Japan’s Himeji Castle: Graceful 16th-century fortification illustrates era of shoguns’ power and prestige

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In the early 1600s, more than 360 tons of wood went into the construction of Himeji Castle in western Japan.

By Betty Gordon

© 2017 text and photos. All rights reserved.

For earlier posts on my travels in Japan, see May 13, August 9, August 15 and August 22, 2016. For Japanese-related historical posts, see September 3, and December 15, 2016. 

A maze of passageways meant to confuse intruders.

Two floors invisible from the outside.

Three water-filled moats.

Massive sloping stone walls.

Hidden doors.

Eighty-fours gates and more than 80 buildings.

Everything about Himeji Castle screams “defense,” though in its 400-plus-years, it has never seen a battle and in fact is one of the few feudal castles to survive the bombings of World War II intact.

During the war, black netting over the structure helped to camouflage it, so that Allied aircraft had a harder time recognizing it from on high.

Himeji is in the western part of Honshu, Japan’s largest island.

A fortification has stood on this strategic bluff in Himeji since the 14th century, but it wasn’t until the early 1600s that the castle, an acknowledgement of power and prestige in the era of the shoguns, began to take its present shape.

Ikeda Terumasa, son-in-law of the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu, gained control of the land as a reward for his loyalty to Tokugawa (1543-1616) in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. It took nine years to build the almost 150-foot-tall donjon (keep), and successive inhabitants continued to add to the complex.

When it was finished, more than 360 tons of wood had gone into the construction, with the walls further fortified by plaster. With its gently curved roofs, graceful lines and white color, its architecture has been likened to a heron ready to take flight, thus giving rise to its nickname, White Heron Castle (Shirasagi-jo in Japanese).

When I visited on a rainy Sunday in November 2005, I took a 90-minute guided tour in English which included the donjon, where I peeked into multiple empty rooms with shoji (sliding paper doors) and tatami-covered floors.

Our guide, Chiyuki, told my traveling companion and me and a couple from Quebec about the construction, history and castle intrigues — particularly those concerning Tokugawa’s granddaughter Princess Sen — that went on behind the nearly impenetrable walls.

Though she may have been accorded enviable status, in reality, Princess Sen (1597-1667), lived a restricted life. She and the other women were locked into the Vanity Tower each night, with guards stationed outside.

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Metal figures of mythical fish perch on roof corners. Go back to the first photo of this post to note how the fish are positioned atop Himeji Castle.

Chiyuki pointed out details, such as the mythical fish figures (called shachihoko) with arched tails, believed to protect the castle from fires, and other disasters, on the corners of the gabled roofs.

The crest tiles, also on the gables, illustrate the families who lived there over the centuries. Ikeda Terumasa’s family crest was a butterfly with raised wings.

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Family crests decorate the gables at Himeji Castle. Butterflies with raised wings were the crest of Ikeda Terumasa’s family.

It’s impossible to miss the multiple circular, triangular and rectangular portholes cut into the exterior walls, where archers and musketeers would have been stationed during an attack.

The view from the top floor affords an excellent panorama of Himeji, looking south toward the train station (about a 15-minute walk). The station’s location is the approximate area where the outer moat would have been during the shoguns’ time.

About those “missing” floors: Actually, the second and third floor from the top look like a single floor from the exterior. The almost-impossible-to-scale stone walls around the base disguise the basement.

The tour included quite a bit of climbing on steep wooden staircases. This was done in bare feet or socks, because all visitors must leave their shoes at the castle entrance, as is custom when entering most historic Japanese buildings (and nearly all residences).

In the spring and summer months, Himeji Castle is mobbed. Visitors who want to enter the main keep have to wait in a queue before being directed to ticket purchase. The number of total daily visitors is restricted to 15,000, according to its website.

In other words, get there early.

Himeji Castle is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Japan. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

It’s been a filming location for such movies as the James Bond caper “You Only Live Twice (1967) and Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s “Ran” (1985).

Fittingly, it had a role in the TV miniseries “Shogun” (1980), starring Richard Chamberlain.

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One of the gardens at Kōko-en, ablaze with the colors of autumn in Japan.

About a five-minute walk to the west is the magnificent Kōko-en, a series of nine Edo-style gardens, which opened in 1992 on the former site of samurai residences.

