Chris Hadfield remembers as a boy of 9 going to a neighbor’s home — the only home on the Canadian island where he lived that had a television — and watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. He decided that very day to become an astronaut, which seemed like an impossible dream for one very good reason: Canada did not have astronauts. Eventually, Hadfield would become one of the world’s most accomplished astronauts, most recently serving as commander of the International Space Station. He was previously chief of International Space Station Operations and also served as capsule communicator — the conduit between the astronauts and mission control — for 25 shuttle missions.
In An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, Hadfield recounts his improbable journey from remote Canadian farm boy to outer space. His book, however, is not meant to be a memoir. As he indicates in the subtitle, What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything, Hadfield is interested in personal development rather than autobiography, and once again, he succeeds brilliantly. An Astronaut’s Guide not only offers the thrilling story of Hadfield’s career as an astronaut but also presents a series of compelling lessons on how to succeed in life… on earth.
Enjoy the Journey
One important lesson of the book is to enjoy the journey even if you never reach the destination. While such advice may seem like a pithy aphorism, it is this attitude of dedicating yourself to the journey that pushed and sustained Hadfield every day since that fateful day of Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind.” While perhaps most small boys watching the black-and-white television that day might have declared their intentions of becoming astronauts, Hadfield set out immediately to make the dream come true. He joined the Air Cadets (“a cross between Boy Scouts and the Air Force,” he writes), got his glider license at 15, started flying planes at 16, went to military college, became a fighter pilot, graduated first from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School — an incredible accomplishment — and was eventually selected by the Canadian Space Agency to join the now-growing ranks of Canadian astronauts.
A Question of Attitude
Even as an astronaut, the chance of going to space is minimal — there are a large number of variables that keep astronauts on land, from changes in health, to changes in technology (the current space vehicles are too small for some astronauts, which means their chance of going into space is zero), to changes in governmental policy. Hadfield dedicated himself to becoming an astronaut, but he insists that even if he had never become an astronaut or never had the chance to fly into space, he would have been happy.
“I never felt I’d be a failure in life if I didn’t get to space,” he writes. “My attitude was more, ‘It’s probably not going to happen, but I should do things that keep me moving in the right direction, just in case — and I should be sure those things interest me, so that whatever happens, I’m happy.”
It’s a question of attitude, he writes, and that means doing everything to ensure success and enjoy the journey. It also means preparing in every way to avoid disaster. Hadfield believes strongly in the power of negative thinking. He believes that it’s important to imagine every possible thing that could go wrong and fully preparing for that eventuality. Of course, accidents still happen — Hadfield talks movingly of losing seven friends in the Columbia Shuttle disaster and losing one of his closest friends in a flight test accident — but fighter pilots and astronauts make every effort to prepare for all contingencies.
You do not “visualize the best outcome,” Hadfield writes, despite what some motivational speakers will tell you. That itself leads to the worst outcome: a disaster for which you are not prepared. It’s also absolutely vital to sweat the small stuff. Hadfield describes how he became blinded during a space walk. The problem: He had poorly cleaned his visor, and some detergent had gotten into his eyes.
As Hadfield notes, what he does is rocket science, but through the compelling stories and important lessons in his book, he makes his readers believe that they can also be rocket scientists or whatever they wish to be — as long as they do more, much more, than wish.