight program in the early 1960s, featured in the book. He began attending class and studying. “When I look from where I was at 18 to where I am at the end of my career, it seems like a giant leap, but it was small, manageable steps along the way that allowed me to achieve something very hard,” he says.

Kelly graduated from the State University of New York Maritime College with an electrical engineering degree in 1987 and with a master’s degree in aviation systems from the UT Space Institute in 1996. He flew F-14 fighter jets for the U.S. Navy, including numerous overseas deployments, and also worked as a test pilot.

He was selected by NASA in 1996.  “Like a pioneer or explorer, I was itching to fly the space shuttle, as well,” he says. He piloted the shuttle Discovery in 1999. In all, he logged more than 520 days in space on four space flights, including one that lasted a year, a record when he returned in March 2016.

Part of the Tennessee Alumnus100 Distinguished Alumni feature.