Former NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski is a physician, inventor and once ranked among the top 10 American luge competitors during the 1988 Olympics Trials. He may now add author to his impressive resume, thanks to his memoir, "The Sky Below: A True Story of Summits, Space, and Speed" (Little A, $24.95). "I've been in Houston, Texas, for almost a quarter-century," says Parazynski, 56, who was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. "I never thought I'd ever live in Texas, but it was the only place to be if you wanted to be an astronaut. Older and wiser now, I now consider it one of the coolest and best places in the country to live!" Fans may follow his adventures on Twitter (https://twitter.com/ASTRODOCSCOTT).
Q. What would be your dream trip?
A. I've been to space on five space shuttle missions, but more than anything, I'd love to take my wife and my son, Luke, on a Virgin Galactic suborbital trip. I thrive in that environment and miss it but, more importantly, I'd just love to see the expressions on their faces when they saw our home planet for the very first time from that vantage point.
Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?
A. There has to be action and adventure or it's not a vacation. Typically, I need what would be a traditional vacation (of) rest and relaxation after our adventure vacations. Mountain biking in Ladakh and scuba diving in Santorini are recent favorite trips. And we are headed to Colorado this summer, where we'll certainly hike some 14ers. There are 59 summits in the state above 14,000 feet, and all are wonderful.
Q. What was the first trip you took as a child?
A. My first big trip was to Germany, Italy and France, when I was in the fourth or fifth grade. I was hooked on travel for life. Thinking back to exploring the Catacombs in Rome and following the night watchman in Rothenburg, Germany, are vivid memories to this day and reinforced in me a desire to find a way to continue to see the world through the rest of my life.
Q. What's the most important thing you've learned from your travels?
A. Perhaps it's the astronaut in me, but planning for success and being prepared for failures along the way has served me well. Understanding the environment and risks of where you'll be going, to the best of your ability, leads to a successful expedition or vacation. The most important lessons in life come from outside the classroom. I've learned more from the people I've met and the places I've gone than at the chalkboard or in textbooks. (That's) not to downplay the overall importance of either. Being a physical explorer of our planet, on, above and below, another lesson that I've learned is the importance of rigorous preparation.
Q. Have you traveled to a place that stood out so much that you felt compelled to incorporate it into your work?
A. I vividly remember my first exposure to scuba diving when we were living in Dakar, Senegal (when I was) 11. A couple of older kids strapped a huge scuba rig on my back and gave me the simple instructions: "Come back up when you run out of air!" Thankfully, the harbor where I first dove was only 30 or 40 feet at its deepest, and I cheated death and the bends that day. Moreover, I was hooked for life on the undersea world. The freedom of motion and the sense of weightlessness there made me dream of one day flying in space.
Q. If you've ever gone away for the holidays, which was the best trip?
A. As a young kid -- maybe 13 years old -- we had Christmas at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Although lacking in Christmas trees, being on safari with my parents and staring up at the mountain is something I'll never forget. I remember wondering to myself, "What would it look and feel like to stand atop that snow-covered peak?" Although I've yet to hike Kili, it's on my extensive bucket list. My wife shares my sense of adventure and fitness, so I can't wait to share the summit with her and possibly my son, who's a strong hiker, too.
Q. What are your five favorite cities?
A. Paris, San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Namche Bazar (Nepal), New York City, Sydney.
Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
A. Although my wife and I have been married for some time, we've yet to take our dream honeymoon. We have targeted at least a couple of weeks on Bora Bora, diving every day.
Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A. Now that I have a company (Fluidity Technologies) that develops control systems for everything that moves in physical and virtual space, I must have a drone with me on vacation -- for fun and to document the scenery.
(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at www.jaehakim.com. You may also follow "Go Away With..." on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)(c) 2017 DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.