Ossus Library Index Non-Fiction Index

AN ASTRONAUT'S GUIDE TO LIFE ON EARTH

By Chris Hadfield (2013, Random House)

The story of a boy's dream to becoming an astronaut, through training, hard work, concentration, and the desire to make the world a better place.

 

 

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Read April 12th to 23rd, 2015 in Hardcover  
    There was a lot of good stuff in here, from stories of spaceflight, training for spaceflight, anticipation of becoming an astronaut, drudgery in between flights, and so on. At times, especially near the beginning of the book, Hadfield seems to try too hard to convince the reader that his reasons for doing certain things were sound and justified. I think a little less earnestness in the tone would have better suited the book.

Spoiler review:

This book does not progress chronologically, which gives it a different flavor. Instead, the author goes with themes, such as details ("Sweat the Small Stuff") and observing before acting ("Aim to Be a Zero"). In each theme, he weaves his experiences on the ground and in space, in a fighter jet, with his family, and many more. It’s interesting, but can also be frustrating and even confusing. Unfortunately, especially in the first third of the book, he doesn’t always succeed.

It’s interesting to note that his entire life was dedicated to the space program, taking lessons learned from the American program and applying them in Canada. And when the first group of astronauts was chosen, he started to get worried, because he became a fighter pilot, not a scientist –as he modeled his career after the Americans, who chose fighter pilots as their early astronauts.

It is easy to note that Hadfield is an engineer, and a mechanical one at that. His writing style, especially at the beginning of the book, leaves a lot of the emotion out of his tones. It is only when he starts to talk about his family, and the way they were impacted by his career choice, how they were forced to endure socializing when they were at their most worried or stressed, that the emotion starts to show.

A lot of the early book is written in a way that looks like he is trying too hard to get people to see his point of view. Engineers are like that –they think things through, even the tiny little details, and work to make our lives easier by improving the efficiency of those tiny details –because lots of tiny details become large details eventually. But most people don’t think like that. They live with the little annoyances, until they become larger and then they explode angrily, until things are changed or things seem better only because they have lashed out. But people like Hadfield look at the little things and try to make them better. So it’s natural that he would say things like “…not because I thought I was better than other people, but…”. I just think he says it too often.

The best parts of the book are the sequences that describe his training and especially his last mission, which is interspersed with the other missions he enjoyed on the space shuttle. He unfortunately does not go too much into detail of his shuttle missions, but being so short compared with what he did on the space station, I guess that’s natural. I also wished he went into more detail on his ground training as CAPCOM, not just talking with the other astronauts, but if he went to troubleshoot problems for them.

His experiences in Russia were enthralling, as he prepared to get to the launch pad. There are so many things I don’t know about the Russian space program, that it made for a very interesting read. And then there was the launch, and the trip to the space station, not to mention the months spent on board. With his obsession to detail, it’s no wonder that NASA loved him. He had an amazing work ethic, and an eye to the beauty of space. He was the ultimate PR person, and still is. I met him a couple of times before he went to the space station; he seemed like a really neat guy and very reasonable. I remember when he was on board the space station, using social media to communicate, sending pictures down from space. It was a really proud moment to be Canadian. It was his son's idea, especially the rendition of Major Tom.

The aftermath of a spaceflight must be very difficult, especially for an astronaut who knows he will no longer be going into space (Hadfield announced his retirement privately during this mission, publicly afterwards). But it follows what is known from other movies and documentaries, between the endless tests, the potential for depression, and reintegration into family and Earth-locked society.

I wouldn’t say this is the best book on space travel that I’ve read, nor the most fun, but it was informative, especially since I haven’t read much about the International Space Station missions. Having this personal account is very much appreciated.

 
   

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