Mark Kelly

Editor’s note: In this recurring column, science writer Robert Starr rounds up the previous week’s top science stories. Have a suggestion? Send a tweet to @RobertKStarr, and your link might appear in next week’s Science Buzz.

This past weekend, astronaut Scott Kelly launched into space to join the crew of the International Space Station (ISS). His trip on the ISS will last a year, longer than anyone else has ever spent on the ship. Scott has an identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut, who will remain on Earth. These factors will allow scientists to study the Kelly brothers and gain a better understanding of how long-term spaceflight affects vision, immune response and even individual genes.

Put another way, this could be the most exciting case of twins in space since Luke and Leia.

As populations grow, civilizations often struggle to come up with the technology to provide sufficient water for survival. A new model developed at Duke University suggests that there’s a lag between an increasing population and the technological breakthroughs that supply it with drinkable water. According to the model, we will experience this struggle firsthand in the coming decades.

Conservation methods currently allow for more efficient water usage, meaning we’re using less water per person than we were a few years ago. However, if the population continues to increase at its current rate, the Duke model predicts that efficiency measures will not keep pace and new strategies may become necessary to prevent water shortages.

Thirsty Thursdays are about to get a whole lot thirstier.

The world record time for marathon running belongs to Dennis Kimetto, who ran the race in just under two hours and three minutes. The Mars record marathon time belongs to the Opportunity rover, which has traveled the 26.2 miles on the red planet in 11 years and two months. That’s not a great time — it’s a pace of about a foot and a half per hour — but considering the rover has outlasted its original three-month mission by more than a decade and is still providing information about a planet some of us hope to one day call home, it’s quite an impressive feat.

If it finds some liquid water on Mars, maybe it’ll attempt a triathlon next.

You might be working too hard in your math class. A new study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that the optimal amount of math or science homework per night for adolescents is approximately one hour. In fact, time spent on homework wasn’t the leading predictor of achievement. Instead, the best predictor was prior knowledge, measured by grades in previous classes. This means that the best way to do well in algebra is to make sure you did well in pre-algebra. 

The researchers also found autonomy, or the ability for the student to do homework by oneself, to be highly predictive of success. But since this study did not distinguish between cause and effect, the most an individual can take from it is a tautology: the best way to do well at math or science is to be good at math or science. Still, in isolating the most significant factors, the research might shed light on how to improve our math and science education as a whole.

Print this study out, and show it to your calculus professor next time she assigns a problem set.

Thanks for reading Science Buzz. Check back next Monday for more!

Mark Kelly, NASA astronaut and husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, center, speaks at a reception after his “Endeavour to Succeed” lecture presented at the Lady Bird Johnson auditorium Monday evening. The event was hosted by UT’s Student Endowed Centennial Lectureship under chairman Michael Morton and vice chairman Jesse Hernandez, pictured to Kelly’s left and right side, respectively.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Students who want to become effective leaders need to have a drive to succeed and the ability to overcome hardship, said renowned former American astronaut and United States Navy Capt. Mark Kelly in a lecture Monday evening.

Kelly is a noted American astronaut and naval aviator who retired in June 2011. He is well known for having commanded several shuttle missions, including Space Shuttles Endeavour and Discovery, and has the distinction of being one of only two people in the world to have visited the International Space Station four times. He is the husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was the victim of an assassination attempt in January 2011, leaving her in recovery for more than eight months. UT is the first University in Texas to host Kelly as a speaker.

Kelly gave a lecture titled “Endeavour to Succeed” as part of the Student Endowed Centennial Lectureship, which brings prominent speakers to the University each year and is funded by students through an optional $2 donation during the registration process.

Kelly spoke about his early struggles in flight school and said he refused to let his failure to excel allow him to falter in achieving his ultimate goal of becoming an astronaut. Kelly said his drive to succeed was the key to his accomplishments later in life.

“I was not a particularly good pilot,” Kelly said. “I really, really struggled and had a hard time with learning how to fly an airplane. But I stuck with it, and later realized that how good you are at the beginning of anything you try is not a good indicator of how good you can become. I’m a prime example of someone who was able to overcome a lack of aptitude with practice, persistence and the drive to never ever give up.”

Kelly spoke about his family’s experiences during his wife’s recovery after she was shot in Tucson, Ariz. Giffords suffered a bullet wound to the head and had to undergo several surgeries as well as months of physical therapy before being able to return to Washington, Kelly said. He said his wife’s dedication to her recovery was an enormous inspiration.