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A bamboo grove at Kōko-en, a brief walk from Himeji Castle.

Each garden is the epitome of calm; several feature flowers, pine trees, maple trees and a grove of bamboo. There’s also a tea garden and restaurant.

Sprinkled within the grounds are covered wooden pavilions, a pleasant place for a brief rest, and a perfect setting to contemplate the surrounding beauty.

Quick reference: Visitors can, of course, find accommodate in Himeji, but it’s also only about a 50-minute shinkansen (bullet train) ride from Kyoto, which has so many delightful things to see that it’s a logical base for exploring the region over several days. Himeji is also easily accessible by train from Osaka.

Himeji Castle (2017 information): 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (last entry at 4 p.m.); until 6 p.m. April 27-August 31. Closed December 29-30. Adults (18 and over) 1,000 yen (about $9), students 300 yen (about $2.70). A combination ticket for the castle and Kōko-en gardens is adults, 1,040 yen (about $9.35) and students 360 yen (about $3.25). Address: 68 Honmachi, Himeji City.

Check the website for its “congestion forecast,” which advises via a calendar the likely busiest days. www.himejicastle.jp/en

Kokō-en: http://www.himeji-machishin.jp/ryokka/kokoen/download/images/pamph/foreign_language.pdf

A version of this post appeared in the January 29, 2006 Travel section of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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Frolicking sea turtles and their role in Easter Island mythology and culture

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Artistic representations of turtles can be seen at several locations around Easter Island. This multicolored mosaic is from a building’s exterior walkway in Hanga Roa, the island’s only town.

By Betty Gordon

© 2017 text and photos. All rights reserved.

In November 2016, spring in the Southern Hemisphere, I took an unforgettable, two-week trip to Easter Island and Chile. This is the 10th post about my adventures. See September 10, August 27,  July 27, June 17, April 10, March 6 and February 12, 2017, for earlier posts about Easter Island; and September 26 on San Pedro de Atacama and July 8 about the El Tatio geysers in northern Chile.

On my last full day on Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, I had lunch with the  sea turtles.

OK, that statement might be a bit of an exaggeration.

They were oblivious to my presence as I sat in a restaurant on a spit of land next to where they were swimming, but I like to think they kept me company while I leisurely worked my way through a whole grilled chicken breast served on a bed of lettuce with sliced tomatoes and cucumber half-moons.

About midday, when I walked into Restaurant Playa Pea (aka Pea Restobar) in Hanga Roa, the only town on Easter Island, I had passed a small group of bare-headed surfers in full-length, dark wet suits clustered on the black rocks of a tiny beach.

While I was waiting for my meal to be prepared and staring out the window, I kept seeing something bobbing up in the choppy ocean to my right. Sheets of rain — the second downpour of the day — were also obscuring my view.

At first, I thought the surfers had lost their boards and were swimming back to shore. I did think it odd that I didn’t see the actual surfboards.

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Despite the pelting downpour and shooting this photo through a window, I caught this green sea turtle coming up for air.

Then my light bulb finally went on — aided by my camera’s telephoto lens — and I figured out that what I was seeing in the water were instead the bulbous heads, pointed flippers and shelled bodies of large sea turtles.

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The small beach is to the right of Restaurant Playa Pea. The dining room juts out over the ocean and affords a pleasant atmosphere from which to watch for surfacing sea turtles and enjoy a meal.

Another tipoff that I was in turtle territory should have been the decorations above the restaurant entrance, in which the aquatic creatures featured prominently.

The small beach is one of the best locations on Easter Island to observe marine turtles, and for divers and snorkelers to swim with them. The species I saw were likely green sea turtles.

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After exiting the tarmac, tourists tread across this turtle while heading to Mataveri Airport’s small terminal and baggage claim.

Mosaics and other artwork in several places around the island, including at Mataveri Airport, immortalize these animals, so important to Rapa Nui culture throughout many generations.

The Rapa Nui people believe turtles bring good luck, and are considered fertility symbols. Sailors, especially in earlier times, thought turtles were guides, accompanying visitors toward shore.

Turtle petroglyphs can also be found near Orongo, the partially restored ceremonial village at the southwestern tip of the island. (See post from September 10.)

