Book Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
By Chris Hadfield
Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2013

Remember Chris Hadfield? Sure you do. He’s the Canadian astronaut who sang Space Oddity from the International Space Station, from a tin can far above the world.

Back on Earth and now retired, he’s written a book; An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.

It’s mostly a memoir with a bit of self-help/personal development thrown in.

The life lessons Hadfield has drawn from his career as an astronaut are sensible, worth heeding, and sometimes refreshingly counter-intuitive. Think negatively, Hadfield urges us. Try to anticipate everything that can go wrong – “what’s the next thing that could kill me?” – and work out ahead of time a plan for dealing with it. This isn’t worrying or obsessing. It’s productive preparation. Instead of making you feel panicky or anxious it will calm you down and help you feel more in control of your life.

Hadfield’s 21 year career as an astronaut included just 3 space flights for a total of less than 200 days in space. The rest of his time was spent in various supporting and leadership roles in NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). So it’s not surprising Hadfield puts great importance on working every day towards small victories and incremental contributions to a larger goal.

All in all though, there isn’t much guidance in An Astronaut’s Guide. That’s OK because what makes the book really interesting is the intimate look we get into the life of an astronaut. Hadfield talks about the endless preparations, simulations, tests and rehearsals. He describes what launch feels like, what it’s like to work, live and sleep in zero gravity, and, yes, how astronauts pee in space (the men anyway). Final decent through the atmosphere in a Soyuz capsule is “a wild 54 minute tumble to Earth that feels more or less like 15 explosions followed by a car crash.”

After 5 months in space, returning to Earth is a huge adjustment.

“It’s like being a newborn, this sudden sensory overload of noise, color, smells and gravity after months of quietly floating, encased in relative calm and isolation. No wonder babies cry in protest when they’re born.” p.260

You likely won’t find life changing advice in this book, but if you’re at all interested in what it might be like to be an astronaut and journey into space, An Astronaut’s Guide is an enjoyable, worthwhile read.

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