“It’s been an incredible experience for me over the last four months to see the power of the human spirit — to see someone who was first able to fight so hard to survive, and then to fight so hard to recover.” Kelly said. “She reminds me each and every day to deny the acceptance of failure.”

Kelly’s experiences with overcoming difficulty in his own career as well as facing adversity during Giffords’ recovery made him a perfect candidate to reach out to students, said Michael Morton, chair of the Student Endowed Centennial Lectureship.

“He’s a great example of leadership in America today and he’s a name that people recognize,” Morton said. “He can really speak to various levels of leadership and how to deal with different issues in your life.”

Students are more than capable of having the drive and energy necessary to becoming effective decision-makers and leaders with enough time and patience, Kelly said.

“I think that it’s possible to learn [how to be a leader],” he said, “There’s a whole field of study about decision-making and about leadership, so it takes time and it takes practice.”

Kelly’s lecture was an inspiration to those in attendance and proved that failing the first time doesn’t mean they should stop trying, said aerospace engineering freshman Madison Lasris.

“He really proved that you can overcome any obstacle, no matter how bad it is,” Lasris said. “Even if you fail, you can still achieve what you want to do.”

Printed on Tuesday, April 3, 2012 as: Astronaut gives inspiration

Editor's note: Our tireless movie critic Alex Williams will be taking a break from Tuesday's festivities, but will be back reviewing the best of film at SXSW on Wednesday.

The Do-Deca Penthalon
Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass

The Duplass brothers are among the pioneers of the mumblecore movement, and their first two films were micro-budget pieces with rich characters and plenty of awkward humor. As their fame increased, Jay and Mark Duplass have been able to work with bigger budgets, bigger stars, and their voices have developed as a result, their films taking on a sharper wit and more refined emotional sheen. The brothers shot “The Do-Deca Pentathlon” back in 2008, and while it’s had an uncommonly long post-production period, it’s clearly a transitional film for the brothers, a mix of their distinctive sense of humor and increasing emotional maturity.

Mark Kelly and Steve Zissis star as Jeremy and Mark, fiercely competitive brothers with years of bitterness between them after their inaugural Do-Deca Pentathlon ended with a tie. With Mark in town for his birthday, Steve seeks to heal the rift with his brother by challenging him to a rematch, much to the chagrin of Stephanie (Jennifer Lafleur), Mark’s protective wife.

“The Do-Deca Pentathlon” is often funny, and the Duplass brothers have always been great at incorporating their camera into their humor, using zoom-ins as punchlines and reaction shots to great effect. They even get to display a little action film panache in a comical laser tag sequence, and as Mark gets increasingly invested in his victory, “The Do-Deca Pentathlon” gets funnier and funnier.

Ultimately, the film is a solid effort from the Duplass brothers. It doesn’t have the curdling awkwardness of “Cyrus” and fails to reach the poetic beauty of “Jeff Who Lives at Home,” but it’s a consistently entertaining and funny story of two brothers rediscovering the competitive spirit that made them get along in the first place. While the Duplass brothers have certainly stepped up their game since making “The Do-Deca Pentathlon,” it’s still a pleasant reminder of the potential we all saw in them in the first place.

“The Do-Deca Pentathlon” screens again Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. (Alamo Slaughter Lane) and Friday at 9:45 p.m. (Stateside Theater).

The Raid: Redemption
Directed by Gareth Evans

A huge crowd at the 1200-capacity Paramount Theatre was lucky enough to see the Indonesian action flick “The Raid: Redemption” Sunday night, and that screening was a highlight not just of SXSW, but of my entire moviegoing career. The hype surrounding “The Raid” has been growing since it premiered at the Toronto Film Fest last fall, and early reviews promised an action masterpiece on the level of “Die Hard.” Thankfully, “The Raid” lives up to the hype.

The film’s setup is sparse, letting us get to know a few cops out of a large group heading into an apartment complex packed with lowlifes and run by a sadistic gangster. Once their presence is discovered, the criminals come out in spades and are relentlessly, systematically beaten by bona fide action star Iko Uwais.

I can’t think of a film that delivers on its premise better than “The Raid.” From top to bottom, the film is stuffed with brutal, visceral action sequences, each and every one of them memorable in one way or another. Director Gareth Evans shows an astounding amount of creativity in the staging and variety of the fights here, and he shoots each of them with plenty of long, wide shots that truly highlight his stars destroying everyone in their path. There’s not a wasted punch, and each fight puts our heroes in genuine peril, making it an absolute delight to watch them pummel their way out of danger.