As to the number of turtle species in Rapa Nui waters, five are mentioned in the scientific literature. Studies cite the green sea turtle as the most-often sighted, followed by the leatherback, loggerhead, olive ridley (or Pacific ridley) and the hawkbill turtle, the last being the most recently documented, in 2013.

Lest visitors underestimate islanders’ affection for the marine turtle, look no further than the proposed architectural plans for the new church.

The present Church of the Holy Cross has occupied its in-town site for more than 80 years. It’s about a 10-minute walk from Pea (pronounced pay-ah) Restobar.

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The Church of the Holy Cross combines Christian symbols and figures from the island’s Birdman Cult on its facade.

The simple, white rectangular structure’s facade is adorned by a mix of elongated figures from the Cult of the Birdman and Christian symbols. The structure’s stone-like lower exterior mimics a giraffe-skin pattern.

Inside, rows of orderly, plain wooden pews face the large cross at the far end of the sanctuary, and sturdy wooden carvings line the perimeter.

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Displayed in a glass case, a scale model for a proposed new church would see visitors entering from the tail end of a turtle-shaped building.

A scale model of the new building is on display in a glass case. Entry into the structure would be up a short flight of stairs through the turtle’s tail end. A thin, curving vertical skylight is designed to perch atop the turtle’s shell almost from end to end.

I asked Peter, my host at Hare Swiss bungalows, where the new church might be built. He said on the plot of land where Holy Cross stands now. Progress and fund-raising toward making that a reality have been slow. It’s also likely that some islanders don’t want to raze the historic church.

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An architect’s rendering of the interior of the proposed new church.

The hundreds of mysterious moai are still Easter Island’s most famous draw, luring about 60,000 tourists annually. Diving enthusiasts also come to explore the clear waters, anticipating close encounters with sea life, and an opportunity to examine coral reefs, which are in better condition than in some more well-known underwater spots around the globe.

After tourism, fishing is the second-most important industry on Easter Island. At least 183 species of fish have been identified.

Even with its isolated location in the South Pacific, more than 2,300 miles west of Chile, Easter Island’s marine life faces myriad challenges that accompany surging tourism, such as decreased habitat and pollution.

With an eye toward strengthening its conservation, a 277,994-square mile (720,000 square kilometers) marine park, one of the largest in the world, will be created in the waters around Easter Island.

That announcement was made by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet in September, when the fourth International Marine Protected Areas Congress met in Chile, of which Easter Island is a territory.

The new Marine Protected Area will guard against “industrial fishing, mining, and other extractive activities, while Rapa Nui artisanal fishing practices — fishing from small open boats using hand lines and rocks as weights — will be grandfathered in to the management plans for the MPA and will continue to be allowed.”

About 142 marine species, including 27 facing the possibility of extinction, will be sheltered in this zone, roughly the size of the Chilean mainland.

The new MPA is certainly a positive development, not just for future generations of sea turtles, but for all of Easter Island’s marine life.

A delectable potato, mushroom and onion pie for your holiday table

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Three-layer Parmentier Pie elevates mashed potatoes, two types of mushrooms, onions and leeks to a sophisticated level.

By Betty Gordon

© 2017 text and photos. All rights reserved.

Behold the humble, rough-skinned potato: It is your pliable, willing kitchen plaything.

Which might be why, even though it is an unfussy staple in many cuisines worldwide, the potato probably doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

You can bake potatoes, mash them, fry them, mold them — and that’s only the start.

Opt for the very simple — mashed, with just salt, pepper, milk and butter — or put together something more complex, adding such spices as curry, cumin and cayenne pepper (not necessarily all at once).

Inexpensive and readily available year-round, potatoes are high in potassium, low in sodium and rich in vitamin C and B-6. They’re also a good source of fiber, and in moderation, carbohydrates.

Blame the extras — sour cream, butter and cheese — for their bad rap. They’re the culprits that ramp up the calorie and fat numbers and leave potatoes with an “unhealthy” tag.

Immersing them in a vat of oil to make french fries or potatoes chips doesn’t help their reputation either.

To enhance the flavor and keep the fat in check, you can marry potatoes with classic partners such as leeks and mushrooms sautéed in olive oil. Sandwiching savory ingredients between layers of mashed potatoes produces a palate-pleasing pie worthy of your holiday table, served beside your turkey or ham and other favorites.

