Welcome back to the Skepchick Book Club! This month we read An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield, otherwise known as “that Canadian astronaut who made all those neat videos.”
I wasn’t too sure what to expect from this book, but it was a quick read. The general consensus from our in-person meeting was that the best parts were where he described what life in space was like. The book was split into three parts: his journey from childhood to become an astronaut, the time he spent in space, and what happens after you leave space. If you want to know a lot about the culture of NASA, this book is great. If you want to learn more about what being in space is like, this book is OK (but a better book is Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars).
I thought the book had a lot of sage advice on how to be good at your job, no matter what you do. Hadfield’s main points involve being overprepared for all situations (and not relying on your natural smarts) and also striving to “be a zero,” meaning, if you’re in a new environment, don’t try to be too helpful or hurtful, just try to absorb what other people are saying to you, and you’ll learn something that will help benefit the whole team. Also, strive to work together with others and try not to complain too much.
Being an astronaut can put a huge strain on your family. They essentially have to drop everything so that you can live your dreams. A while ago, NASA figured out that families go through a lot of stress when their loved ones go into space, so they have a “family escort” program where they assign two non-training astronauts and their job is to help the immediate family and the extended family with anything they need. The way the astronauts pick their family escorts is by thinking of who they would want next to their spouse in the event of their death (no pressure!).
Another thing that I didn’t know about astronauts is that they go on a lot of camping trips together, both as team-building exercises and survival training. So basically, if you think camping with a bunch of people you don’t know that well (yet) sounds like a horrible way to spend your time, you might not be suited to be an astronaut. (Also, if you don’t like being in claustrophobic mini-submarines, that may also disqualify you.)
In one section of the book, Hadfield mentions that he learned an ingenious way to collect his fingernail clippings in space (as seen in the above video). He basically clipped his fingernails over an air-intake vent, so they were sucked into the filter instead of floating around (boy, I’d hate to breathe in one of those suckers). The plan worked–except for the fact that, later, one of his coworkers opened the filter for a routine cleaning, and bunch of fingernails spewed in his face. So Hadfield stopped that particular habit. Live and learn!
Hadfield spent six months aboard the International Space Station, but once he got back to Earth, his journey wasn’t quite over. Astronauts have to go through an intense period of rehabilitation–they can’t drive for a few weeks (which is fine because they feel so sick from sensory overload), their spines have elongated, and their bones are weaker due to the lack of gravity. Also, for the first few days back on Earth, Hadfield said that when he was in bed, he had the weird sensation that he was actually floating a few inches above it.
In summary, the book was a quick read, and an interesting memoir about what it’s like to be an astronaut (you get to hear about what really goes on behind the scenes at NASA, including the bureaucratic stuff).
Next Month’s Book
Next month, I’ll be posting on Sunday, March 22, about The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum. See you then!