As the crowd at last night’s screening can attest, there’s plenty of cheer-worthy moments in “The Raid.” There’s one fight scene towards the end of the film where spontaneous bursts of applause occurred no less than three times. “The Raid” is an essential film, and an essential theatrical experience. Seeing this one on the big screen, with a massive crowd, is an experience you won’t regret.

“The Raid: Redemption” opens April 13.


Last night’s screening of the horror anthology “V/H/S” was preceded by a sneak peek at footage from Drafthouse Films’ “The ABC’s of Death,” which gives us a different death for each letter of the alphabet, each presented by a different director, looks promising. The sizzle reel screened last night was gory, funny, and exceedingly vulgar, just about everything you’d expect from the sick mind of Tim League and the stable of directors he’s rounded up to bring this thing to us. The film promises to be entertaining, and will likely make an appearance at Fantastic Fest later this year.

Then we were thrown right into “V/H/S,” a found footage anthology that makes the brilliant decision of showing us a group of vandals, hired to steal a videotape from a house, working their way through a massive collection of tapes, each of them a found-footage style film from a different director. The wraparound segments, directed by “You’re Next” director Adam Wingard, are pretty exhausting, and are overwhelmed by Wingard’s commitment to replicate the terrible look of VHS footage on the big screen. Thankfully, the different shorts that Wingard strings together are much better.

The different segments are directed by “The Signal’s” David Bruckner, “The Innkeepers’” Ti West, “Silver Bullets’” Joe Swanberg, “I Sell the Dead’s” Glenn McQuaid, and a filmmaking collective called Radio Silence. While the five shorts “V/H/S” brings us are varied in quality, each of them manages to squeeze out at least one terrifying moment. Ti West continues to be a master of the slow burn, and his chronicle of a married couple’s trip to the Grand Canyon is unsettling in all the right ways.

Director Joe Swanberg gets best in show for his segment, a series of Skype conversations between a girl convinced her apartment is haunted and her long-distance boyfriend. Swanberg uses Skype’s natural lags in audio and video to terrifying effect, and the short builds to a nail-bitingly terrifying conclusion. Glenn McQuaid gets special mention for his creative slasher segment, and Radio Silence closes the film out with a fantastic haunted house fever dream that leaves things on a high note.

“V/H/S” is an anthology film of the highest order, with each segment satisfying in one way or another, and it’s a great film to watch with a crowd. Each scare was met with increasingly frightened reactions, and by the time arms are reaching out of the walls in Radio Silence’s final segment, things had reached a fever pitch of intensity that was truly a blast to experience.

“V/H/S” screens again on Mar. 13 at 11:30 p.m. (Alamo South Lamar) and on Mar. 16 at 11:59 p.m. (Alamo Ritz).

On Jan. 2, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords reacts after leading the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of a memorial remembering the victims and survivors of the shooting that killed six others in Tucson, Ariz.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

PHOENIX — In part, the short video has the feel of a campaign ad: the strains of soft music, the iconic snapshots of rugged Arizona desert, the candidate earnestly engaged with her constituents.

Interspersed with the slick montage of photos and sound, though, is a video close-up of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords gazing directly at the camera, offering not a campaign promise but a goodbye, a thank-you message to her supporters in a voice that is both firm and halting.

“I have more work to do on my recovery,” the congresswoman says at the end of the two-minute-long “A Message from Gabby,” appearing to strain with all of her will to communicate. “So to do what’s best for Arizona, I will step down this week.”

Arizonans had to know in their hearts that this day was coming.

A bullet to the brain, from point-blank range, is a nearly impossible obstacle to overcome, even for a congresswoman known for pluckiness and fight. Giffords seemed to accept that reality in the video announcing her resignation from Congress, which also included a promise to return one day to her mission to help Arizonans.

The clip, posted to YouTube and on her Facebook page, pastes together 13 sentences into a fluid announcement. Giffords wears a bright red jacket eerily similar to the one she was wearing a year ago when she was nearly assassinated. She looks straight into the camera, almost begging the viewer to listen.

But the video also includes images of the 41-year-old struggling at rehab and walking along a leafy street with husband Mark Kelly with an obvious limp. And Giffords acknowledges that, at least for now, she isn’t up to taking on a re-election challenge.

The announcement sets off not one but two elections cycles to replace her. The first will be a special primary election that Gov. Jan Brewer must call sometime in April, with a general election in June to fill out the remainder of Giffords’ term.