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Crisscrossed lines and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese put the finishing touches on Parmentier Pie. Bake until the top is golden brown.

I’ve had the following recipe for Parmentier Pie for decades. I cut it out of a magazine and unfortunately didn’t note the writer or the source. I think it may have been from Bon Appétit.

The pre-recipe chatter talks about how the pie is a heartier riff on potato and leek soup, and also pays homage to Julia Child’s enduring cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

 

Preparing Parmentier Pie is more time-consuming than making mashed potatoes, but the sophisticated result delivers much more depth of flavor. The pie is especially satisfying on a winter’s day accompanied by a bright garden salad.

If you want a richer potato pie, substitute cream for the milk.

Make sure the leeks are well-cleaned. Trim off dark green leaves and root end. Lengthwise, slice the leek in half from top to bottom. Holding one end, splay the layers as you wash them under cool running water to dislodge any dirt. Repeat from the opposite end. Wash again if any dirt is detected. Place cut-side down on paper towels to drain.

This is also an opportunity to get out your prettiest fluted pie plate. Mine is a gold-rimmed, fine porcelain dish from Royal Worcester’s Evesham oven-to-table line. (The company calls it a flan dish.) This pattern is no longer in production. There are, however, sites online that still sell pieces of it.

 

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Assembly is quick once the mashed potatoes (left) and onion-mushroom mixture are prepared. The pie plate is from Royal Worcester’s Evesham fine porcelain line. The pattern, however, is no longer in production.

Parmentier Pie

Hands on: 60-90 minutes

 

Total time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours

Serves: 6 to 8

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

4 small Idaho potatoes (about 2 1/4 pounds), peeled and quartered

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons warm milk, divided

1 teaspoon salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 small leeks (white and tender green), thinly sliced in half-moons

1 medium onion, diced (I use mild Vidalia onions)

1/2 pound fresh button mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons white vermouth

1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence (or substitute 1/8 teaspoon each of marjoram, oregano, tarragon and thyme)

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large Dutch oven of salted water to cover, cook the potatoes over medium heat until fork-tender, about 30 minutes. Drain well. Return the potatoes to the pot and shake over low heat for about 30 seconds to dry them out.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, gently simmer the dried porcini mushrooms in 2 cups water over medium heat until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain and reserve the cooking liquid. Rinse the mushrooms, making sure to get off any clinging grit. Cut off and discard any tough pieces from the mushrooms. If the mushrooms are large, cut them in half. Strain the liquid in a fine mesh sieve. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, mash the potatoes until smooth. (A food mill or ricer comes in handy here, if you have one.) Mix in 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup warm milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and pinch of cayenne. In the bowl, use a spoon or knife to divide the potatoes into two equal portions. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large skillet, heat remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add leeks, onion, button mushrooms and garlic. (The skillet will be nearly full. Don’t worry, the vegetables will cook down.) Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft.

Mix in the reconstituted dried mushrooms and 1 1/2 to 2 cups of their liquid. Continue stirring occasionally until the liquid is almost evaporated, about 8 minutes. Add the vermouth and cook for 1 minute more. Season with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, cayenne and herbes de Provence. Mix and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

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A level layer of mashed potatoes covers the bottom of the pie dish. Add the onion-mushroom mixture and smooth gently and completely over the mashed potatoes. Top with the remaining mashed potatoes in a last even layer.

Lightly oil bottom and sides of a 10-inch pie dish. Spread half the mashed potatoes evenly over the bottom. Smooth with a small offset spatula or the flat bottom of a small measuring cup. Place all of the mushroom mixture on top of the potatoes. Spread evenly to edge of pie dish.

For the top layer, make a wide ring with the mashed potatoes from the edge inward. Continue working inward toward the center to spread the rest of the potatoes evenly over the top of the mushroom mixture. Smooth again with small offset spatula or flat bottom of a measuring cup until layer is level. (A slight dome is OK.)

Lightly brush the top with 3 tablespoons of milk. Using the tines of a fork, gently make a crisscross pattern on top of the potatoes. (Make all the lines in one direction, then the other.) Sprinkle all over with Parmesan cheese.

Bake in the top third of the oven for 30 to 45 minutes or until golden brown. The pie will puff up a bit — not as much as a soufflé — but will deflate as it cools.

