Villordsutch reviews An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield….
I can’t recall many astronauts being entwined within popular culture. Yuri Gagarin obviously was the first but he sadly died seven years later; Neil Armstrong is probably the most famous but he shied away from the media frenzy and Buzz Aldrin gave his name to Buzz Lightyear and appeared on The Simpsons, Futurama, Transformers and Mass Effect 3 so possibly he gave it a friendly hug rather than fully embracing it. Just recently however the one Spaceman who has caused a major media hoo-ha is Chris Hadfield (Cmdr or Col. take your pick) with his pictures of the Planet Earth, and of course the one huge thing the world remembers is Cmdr. Hadfield and his ISS bound rendition of Space Oddity by David Bowie.
I’d like to pretend and fib that I’m a NASA snob and brag to people that, “I’ve followed Chris Hadfield since his first spaceflight in back in 1995 onboard the STS-74!” However, I can’t be a snob nor brag about me hanging on his shirt tails from day one; truth be told it was my children and wife that brought Hadfield into my life. I was rather ill in bed (and had been for some weeks) when they burst into the bedroom with a laptop demanding that I watch this astronaut who is making space seem cool. I watched for over an hour as this moustachioed fellow answered questions that I’ve wondered but never asked; he was answering them for school children all over the world. I’ve been interested space ever since I can remember looking up at the stars, my interest was increased greatly by the numerous science fiction shows I watched, but this chap fuelled my love for the black void even more.
Not being much of an autobiography fan I was unsure how much I would enjoy this journey through the life of Col. Chris Hadfield. I was more than aware that the few biographies I had read of the venom-filled back biting and low blows that they dealt out to people dead or alive – at worst people on hard times that couldn’t defend themselves – and along the way digging up sordid family skeletons to score a few more column inches within the Gutter Press. In that regard, it was odd that upon completing this biography that none of the acid filled hate pages actually existed within the covers. I’m being whole heartedly truthful. During this entire book Chris is negative I’d say twice towards people (he doesn’t name them) and even at this point he turns these episodes into positive character building moments, so these are cancelled out.
Chris has (whether intentionally or not) created perhaps the best self-help book ever. By opening up his life to the world, he promotes positivity throughout the (just under) 300 pages that you cannot help but admire. As a 9 year old boy Chris decided he wanted to be an astronaut and so everything that he studied/read/completed from that point was directed towards the day when Canada would seek astronauts; he was extremely driven. He sought and thanked anyone that would part with information or knowledge to help him achieve his goal, he had no worries about getting his hands dirty too as no job was to small or below him and he strived to reach higher, though remembering what is important i.e. family, friends & colleagues. His love for his wife Helene and his children is clear, I believe also that it if wasn’t for his wife Chris possibly would still be a test pilot as she helped push him that little bit further by reminding him of what he wanted, and keeping his head pointing forward when moments seemed bleak.
You can easily see that within these pages is the strong feeling that Chris deplores negativity. Even the smallest of jokes that take a bite out of somebodies character, he won’t crack them. To Chris I believe he sees the spiritual figure of what not only an astronaut, but a human being should be is one that deserves respect and at the same time gives it to others. Now as a cynical person like myself I shouldn’t be a fan of Cmdr. Chris Hadfield, as people like him generally make me teeth itch as I try to see what skeletons they are hiding behind that smile; here though I have nothing but respect and admiration for this man. I honestly feel that if every person on this planet was a clone of Chris Hadfield we’d be known as, “The Most Driven Planet in the Galaxy” as we arrive at alien worlds, become good friends with said aliens, fix their toilet and build them a hyper drive; they’d probably also question, “Why do they always smile?”
To end this review I’ll take it back to where I first was introduced to Cmdr. Hadfield, which is having those odd questions about space, but with no-one to ask. The strangest thing that I discovered about astronauts (from the book) is not only is nothing done off the cuff and with little planning (e.g. a spacewalk is planned weeks if not months in advance) and when NASA declared, due to an emergency ammonia leak, that they had a day to plan a spacewalk it was the most stressful point in the book (that and the sticky growth near his intestines). The other thing is that each astronaut (on the ISS) is basically a lab rat, and before leaving Earth they can pick and choose which medical experiments they’re happy to be done to their bodies whilst they’re up there; that is on top of with the normal ones of eye tapping, daily ultra sounds on the shrinking heart and spine. There are no short haired hyper-humans ready to jump into an airlock within ten minutes; these hyper-humans are signing up to rectal probes and eye-tapping. Each of these experiments may seem a bit odd but they are saving lives daily on our planet with discoveries up there.
Chris has me shown me how humble a person can be and how they can achieve so much at the same time, though you can only achieve if you put the work in (even if you don’t get to play Rocket Man with Elton John).