Saturday, November 30, 2013

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth / Chris Hadfield
Toronto: Random House, c2013.
295 p.

You can see the many passages I marked as I was reading this book this week -- it only took two nights to get through it as I just couldn't stop reading. Chris Hadfield is of course of great interest currently, but for me he is even more so because he is so very modest about himself. For someone who is so at home in space, Hadfield is surprisingly down to earth!

The book is not a biography, nor is it a coffee-table style, picture-heavy attempt to publish just anything to capitalize on Hadfield's sudden fame. It's a serious, detailed, but anecdote-filled story of Hadfield's career with the Canadian Space Agency and his passion for his work.

It's also inspirational in a way that appeals to me; Hadfield is passionate not only about being in space itself, but about the majority of what makes up an astronaut's life -- studying, training and retraining, working on varied projects, supporting other space missions and so on -- the things that most astronauts spend most of their careers doing. He says (a few times) that you must love the things you do everyday, not just the big payoff. In his words:
If you start thinking that only your biggest and shiniest moments count, you're setting yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time. Personally, I'd rather feel good most of the time, so to me everything counts: the small moments, the medium ones, the successes that make the papers and also the ones that no one knows about but me. The challenge is avoiding being derailed by the big, shiny moments that turn other people's heads. You have to figure out for yourself how to enjoy and celebrate them, and then move on....
You can choose to focus on the surprises and pleasures, or the frustrations. And you can choose to appreciate the smallest scraps of experience, the everyday moments, or to value only the grandest, most stirring ones. Ultimately, the real question is whether you want to be happy. I didn't need to leave the planet to find the right answer. 

There is a nice balance in this book, combining very geeky, science-y detail about space flight and the daily grind in the Space Agency, with the charm, whimsy and wonder that Hadfield has become known for. He shares his motivation for becoming an astronaut despite how unlikely it seemed at the beginning, as well as the sense of delight he had at achieving his goals -- but while he worked extremely hard at being prepared for the opportunity of space flight, he knew that ultimately the final chance was not in his control. Thus his focus on enjoying each moment along the way.

He is someone who always keeps learning, and I can relate to that. While I am in no way close to his level of ambition or his exact field, I know the excitement of pushing yourself to keep up on changes and opportunities in your own chosen area. I found that there was a lot of advice here for living with others in a competitive workplace which also requires extreme teamwork -- how to behave, what to aim for, and so on. This makes me think that Hadfield's next shining career might be in corporate consultancy!  He has said in interviews that he has just retired, and he will be taking things slowly to see what he wants to do. I'm sure whatever it is, he'll do it well; this book reveals a driven, detail-oriented, self-aware and competent man ("competent" seems to be one of his favourite words, but that doesn't seem at all strange to me).

But aside from all this focus on hard work, right attitude, and competency, Hadfield's trademark sense of wonder comes through strongly. It is all a part of paying attention to life, in all aspects. As he says,

Life is full of so many small, unexpected pleasures, not just in space but right here on Earth, and I think I see them more clearly now than I used to because microgravity insists you pay attention.

A great reminder to us all.


  1. I really want to read this. It is on my list to HOPEFULLY get for Christmas... (Or soon after.)

    1. It really is a wonderful read. I think I'd like a copy for myself as well (as you can see that I read a library copy!)

  2. Oh gosh, I hope someone gives me this for Christmas.

    I just heard David Saint-Jacques speak last night and it was awesome - probably like reading this book. He's just as personable, and enthusiastic as Hadfield.

    1. I'd love to hear either of them speak! Lucky you. And I hope you get a copy for Xmas because it is a great read.

  3. This sounds really wonderful.

    1. It was a surprise -- really a good read.


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