Book review: ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth,’ by Col. Chris Hadfield
July 8, 2016
Many a child dreams of heading to outer space, toying in the yard with cardboard rocket ships, his or her eyes fixed upon the distant stars. For most, the desire to be an astronaut remains in the realm of dreamy imaginings, but for Canadian astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield, soaring beyond the Earth's atmosphere was the culmination of his life's work.
As he writes in his extremely entertaining book — "An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth" — "to drift outside, fully immersed in the spectacle of the universe" was the pinnacle of his decades of persistence and determination to go to space.
At age 9, watching the moon landing was unforgettable for Hadfield, as it was for many small, dreamy-eyed youngsters. But unlike most of those millions of others, he chose that youthful moment to commit to the stars, setting his own life's course on a remarkable journey of doggedness and resolve to make that dream a reality.
May odds be ever in your favor
Working as an astronaut for NASA is no small feat, but it was a doubly challenging goal for Hadfield, as he is Canadian, and with Canada's nearly nonexistent space agency, he knew early on that the odds would not be in his favor. But Hadfield, having exceeding amounts of foresight and discipline for a young boy, did not let poor odds stand in his way. Astonishingly, he stuck to the promise he made for himself and lived out his childhood making good choices — keeping a bedtime, eating well, being an attentive student and doing chores on their farm with no complaint.
With such discipline, Hadfield was soon handling planes as a teenager, and he turned to the military as the most viable path to fulfilling his dreams. He insists none of his plans would have come to fruition had he not had the support of his wife and family, who sacrificed so much for his career. Much of Hadfield's book centers on his experiences in space, of course, but he also paints a fascinating picture of his earthly journey toward the culmination of his dream, focusing on the support system that was crucial to his success and that of every astronaut who ever makes it to space.
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Equal to those in Orbit
During his first launch, it hit him that only a certain type of person would strap himself onto what is essentially "a 4.5-megaton bomb loaded with explosive fuel." In addition to a fierce determination, space travel requires a meticulous attention to detail — to checklists and to careful and methodical routines — but most important, he insists, is an inordinate amount of patience, for many astronauts never make it to space. But, he stresses, those who work solely on Earth are every bit the equals to those who are chosen to go into orbit.
In fact, he says, the majority of an astronaut's career is spent with feet firmly planted on the ground, supporting NASA's broader vision and scrupulously studying each new advancement in space technology. "If the only thing you really enjoyed was whipping around Earth in a spaceship, you'd hate being an astronaut." The training, he says, has got to be a part of the dream. For Hadfield, the goal in life is to never regret preparing and learning a new skill you may never use. The reward must be the journey itself.
Filled with many wonderful life lessons, "An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth" also allows the reader a fascinating glimpse into the extraordinary world of the International Space Station, a truly remarkable testament to world unity, being a technological cooperative of more than a dozen countries, including long-time rivals the United States and Russia. Hadfield's descriptions of his time on the space station are thrilling and will fuel the imagination of admirers and dreamers of all ages.
With his book, and the many YouTube videos that have garnered millions of views, Hadfield has helped to bring the glories of space exploration into the living room, setting the next generation of bright young minds to thinking that anything is possible.