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Scott Kelly, the US astronaut who recently returned from a record-breaking year in space, will help launch the 2016-17 academic year at UT by speaking at the annual Welcome Week Life of the Mind celebration at 5:30 p.m. Monday, August 15.

Scott Kelly
Scott Kelly

The event, to be held at Thompson-Boling Arena, will be free and open to the public, but tickets will be required. Ticket distribution sites will be announced later.

Kelly’s talk is part of Life of the Mind, a component of First-Year Studies 100, a zero-credit pass-fail class that gives students their first taste of college studies. As part of the 2016–17 program, freshmen are asked to read Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight by Margaret Lazarus Dean, a UT associate professor of English. Students are also asked to complete a written response to the book, participate in a Welcome Week discussion session, and attend this event.

Dean and Kelly, who is a UT graduate, are currently collaborating on a book that will explore the future of space travel and tell Kelly’s story about his historic mission. Endurance: My Year in Space and Our Journey to Mars is scheduled for publication in November 2017.

After Kelly’s talk, a community fair will be held in Thompson-Boling Arena. Those attending will have a chance to meet Dean and have her sign their copy of Leaving Orbit. They also will have the chance to meet Kelly and get his autograph.

UT continues to seek faculty and staff members to serve as Welcome Week discussion session leaders. Discussion leaders are asked to read the book and lead a small group of students in critical thinking discussions on August 15. Leaders will attend a professional development workshop on the novel in preparation for the discussion sessions. Workshops will occur from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. on both August 3 and 9. Sign up to be a discussion leader here.

“This is a very exciting year for the Life of the Mind program. It’s the first year a faculty member’s book has been chosen as our reading selection, and we’re thrilled to have Capt. Kelly, a news-making alumnus, as our speaker,” said Jason Mastrogiovanni, director of First-Year Studies. “We encourage not just our students but also the community to read Leaving Orbit and join us for this special event. It’s going to be a great celebration of the Volunteer community, and it proves that ‘Big Orange. Big Ideas’ can have a truly out-of-this-world impact.”

Leaving Orbit is an elegy to the shuttle era that also delves into what space exploration means to ordinary Americans. The New York Times named it one of the best books of 2015.

Kelly’s space stay helped lay the groundwork for the future of space travel and exploration. His talk will include some of the life lessons he’s learned during his twenty years with NASA and on his most recent yearlong, 143-million mile adventure—including lessons on leadership and teamwork, personal stories of perseverance, and the path that led him to secure his place in history.

Kelly’s historic mission lasted from March 2015 to March 2016. He and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko conducted experiments, reconfigured station modules, and captivated the world with live interviews and photos from the International Space Station.

The mission also included the Twins Study, in which Kelly’s identical twin brother, retired NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, served on the ground as a control model in an unprecedented experiment to understand how space affects the human body.

Prior to his career with NASA, Kelly served twenty-five years in the US Navy, retiring as an experienced aviator and decorated captain.



Stella Bridgeman-Prince, First-Year Studies (865-974-3523,

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,