Cool on a rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Cut a slice as you would a pie. Use a pie server to loosen the outer edge and slide it all the way under the lower potato layer, removing the three-layered slice in one piece.

Use plastic wrap to cover any leftovers. The pie will keep three to four days in the refrigerator. Reheat to serve, although it’s good at room temperature too.

In ‘Endurance,’ American astronaut Scott Kelly captures the exhilaration — and gravity — of 340 continuous days in space

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A spacewalk is always risky business. American astronaut Scott Kelly undertook three of them during his nearly yearlong mission on the International Space Station in 2015-2016. NASA photo

By Betty Gordon

© 2017 text. All rights reserved.

“Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery” by Scott Kelly, with Margaret Lazarus Dean (Alfred A Knopf, 2017, $29.95)

Never doubt or underestimate the power of the written word.

In retired astronaut Scott Kelly’s case, a book he read as an unmotivated teenager not only put him on a path to a specific goal, but opened him up to a galaxy of possibilities.

Disinterested in academic achievement and more often staring out the window when he should have been paying attention and taking notes, this self-proclaimed “terrible student” came across “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979) in a campus bookstore.

He devoured and digested the content — about the early days of America’s space program and NASA’s legendary Mercury astronauts — and rapidly adjusted his attitude and outlook. The college freshman still had a lot to learn and a vast amount of catching up to do, but now Kelly knew where he was going — hopefully to the stars — and plotted an ambitious course for how to get there.

Traveling this road would take decades, but as one success led to another, Kelly’s aspiration of becoming an astronaut not only materialized, but presented ample opportunity for personal growth.

endurance-jkt“Endurance” is an engrossing, often humorous, in-depth examination of his 340 days spent living on the International Space Station, including the extensive pre-launch training in the United States and Russia, and the countless hours of study, practice and task repetition instrumental in completing a successful mission.

In alternating chapters, he delves into his formative years, from risk-taking son (along with his twin brother Mark, who also became an astronaut) of an alcoholic father, to college in New York, to Navy fighter pilot and test pilot. His mother knew a thing or two about accomplishment: She was the first female police officer in West Orange, New Jersey, sworn in in 1979. His father was also a cop.

That he chose “Endurance” as his book’s title is not an accident. It’s an acknowledgement of the fortitude it took physically, mentally and temperamentally for Kelly to live on the ISS for nearly a year, and also a tip of the space-suit helmet to British explorer Ernest Shackleton, whose 1914-16 expedition to Antarctica in the ship Endurance could have had a tragic ending. That all of Shackleton’s men survived after the wooden vessel was trapped in the ice — and then crushed by it  — stands to this day as a testament to Shackleton’s leadership, ingenuity, courage and perseverance.

As you go about your normal day, pause for a moment and think about all the stimulating sights, sounds, colors, smells and human interactions (physical and emotional) that you take for granted. That you can wash your hands or take a shower (or bath) any time you want. That when you put something down on a table, it’ll stay where you placed it. That if you want to go outside for a run or a bike ride, or drive a car, all you have to do is open the door.

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“The space is just barely big enough for me and my sleeping bag, two laptops, some clothes, toiletries, photos of Amiko and my daughters, a few paperback books,” Kelly writes about his crew quarters on the ISS. NASA photo

None of this was possible on the ISS, where there is no running water and urine is reprocessed and purified for astronauts to drink. And where anything not anchored or attached to Velcro will float endlessly until it’s corralled.

For Kelly, then 51 years old, to go “outside,” i.e., on a spacewalk (always done in pairs), it took hours to put on the required equipment (with help), and check off the safety steps to ensure both the well-being of the astronauts and the ISS, which travels at 17,500 mph and orbits the Earth every 90 minutes (16 sunrises and sunsets a day).

The reality of the threat of death was never far from his mind. He’s candid about this, and about the many less-appetizing aspects of being confined to a sophisticated, high-tech series of connected pieces of metal that measure a total of 357 feet from end to end (almost the size of an American football field). Being able to compartmentalize, a skill he honed in the Navy, served him well when particularly dangerous or difficult tasks needed laser-like focus.

