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

Did you see the music video of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” that was recorded in space last year? If so, then you’ve seen Col. Chris Hadfield, author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth and star of that video. In the book, Hadfield tells us about his life in space and on earth and he includes a description of the making of the music video.

Chris Hadfield decided 45 years ago that he wanted to become an astronaut. Specifically, he made the decision at age 9 on July 20, 1969, after viewing television coverage of the first moonwalk. However, he is Canadian, and as he writes, “NASA only accepted applications from U. S. citizens, and Canada didn’t even have a space agency.” But he was determined: “Maybe someday it would be possible for me to go too, and if that day ever came, I wanted to be ready.” He got ready by attending military college, majoring in mechanical engineering, becoming a fighter pilot and then going to test pilot school. And the Canadian Space Agency did come into being. In 1992, he was one of four people chosen by that agency that year to become astronauts, via a rigorous process that began with 5,330 applicants.

During his career as an astronaut, Hadfield went to space three times—he flew on a shuttle in 1995 and in 2001 and he was on the International Space Station from December 2012 to May 2013. He provides lots of vivid details about what it was like to be on a space shuttle and about what it’s like to live and work on the ISS. For example, here’s his description of weightlessness: “you can move huge objects with the flick of a wrist, hang upside down from the ceiling like a bat, tumble through the air like an Olympic gymnast. You can fly.”

Hadfield shares a number of lessons he’s learned that can be applied to life on earth. A particularly noteworthy lesson is about attitude: “There’s really just one thing I can control: my attitude during the journey, which is what keeps me feeling steady and stable, and what keeps me headed in the right direction.” Another of his lessons, “sweat the small stuff,” perhaps is more applicable to a test pilot or astronaut than to the majority of us on earth. When you are in a high-risk occupation, everything has to be just so, or there can be dire consequences. Fortunately, most of us in our day-to-day lives have more leeway than that.

Hadfield retired in 2013 and is now enthusiastically pursuing the next phase of his life. He says, “Endings don’t have to be emotionally wrenching if you believe you did a good job and you’re prepared to let go.” His story is an engrossing tale of someone who did an especially good job, in the face of enormous odds against him. It’s worth reading to gain a sense of what astronauts actually experience on earth and in space. Plus it certainly presents some life lessons that are worth contemplating.

See more features from the July 2014 issue