Astronaut’s Guide is a great way for me to start this year’s April Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I’d like to welcome all new readers, and of course all the old ones (some are older than others). I’ll be posting all through the month (except most Sundays), theming the post to the letter of the day.
Instead of doing posts on a theme unlike my usual blog offerings, this year my theme is My Blog. When you visit here for the first time it will be typical of posts at any time of year. Usually that means: Saturday, book review; Monday, news or articles, mostly about books, blogging or memes; Wednesday, meme posts for #IWSG or #Fi50; Friday, flash fiction. This month there’ll also be Tuesday and Thursday posts. So, let’s get on with Saturday’s BOOK REVIEW.
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
by Chris Hadfield
Colonel Chris Hadfield has spent decades training as an astronaut and has logged nearly 4000 hours in space. During this time he has broken into a Space Station with a Swiss army knife, disposed of a live snake while piloting a plane, and been temporarily blinded while clinging to the exterior of an orbiting spacecraft. The secret to Col. Hadfield’s success – and survival – is an unconventional philosophy he learned at NASA: prepare for the worst – and enjoy every moment of it.
You might never be able to build a robot, pilot a spacecraft, make a music video or perform basic surgery in zero gravity like Col. Hadfield. But his vivid and refreshing insights will teach you how to think like an astronaut, and will change, completely, the way you view life on Earth-especially your own.
I picked up the paperback of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life On Earth in one of those multi-buy offers at Waterstones bookshop. It has been calling to me from the shelves for just over a year. Needing an A for the A to Z brought it to the fore sooner than it might have been. The timing couldn’t have been better for me personally, as reading it over the last three weeks has coincided with my taking up a personal challenge of almost astronomical proportions. No, I’m not going to be an astronaut, but it will require the same attention to detail, team building, planning, problem-solving, and ability to respond quickly in potentially disastrous situations over the next year. None of the things that go wrong will mean fatalities, though, except of my sanity.
Chris Hadfield doesn’t sound like a Colonel. He sounds like a regular guy. This might be because he’s Canadian, was acutely aware of his status as the first Canadian astronaut to make it into space, and uses some very simple techniques to get along in the hothouse of NASA. The competition among trainee (and established) astronauts leads to some useful behaviour tips.
He starts by taking us through his transformation from geeky kid who gazes at the stars, making choices on the path to his goals, right through to acceptance into the programme. Then we explore astronaut training and his missions both on the Shuttle and Soyez to the International Space Station. He talks regular talk, with minimal use of space jargon. He talks about working with his colleagues, and managing the pecking order, like you or I might talk about getting along at our own workplaces. His methods are worth thinking about, even for me with goodness knows how much training in interpersonal skills and organisational development.
There are some simple tips, and demonstration of how he used them. I particularly like the minus-one/plus-one/zero ambition, which I’m not explaining here. The concept goes against the grain for people who want to stand out. In practice, you are more likely to stand out, doing a better job, if you focus on the small stuff. That’s a great help to me right now.
The other thing I took from this book was the reality of space travel; it’s essential reading for anyone who writes or aspires to write science fiction. Landing after his last mission, he vividly describes the depth of distress a human body feels after being weightless for five months.
It isn’t a perfectly written book; I found it jumped about a bit during the first half – past missions slotted in as an example during preparation for the latest one – but it all made sense. There are some simply beautiful passages. I’ll probably read it again. I’ve bookmarked a few pages to refer to when things aren’t going so well. I wish I had it on kindle instead of paperback! It’s a very human book, despite the technology involved, and one that I feel everyone can relate to. People whose partners are absent a lot of the time will empathise with his wife!
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life On Earth is my third book in the Non-Fiction Reading Adventure challenge.