Book of the Month Club: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

BANQ. Books. Photo Rachel Levine BANQ. Books. Photo Rachel Levine

Every crew brings its own small, tethered ‘g meter,’ a toy or figurine we hang in front of us so we know when we are weightless. Ours was Klyopa, a small knitted doll based on a character in a Russian children’s television program, courtesy of Anastasia, Roman’s 9-year-old daughter. When the string that was holding her suddenly slackened and she began to drift upward, I had a feeling I’d never felt before in space: I’d come home.

Like any profession, you have to place your thoughts in a certain mindset to “be” a person of your particular profession, be it philosopher, physicist, or otherwise. In this book, Chris Hadfield shows how much hard work it takes to become an astronaut.

In a friendly, humble style, Hadfield explains the careful molding of astronauts’ minds to be prepared for almost anything before, during, and after liftoff, from the years of training before actually going in a real spaceship to the crucial minutes of monitoring during liftoff to prevent fatalities. In addition to the interesting facts about the road to becoming an astronaut and actually being in space, Hadfield gives interesting insights on astronaut history in Canada and around the world. In particular, I liked how he showed the Russian and United States’ cooperation in space, which was interesting, considering how the two countries were typically portrayed as antagonistic for almost a century.

The “guide” to life is the lessons he learned during his career, things which in life which we would think to be counterintuitive to being productive: things like sweating the small stuff and to not aim to be the best, the “plus one” in everything. Yet one thing, as anyone would know, is that during the time when liftoff happens, things aren’t as you expected, even if you know what to anticipate.

Apart from the guide, Hadfield’s incredible story is front and centre. The health effects that astronauts face after being in space for an extended period of time is interesting, the description of landing back on Earth hopeful and, at the same time, also discomforting due to the amount of adjusting the crew members had to do to get used to gravity after five months in space. Hadfield, who you might know from his Twitter pictures or his performance on the Canada Day show a few years back, also touches on how he handled his fame, taking it all in his stride.

And if you think about it, many of Hadfield’s insights are good for life. If you keep trying to be the best, you live in your successes and wallow in your failures without any other point of comparison in life. But that doesn’t mean you have to be totally humble, either. It’s a balancing act, sort of like what I’d expect zero gravity would be like. This book is well worth a read.