Book: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

I’m really digging Chris Hadfield’s book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earthwhich I picked up at the Attaturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey. Here are some excerpts from his book and my personal reflections.

Here, Chris writes about success:

… Success, to me, never was and still isn’t about lifting off in a rocket ( though that sure felt like a great achievement). Success is feeling good about the work you do throughout the long, unheralded journey that may or may not wind up at the launch pad. You can’t view training solely as a stepping stone to something loftier. It’s got to be an end in itself. The secret is to enjoy it. I never viewed training as some onerous duty I had to carry out while praying fervently for another space mission. For me, the appeal was similar to that of a New York Times crossword puzzle: training is hard and fun and stretches my mind, so I feel good when I persevere and finish – and I also feel ready to do it all over again.

That’s what I love about teaching. You never can think of it as working towards one big goal. You just have to love the process of learning, trying, tweaking and repeating it all over again.

On being prepared:

Think about Survivor, which Helene and I have been known to watch on occasion. The show has been on for years now, so everyone know some of the skills you need in order to win: how to make a fire, for instance, and build a shelter out of branches. And yet, year after year, contestants show up without knowing the basics. I don’t get that. You know you were going to be on Survivor – were you just counting on good looks and charm to catch a fish? Knowing that the stakes are a million dollars and a whole different life, why not come prepared?

To me, it’s simple: if you’ve got the time, use it to get ready. What else could you possibly have to do that’s more important? Yes, maybe you’ll learn how to do a few things you’ll never wind up actually needing to do, but that’s much better problem to have than needing to do something and having no clue where to start.

Ask yourself this, can you spend 2 hours a month learning a few phrases?

Learning Turkish for three months before I traveled there made the experience that much more enriching. I don’t know why I never did this before! Going prepared meant that interacting with people was much easier than I had anticipated. Not only that, but people are more interested in you and more eager to open up when they feel you are giving energy and respect to their customs, culture and language.

While I only studied ten units of Pimsleur Digital Turkish, it wasn’t arduous at all. Each unit was just under half an hour and I repeated a few units for review. That would be 25 min x 14 times = 350 minutes, or 116 minutes/month. Or simply put, 2 hours each month.

It’s nothing when you think about it!

On having the right attitude:

“In space flight, “attitude” refers to orientation: which direction your vehicle is pointing relative to the Sun, Earth and other spacecraft. If you lose control of your attitude, two things happen: the vehicle starts to tumble and spin, disorientating everyone on board, and it also strays from its course, which, if you’re short on time and fuel, could mean the difference between life and death. In the Soyuz, for example, we use every cue from every available source – periscope, multiple sensors, the horizon – to monitor our attitude constantly and adjust if necessary. We never want to lose attitude, since maintaining attitude is fundamental to success.

In my experience, something similar is true on Earth. Ultimately, I don’t determine whether I arrive at the desired professional destination. Too many variables are out of my control. There’s really just one thing I can control: my attitude during the journey, which is what keeps me feeling steady and stable, and what keeps me headed in the right direction. So I consciously monitor and correct, if necessary, because losing attitude would be far worse than not achieving my goal.”

Attitude is a big deal. I know that, having had a big fight back in December with J. I was dumping a lot of stress and when we had some serious conversations, I realized I was making myself miserable. It took a while, but I changed my attitude about work and I’ve been much happier. If I didn’t do this, I would likely crash and burn (again) in the near future.

While I’ve not finished the book yet, I highly recommend it to everyone. There are lots of life lessons that Hadfield explains and describes very well, which would readily apply to anyone at any job.

To become an astronaut, however, there are a million hurtles to cross and even then, you might not ever get to launch after years of training. You have to be determined and be dedicated, despite the end goal. You have to be competitive and driven, but cooperative if you’re going to rely on each other for the success of a mission. You also have to pass the strictest medical exams in the world and not even pick up a cold the week before launch. The life of an astronaut is just amazingly interesting!

The last thing I’ll share is a clip on how the Soyuz docks and reenters the Earth. I couldn’t sleep right away last night, so I ended up reading more about the Soyuz! Enjoy and I hope you get a chance to pick up this book too.

(And enjoy the last day to listen to Hadfield’s rendition of ‘Space Oddity’).


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