In Canada, Chris Hadfield is like a Rockstar. The dude’s just cool. There’s no other way to put it. After seeing an interview with Hadfield earlier this year, I was compelled by a giddy aww-he-is-sooo-adorable crush to eventually read his memoir, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. Aside from what I learned in random movies and the odd science fiction novel, I knew absolutely nothing about space travel. At least, real space travel, not a fictitious version or interpretation. This book will give you a bird’s eye view of the science behind the industry, explained in everyday English, a feat I never thought even remotely possible.
You. Will. Be. Captivated. Hadfield’s honesty and wonderfully thoughtful prose is an absolute pleasure to read. There is a reason everyone loves him. He’s just so darn loveable! He’s so easy to gush about. (A friend likened him to the late Jack Layton, which is a comparison I can understand, though Hadfield is not a politician and has no aspirations to become one.) I was totally impressed by Hadfield’s ability to share not only his successes but also his mistakes, turning points in his life when his career could have gone in a completely different direction. Also, he wasn’t afraid to share his shortcomings as a parent and husband, admitting upfront that being an astronaut is a job that calls for a great deal of travel and time away from family. The utter lack of, or at least conscious awareness of, ego is really refreshing.
And, of course, who could forget his fabulous, weightless tribute to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”? As a massive Bowie fan, I definitely had to see this YouTube sensation with my own eyes. The vocals and the visuals were perfectly executed, but it’s the backdrop and creativity that makes this video such fun to watch. At this point, it has over 19 million views!
Rockstar status aside, Hadfield’s memoir is fantastically educational and humble. When he explains the way his body changed after five months in a weightless environment, I was shocked by the small, unusual details; but, surprisingly, I understood. I could imagine the picture of science he painted so effortlessly, the way he lost his sense of balance, the way his heart and muscles shrunk, the way his spine somehow elongated with gravity, resulting in two extra inches of height, all of which reversed and healed over time. Even more shocking, is his first Soyuz landing. I couldn’t believe the rough and tumble elements of this new protocol, now that the Shuttle (system?) has been retired. It takes only three hours from the undocking to land, and 54 minutes is practically a free fall! Can you believe it?
There are so many elements of space travel, as described by Hadfield, that I simply could not stomach: the enclosed spaces, the constant poking and prodding of doctors, the physiological effects of experiencing various g forces, not being in control of one’s schedule, etc. However, he is willing to go through it all in the name of science, which is remarkable in itself, a testament to his iron stomach and determination, but also his ability to prepare for anything life might throw at him, space-related or not!
Super fun, highly recommended reading. Want to learn more? Check out Strombo’s interview!