So I finished Chris Hadfield’s book (An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth) and I’m just hero worshipping all over the shop. I’m sure there can’t be many people out there who are equal parts tenacious, brilliant, courageous, insightful and just thoroughly bloody nice.
This isn’t a straight up biography but if you’re interested in a behind the scenes look at space exploration, a little insight into the process of becoming an astronaut, what a day in the life of a working astronaut looks like when they’re not in space, and a unique perspective on the world and its inhabitants as seen through the eyes of someone who’s spent time looking back down on it, then you can’t go wrong.
I loved the angle of the book: the simple idea that a lifetime spent training and working as an astronaut has given him an insight into life back on earth. There are parts of Hadfield’s book that wouldn’t be out of place on the self-help shelf but I personally found them a lot easier to get behind than most of the ‘be better’ tomes out there. Of particular interest was the chapter on how Hadfield deals with fear (surely one of the most common questions he gets asked). If I had to sum up his answer, it’s ‘preparation’ but he’s also careful to draw a distinction between meticulous forward planning based on possible negative events and empty, time-wasting worrying. His approach involves learning everything he can about a potential situation so he’s as prepared as possible, thus removing the fear of something going wrong. As a champion worrier and fellow worst-case scenario imaginer, it was a fresh perpective on a familiar situation and one I could learn a few things from. Although becoming a commercial airline pilot to conquer my fear of flying might be taking things to extremes.
Another chapter with interesting applications in many day-to-day scenarios focuses on the idea of being a ‘zero’. It certainly made me approach a couple of situations with different intentions.
Of course, when your career mantra is ‘what’s the next thing that could kill me?’ the stakes are a little higher for those in Hadfield’s line of work. So ingrained is this approach to each new scenario that Hadfield doesn’t turn it off back on earth, applying the same principles whether he’s getting into a crowded lift or boarding the Soyuz. And I have to say, if I ever got stuck in a lift I can’t think of a better person to be there with.
Hadfield, it’s clear, has worked harder and with greater dedication than most people are capable of to achieve what he did in his career. However, what comes across most strongly in the book is his overwhelming feeling of fortune and gratitude at what he has been privileged enough to do. It’s a humbling read on many levels.
Hadfield isn’t the only man to spend time in space but I suspect he’s one of very few who could help make some small part of the experience so readily accessible to the rest of us. And of course it is brilliant to read about what clipping your fingernails, cleaning your teeth and using the toilet really involve in zero gravity.