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Scott Parazynski in space

A physician-astronaut sutures in space

In an excerpt from The Sky Below, Stanford-educated Scott Parazynski races against the clock to fix a damaged solar array before his spacesuit can no longer sustain life outside the shuttle Discovery.

Before he retired, my dad was the rocket scientist of the family. As such, his mechanically inclined brain is better suited to follow the intricacies of a space station repair conducted by an astronaut suspended in the void by a robotic arm – as recounted in the excerpt that appears in the latest issue of Stanford Medicine magazine.

Yet, I was compelled by the breathtaking descriptions of space, the Earth and life as an astronaut in The Sky Below, a memoir by Scott Parazynski, MD, with Susy Flory.

An alumnus of Stanford University and the School of Medicine, Parazynski brings you with him on the repair, writing:

I feel like a tiny worm dangling on the end of a fishing line cast out in slow motion. I am minuscule against the great blackness of space... The sky is below, with the Earth’s atmosphere so thin, a beautiful blue skin around the pulsing, glowing blue, green and rich brown beauty of the planet. Clouds of every color and shape and configuration float inside the bluish atmospheric bubble, sometimes pierced by brilliant streaks of lightning.

Then the action begins, as Parazynski races against the clock to fix a damaged solar array before his spacesuit can no longer sustain his life outside the shuttle Discovery.

Parazynski didn’t finish his medical training – he left to join NASA 22 months into an emergency medicine residency. But, incredibly, his suturing skills come in handy for this higher-than-high-wire mending act.

I won’t spoil it any further. But I will say Parazynski’s experience makes you think, not only about how medical training may be useful in space or elsewhere, but also about the incredible teamwork, courage and focus of scientists exploring the final frontier.

His book provides more details about his life as a boy who dreamed of space and as a man who flew five missions to the heavens during a 17-year career with NASA. After seeing Mount Everest from above, “rearing her magnificent, snowy head above her sisters, the great chain of the Himalayas,” he later embarked upon a quest to summit it.

You’ll have to read the book to find out what happened next. I, meanwhile, will be recommending it to my dad.

Photo by Douglas Wheelock, courtesy of NASA

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