Monthly Archives: January 2014

Reading and Reflections on Life

The International Space StationI recently finished astronaut Chris Hadfield’s book titled, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. If interested, see my book review below. It was an engaging read and reawakened my fascination with space and the space program.

Like Hadfield, I too watched Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon and thought there had to be nothing cooler in the world. The dreamer in me fantasized about becoming an astronaut. As I grew into my teens it was a dream that I knew would never be fulfilled. There were too many obstacles I’d never overcome.

At that time, only military test pilots became astronauts. I’ve worn glasses since I was ten. The military did not train individuals to be pilots unless they had perfect eye sight, hearing, and no other physical limitations. Strike one.

Later, NASA accepted candidates to become astronauts who had PhDs that could benefit the space program in some way. I was a disillusioned young man at that time and didn’t finish college. I could not see the purpose of what I termed, “the bullshit courses,” that had nothing to do with one’s major. Now that I’m older and hopefully wiser, I see the practical aspect of those courses and regret I didn’t finished college. Regardless, at the time I began flying lessons which I consumed myself with. College got shoved aside while I concentrated on becoming an airline pilot. Strike two.

Over the years of doing self-reflection, and after reading Hadfield’s book, I also realize I wouldn’t have made a good astronaut. Other than being with my wife, I prefer my time alone. That’s a good characteristic for an author, but not one for an astronaut who will be cooped up with three to six others on the International Space Station. Although I feel I work well with the other pilots I fly with, there are times I’ll let a first officer’s personality bug me. I can put these differences aside for a four day trip. How well would I do on a six month mission in space? Strike three.

But, my fascination with space and astronauts, and my passion for crafting engaging thrillers can work together. I have several threads of ideas rumbling around in my head for stories I’d love to write that revolve around the space program. To make them believable, they’ll take extensive research. The thought of sitting down with an astronaut and discussing their career, training, fears, and how they balance career and family, or visiting the training facilities at the Johnson Space Center have me squirming in my seat.

In the meantime, I can read more about the fascinating career astronauts have and the many ways the space program advances life on earth. I’ve read several great novels I enjoyed years ago I’ll be reading again even though I remember the characters and plots very well.

The first was a novel titled, Gravity, by an author that became one of my favorites: Tess Gerritsen. This book came out a decade or more ago and has nothing to do with the recent movie by Alfonso Cuaron. I enjoyed that book so much I’ve downloaded it onto my iPad and will read it again soon.

Stephen Harrigan also wrote a novel titled, Challenger Park, about a female astronaut, which I’ll be reading again.

After reading Hadfield’s book, I realize how well these two novels had been researched; setting the bar for the investigation I’ll have to do.

What about you? Any dreams or aspirations you may never fulfill, but are at peace with?

An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth, by Chris Hadfield

Lovers of the space program, individuals who fantasize about becoming an astronaut, or non-fiction readers who enjoy a well written tale of someone’s unique life experience will enjoy this well written book.

My wife heard Mr. Hadfield speak on NPR and bought me the book as a Christmas gift. I finished the book in just a couple of sittings, showing me how well my wife knows me.

Mr. Hadfield takes the reader on the journey of becoming an astronaut, his preparation for three journeys into space over a twenty-one year career ending with being the commander of the International Space Station, and how his training affected his life on earth. If I had a problem with the story, it was the first part of the title was misleading. Mr. Hadfield does show how the training and mental outlook needed to fly into space safely altered his thinking; there is not a lot of references to how this changed his earthbound existence outside the space program. It would be easy to come to the conclusions the reflection on his life in the course of writing the book made him realize how his life had been altered through his career as an astronaut.

He becomes preachy at times pointing out that hard work and determination got him into space. Several times I began skimming over paragraphs when he began another anecdote about how much he studied, and disciplined himself to succeed as an astronaut.

It is easy to overlook these difficulties I had with the book when Mr. Hadfield described the fascinating details of training and his journeys into space. It amazed me how difficult an astronaut’s life is on their families. Astronauts travel extensively for training and are seldom home. It is a wonder more aren’t divorced. The fact that Hadfield, who admits he’s an over-achiever, came through the program with an intact marriage, and three children who still speak to him is amazing. Mr. Hadfield shows the steps he took to include his family in his life leaving this reviewer with no doubt he was a loving husband and father, and possible now regrets the toll his life took on his family. The fact Mr. Hadfield didn’t gloss over this aspect influenced this reviewer what I was reading was a truthful account.

I really enjoyed how Mr. Hadfield humanized his fellow astronauts. It seems there are some who exhibit the swagger and arrogance of this elite group. Luckily, those seem a small minority. The majority is humble individuals who strive to play well with others, and prop each other up for group success. Numerous times Mr. Hadfield references his success was a result of thousands of individual working behind the scenes of the space program is a testament to that thinking.

The book renewed my above average interest in the space program and I highly recommend it.