After reading and watching The Martian, I couldn’t help but pick up this item at my local Barnes and Noble store. It seems space travel and related subjects, like The Astronauts Wives Club book and series of the same name, are becoming popular again and can be found everywhere books are sold. Maybe recent proclamations by the governments of China and India have made the US and Russian agencies (NASA and Roscosmos, respectively) revive their marketing campaigns, revisiting old plans to go to the moon, Mars and beyond that have been picked up by the press and social media.
What makes this book exemplary is that Col. Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to walk in space, uses his career path experiences as an opportunity to present a candid view into the life of an aspiring astronaut and subsequently, the responsibility that comes with accepting the job. “What going to space taught me about ingenuity, determination, and being prepared for anything” is not just the companion title for his book, but is the cornerstone of the discussion; it details his rise from Royal Canadian Air Force pilot and Mechanical Engineer to test pilot and astronaut. Always prepared for any eventuality, he goes to great lengths to explain the trepidation and excitement, and also the boring parts of being one of the 500 men and women who have gone up into the cosmos.
Contrary to popular legends, an astronaut is not a hero in a vacuum, although the first men in space were treated as such, but a resourceful team player that must know when to lead and when to follow. They are not superstars that get money thrown at them (as government employees they can’t keep expensive gifts) and are expected to be on top of their game, building their team up and working with agencies around the world to promote and protect space flight and exploration. Most importantly, in the 21rst century, they are public servants and government officials that work hard day in and day out to ensure the safety of the crews on board the International Space Station; of the maintenance and payloads specialists that conduct space walks and experiments on land to execute them in orbit later. If the funding for the moon and Mars missions get approved, they will also be responsible for the safety of the technology and personnel attempting those endeavors.
The most heartwarming part of the narrative is how Colonel Hadfield, once Commander of the ISS Expedition 34/35 and Director of Operations in Star City, Russia, recognizes the many sacrifices his wife and three children have made for him to achieve his dream. Ever adamant that he make it into the CSA program (Canadian NASA), which translates to a spot in a NASA astronaut cadet training group, his wife Helene made sure that he learned to balance his home and work life balance. It was his ability to succeed and not alienate his children that resulted in his own kids helping him bring social media to space, producing Tweets, videos, music, station sounds and photographs that introduced the rest of the world to the reality of living outside of the Earth’s atmosphere in a football field length modular laboratory. The many stories on how he took his children on vacations to bond with them without his wife, and the mentions of how he would take particular family members on business trips made me realize that the whole family was in on it; without their support there would have been no story to tell.
Chris uses technical and scientific terms to describe his job and his duties, and at times explains in layman’s terms what he discussed so that everyone can feel included in the conversation. His dedication to a cause he finds worthy, that of space exploration and education is commendable and truly palpable in every word he shares with us and in every action he has taken. With charm, wit and humor, he lets us in on his road to space, and makes the ride memorable by sharing insights into the less glamorous but as important aspects of his training and deployments. He also touches base on the many community outreach programs he has promoted throughout his career, and wishes that children and young adults can benefit from his experiences to trace their own path into STEM and beyond.
In the end, what he wants to convey the most to the next generation of explorers comes through best in his own words:
“But I’m not a nervous or pessimistic person. Really, If anything, I’m annoyingly upbeat, at least according to the experts (my family, of course). I tend to expect things will turn out well and they usually do. My optimism and confidence come not from feeling I am luckier than other mortals, and they sure don’t come from visualizing victory. They’re the result of a lifetime spent visualizing defeat and figuring out how to prevent it.” – Col. Chris Hadfield, RET.
Read through the pages of this work with an open mind and an open heart. If you don’t come out of this experience yearning to know more about the subject or at least Googling “Space Oddity, astronaut version” you will be missing out on part of the fun. After all, the millions of dollars we spend sending satellites and rockets into orbit not only create technological and medical advances but also provides jobs to millions of people around the world, and feed the dreams of many children who will most likely be able to travel outside of the Earth’s atmosphere by the time they are old and gray. Space is truly the final frontier.
Oh, and remember: sweat the small stuff! 😉