astronaut“The windows of a spaceship casually frame miracles.”

I’ll never go to space, that’s, at this point, a given. This won’t stop me from being fascinated by the idea of it, though. By now, over five hundred people have been up there and seen the world from above, and to me they are surely the luckiest people in history. I’ve never read in much detail about any of them though. Enter Colonel Chris Hadfield, former commander of the International Space Station.

Colonel Hadfield first went to space in 1995 when he visited Mir. In 2001, he was in a team that helped construct part of the ISS, and in 2012 he returned to be its commander. All told, he’s spent nearly four thousand hours in space. You may remember him because during his last trip, on the advice of his son, he took to social media to share videos about life in space, and it all ended with him recording a version of Space Oddity while floating around the station that immediately went viral back here on Earth.

To say these are his memoirs are to miss the point. His early life is covered with speed but details that he’s wanted to be an astronaut ever since he was nine years old, and so at that moment starting living his life the way he thought an astronaut should, eating the right things and behaving in the right way. He is a man who is passionate about space and exploration, and this continues through his writing. The book is split into three sections – “Pre-Launch”, “Liftoff” and “Coming Down To Earth” – and throughout each one Hadfield goes into detail on his training, some of the experiences he’s had, and how best to cope in truly bizarre circumstances.

In short, this is actually a book of advice, but not so directly as to just list rules for us to live by. Hadfield takes all he’s learnt in his twenty-three years as an astronaut and applies it to general life. He notes that being obsessive about small details doesn’t make you a worrier, it makes you prepared should anything go wrong. He argues that we should attempt to be a neutral effect – a zero – in situations, especially where we’re new to the team, rather than trying to prove yourself as better than everyone else, or worse, causing aggravation and irritation to those around you. (This is particularly important to an astronaut, as in space, there’s nowhere to hide. If you’re pissed off at someone, you can’t go for a walk around the block to calm down.) He also talks about how arrogance never gets you anywhere and modesty is key. Hadfield himself is perhaps one of the most modest people I’ve encountered, completely understanding that just because you’re an astronaut, it doesn’t mean you get to do all the spacewalks. Sometimes you have to stay back and fix the toilet. Sure, he shows he is capable of jealousy and frustration, but he doesn’t ever let those emotions get out of control.

The book is interesting simply because it shows the life of an astronaut for what it really is – tedious, time-consuming and hugely varied. When not in space (and very few astronauts ever get there), they work on Earth helping those in space and trying to make everything better for everyone. Hadfield alone has been in numerous departments over the years, from robotics to communications, and it seems that promotions can happen in every direction – up, down and sideways. He says it’s important to not let that bother you. You may feel a hero while you’re on the ISS, but a few weeks after you’re back, you’ll be working in a mid-level office position somewhere in Houston and no one will care. We see astronauts as superheroes and thrillseekers, but Hadfield says that those kinds of people would never make it. They need to be people who are obsessed with detail, remain calm under pressure and are willing to spend hours a day doing the same tests over and over again, not to mention spending over half the year away from home and taking exams almost every day. In Russian.

This book won’t teach you how to become an astronaut, but it may teach you how to be a better human.

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