The second cycle will concern the regular full two-year term, with the primary scheduled for August and the general election in November.

In between, the 8th Congressional District that Giffords currently represents will change under redistricting. It will become the 2nd Congressional District.

“We’ve got someone that’s going to move in, hold that seat for the remainder of her (term,) and then we’ll have people out there — probably at the same time — running for that seat ... with different lines,” Gov. Jan Brewer said Sunday. “So it will confuse some people.”

Brewer said she spoke with Kelly before the announcement and understood the decision. “...As her husband said, they have sat, and they have discussed this, and that it would be the best thing for her and for her recovery,” Brewer said. “And I indicated on the telephone with him that knowing Gabby and what she has accomplished in this last year in her recovery, who knows what’s going to happen in the next two years.”

The announcement came just over a year after a gunman opened fire at Jan. 8, 2011, meeting with constituents in front of a Tucson grocery store. Six people were killed, and Giffords and 12 others wounded.

At the time, the Democrat had just eked out a razor-thin victory against a tea party candidate in her conservative-leaning district. She won a third term with less than 1 percent margin.

Many in Arizona believed she would be handed an easy victory if she chose to seek another term this year. But Giffords elected not to try.

“A lot has happened over the past year. We cannot change that,” she said.

For days after the shooting, it was touch and go. A huge memorial grew in front of the Tucson hospital where she was fighting for her life.

Then, almost miraculously, just two weeks after she was shot, she was whisked off in a jet to a rehabilitation hospital in her astronaut husband’s hometown of Houston.

Months of rehab began, with Giffords struggling to learn how to walk and talk again. Just over four months after she was shot, she flew to Florida to watch Kelly, an astronaut, pilot the nation’s next-to-last space shuttle mission.

But she remained out of view.

Slowly, in carefully choreographed bits, she began to emerge. The first photos in June. Her surprise August appearance in Congress to vote to raise the federal debt limit. The first halting TV shots, just a few words at a time, then a more complex recording released in November.

Sunday’s recording was slightly more elaborate, but it was not a campaign Q&A or an appearance before a tough interviewer.

She’s clearly not yet ready for another run for Congress. But she said in Sunday’s video that she’s not done yet.

“I’m getting better. Every day my spirit is high. I will return, and we will work together for Arizona and this great country,” she said.

Space shuttle Endeavour crew members from l

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

HOUSTON — The final crew of the space shuttle Endeavour returned home Thursday to Houston, where they thanked colleagues and reunited with families. But Mark Kelly had to wait just a bit longer for his special reunion.

The Endeavour commander delayed his planned rendezvous with his wife, wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, until later Thursday evening. He and the rest of the crew first spoke to a cheering crowd of hundreds of co-workers, family members and fans welcoming them back to Texas.

Giffords didn't attend the public event Thursday afternoon at Houston's Ellington Field, so Kelly headed to see her afterward in her Houston rehabilitation center.

It was an emotional curtain call for the next-to-last shuttle flight, with the tired crew of six providing extended autograph time for the crowd.

While the crew singled out individual workers and departments at Johnson Space Center, they emphasized the sacrifices of their loved ones, most of whom they haven't seen since May 15 — the day before Endeavour launched.

"I want to thank my family — Gabby who is not here today — Claudia and Claire who are here in the front row," Kelly said, referring to his wife and daughters. "I could not do it without their support."

Endeavour astronaut Drew Feustel added a special note to his wife, Indira: "Honey, happy anniversary today."

And the astronauts also praised the ship that will no longer be flying. After 19 years and 25 flights, "Endeavour performed as if it was brand new," Kelly said.

"It's not the end of Endeavour either," Kelly said. He said Endeavour will continue to inspire young people to study science and engineering at its new post at a Los Angeles museum.

And future spaceships will learn from the space shuttle fleet, which is retiring after the scheduled July 8 launch of Atlantis, said Endeavour astronaut Roberto Vittori.

Endeavour landed early Wednesday morning in Cape Canaveral to end a 16-day mission to the International Space Station. Kelly called Giffords almost daily via telephone, and had one video hookup during the mission, said Giffords spokesman C.J. Karamargin.

Giffords, who was shot in the head during a mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz. in January, left rehab in Houston to be at Endeavour's May launch.

Johnson Space Center Director Mike Coats, a former astronaut, praised Kelly for the way he compartmentalizes family and NASA duties, like most astronauts: "He's probably had a bigger challenge than most. He did a terrific job."