An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – Chris Hadfield

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

Before I start off with the book, I want to share how I came across this book. One afternoon a few weeks back I was listening to the last episode of Radio Headspace’s podcast at work. It was an episode which picked up the best of all the episodes. Georgie was talking with Chris Hadfield, a Canadian Astronaut.

The following was what I heard:


And that, in turn, made me think too much (which is nothing new) and search for Chris Hadfield. Amazon led me to this book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.

At the age of 9, Chris watched Neil Armstrong change the history of the world. And that moment shaped his life, that moment made him realize that an Astronaut was what he wanted to become in life.

Neil Armstrong - first step on Moon

Neil Armstrong descends the ladder of the Apollo Lunar Module to become the first human to set foot on the surface of the Moon
Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

I wonder how many times each of us saw something in life and decided that we want to become that something. And how many of us actually go through with the process of reaching that specific place. In my case going to ISRO’s museum in Thumba made me want to combine Computers and Space. This, in turn, led me to pursue a degree in Aerospace. Although I still haven’t reached the destination I had in mind. I am still journeying there.

Success is feeling good about the work you do throughout the long, unheralded journey that may or may not wind up at the launchpad.

Reading this book is like reading a portion of Chris’s life. The only difference is we don’t get the whole story in a chronological point of view. We get to read it in different sections like Pre-launch, Liftoff and Coming Down to Earth. And each section, in turn, gives us more info about the different space missions he was involved in as well as his journey in reaching there. And that journey is the best part of it.

Again this is not at all chronological, one minute he will be explaining about something and the next he will be off on a tangent about something related to the incident which had happened previously. In a way, it was refreshing from the normal memoir type of books which are out there.

Throughout all this I never felt that I’d be a failure in life if I didn’t get to space. Since the odds of becoming an astronaut were non-existent, I knew it would be pretty silly to hang my sense of self-worth on it.

In the book he describes the various obstacles, he had to face on his way to becoming an Astronaut.

  • from the initial difficulty of Canada not having a space agency
  • to being one amongst the 5,329 applicants applying to being an Astronaut
  • to fighting against odds to continue as the commander of Expedition 35 while trying to convince authorities about the non-seriousness of a health issue [from previous surgery]

I can’t even stop a sentence without getting carried away by all that happened, so I guess you get the point.

Obstacles and difficulties are a part of life which we have to face whether we want to or not. And how we face everything determines our view of life. Like Chris says, we shouldn’t really consider a specific event as a point which will determine the success and failure of our life.

Some Astronauts never do. They train, they do all the work and they never leave earth.

I think what we should do is to keep a goal in mind and try our maximum towards reaching it. But we should never have a success/failure criteria based on whether we achieve it or not. We should just give our best in reaching the place which we want to reach and enjoy the effort we spent on it. If all the astronauts felt that they were a failure just because they never left the earth, well then a lot of psychiatrists and counselors sure would get more jobs.

And training to be an astronaut is not as simple as we believe. Astronauts have to train for a few years at the minimum before even being assigned to a specific mission. Learning Russian and orbital mechanics is just the tip of the iceberg.

And once a mission is allocated it can take another 2-4 year in specialized training. They have to practice all the tasks to be executed on the mission endlessly on sims [simulations], as well as practice for EVA [Extra Vehicular Activity] in the Neutral Buoyancy lab [a giant pool of water]

NASA - Neutral Buoyancy Lab Image Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons

Panorama of the NASA Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Image Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons

If you start thinking that only the biggest and shiniest moments count, you’re setting yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time.

The passion Astronauts have towards their job cannot even be described. In addition to all these training, they even need to learn First Aid skills for possible accidents in space, survival skills in case their shuttle/rocket crash land in some obscure land and they even need to learn to operate various machines for various scientific experiments which are conducted whilst they are in space.

If we take even 10 percent of the effort that the Astronauts take, We would be able to reach places which we have never reached before.

Astronauts have these qualites not because we’re smarter than everyone else. It’s because we are taught to view the world, and ourselves differently.

Chris’s attitude towards facing the obstacles or difficulties in life is inspiring in the fact that, it is different from what we usually perceive. The Power of Negative thinking explained by Chris does make one think. In this time when everyone is talking about the Power of Positive thinking, Law of attraction etc, his attitude towards handling the difficulties in life is worth reading. It gives a fresh perspective towards life.

But then I suppose, when one has a job where a small mistake or change can cost one’s life.. well One would appreciate life more in that scenario for sure.


Chris Hadfield [in 2011] Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The amount of information contained in this small book of 320 pages (Well it is small compared to say maybe a thousand pages?) is endless. We get to learn a lot about the big stuff and the small stuff equally.

Spacewalks – How Astronauts brush their teeth – the ISS [International Space Station] – How water, juice and coffee behave in space – the Russian Soyuz – Life in zero gravity – Gaining a few inches of height in space –  NASA’s Shuttle Program – Sleeping standing up [The list is endless]

Chris had also made a lot of videos about life in space. I suppose the most famous one is of him performing David Bowie’s Space Oddity in Space [International Space Station].

Also, the numerous traditions the astronauts follow from pre-launch to post-launch is amusing. This includes signing on the door of the quarantine room, Peeing on the rear right tyre of the bus taking them to the launch vehicle. [like Yuri Gagarin did when he went to space the first time]

I am not going too much into the technical stuff covered in the book. There is a multitude of those. Some funny, some interesting, some plain mind-blowing. You need to read it to know more.

On the whole, the book was highly informative and motivating for me. Being an Aerospace Engineer, space and all that it entails has always interested me. So I may not be impartial in telling that this is one of the best non-fiction work I have ever read. It will interest anyone who loves Space and Rockets. A must read.

Check it out

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth



How is it for you?
Have you seen anything which inspired you?
Any specific incidents or books perhaps?
Do share…

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3 Responses

  1. Jitha says:

    Great post! I vaguely remember reading the book at pretty much the same time too, sometime in 2016. Did you recommend it? I don’t remember! Did we discuss this? I’m not sure we did, because I usually tend to remember meaningful conversations.

    Keywords from your post triggered my memory. Maybe I’ll re-read the book again, for its metaphorical allude to the journey of life.

  2. Nishanth says:

    Really nice book!

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