Equipment can break down and often did. Kelly and the other jack-of-all-trades crew frequently had to repair malfunctioning machines, inside and outside. Two of his spacewalks were scheduled. A third became necessary after he improperly secured a “mobile transporter rail car” hugging the ISS exterior, and this had to be remedied because it was blocking where the all-important resupply rocket containing fresh food, clothing, science experiments (and personal items sent by loved ones) on Earth was to dock.

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Kelly (left) and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko mark their 300th continuous day in space. Each man would spend more than 11 months on the ISS. NASA photo

A veteran of two space shuttle missions, and in 2010 a 159-day stay on the ISS, Kelly knew the perils presented by 340 uninterrupted days in space. The length of the mission was perhaps not the biggest challenge. For the most part, he enjoyed the work, the rotating international crew members and the limit-testing challenges. (Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko also spent 340 days on the ISS with Kelly, launching in a Soyuz spacecraft from Kazakhstan on March 27, 2015 and landing in Kazakhstan on March 1, 2016.)

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Kelly trains in a Soyuz simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in March 2015 in Star City, Russia. NASA photo

He deftly explains to the reader each assignment he undertakes and why. He’s complimentary of the wide-ranging talent and competence of everyone he interacted with — not just the team on the ISS but the hundreds of technicians, computer experts, engineers, staff at mission control in Houston and many others around the world that keep the ISS space-borne and humming.

A weekly ritual was Friday night dinner, always convened in the Russian module. Everyone contributed to the meal — the Russians often supplied that most elegant of delicacies, caviar — and a convivial atmosphere reigned. Special occasions such as birthdays and holidays also called for celebration. These gatherings served to underscore the value of collaboration, cultural exchange and international cooperation.

But he occasionally chafed at NASA’s exacting procedures, especially when the vital machine that regulates the level of carbon dioxide on the station repeatedly needed time-consuming attention. This isn’t the type of problem that the astronauts can let ride, because a buildup of the odorless gas can be deadly.

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This is one of Kelly’s favorite views from the cupola of the ISS: The turquoise waters surrounding the islands of the Bahamas. “The sight always reminds me to stop and appreciate the view of the Earth that I’ve been given the privilege of seeing,” he writes. NASA photo

And though he was able to regularly call his friends and family, engage in video chats and send and receive email, he understood the great sacrifice these significant people made while he was continually orbiting the planet. If the separation was occasionally stressful for him, it was even more so for his longtime partner, Amiko, who not only provided emotional support from afar but was holding down a full-time job at NASA and running a household.

One of the key objectives for scientists of Kelly’s near-year in space was to assess the physical toll that lengthy exposure to radiation, prolonged weightlessness and the wasting of bone and muscle mass can take on the body. And how quickly it can recover. Fluid shifts and how they affect vision and eye structure were also being investigated.

With Scott’s identical twin, Mark, back on Earth as an obvious control subject, the brothers comprise the Twin Study, an ongoing program that may provide crucial data for the long-range goal of sending humans to Mars. The brothers, who both beat prostate cancer, will continue as guinea pigs for the foreseeable future to advance the cause of space exploration. The findings have started to trickle out, with more scientific information expected to be released next year.

Kelly holds the record for single longest mission for an American astronaut. But Peggy Whitson, who recently returned from the ISS after a 288-day stay, holds the record for cumulative time in space for a U.S. astronaut: 665 days.

So, if you were deprived of nearly everything from your normal life for a year, what would be the first thing you would do when you finally got home?

For Kelly, it was to walk through the front door of his house in Houston, continue out the back door, and jump into his swimming pool, fully clothed, in his flight suit.

Very few Earthlings will ever have a chance to go to space, so many thanks, Scott Kelly, for taking us along on a thrilling roller-coaster ride.

Quick reference: Scott Kelly is on a months-long U.S. media blitz promoting his book. Check his website, www.scottkelly.com, to see if he’s heading to a location near you. Or, if you’re traveling yourself, check airport terminal newsstands. He’s been stopping to sign copies of “Endurance” as he makes his way around America.

In some TV markets, PBS will show a two-part film, “Beyond A Year in Space,” beginning at 8 p.m. November 15. Check your local listings. http://www.pbs.org/show/year-space/

For information specifically about Kelly’s near-year mission: http://www.nasa.gov/content/one-year-crew

To check in on the current ISS crew, their scientific work, and all things space, go to www.nasa.gov.