I once came across a German celebrity memoir that had a very funny shoutline on it: ‘Face the fact that you’re never going to be him – and just buy his book.’
If ever there was a book that line applies to, it’s Colonel Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, which is like a gin and tonic for the soul. Macmillan originally signed the book up on a short proposal, over a year ago (before Chris went into Space and posted his ‘Space Oddity’ cover video). Every page contained an anecdote – disposing of a live snake from the cockpit of a jet; breaking into the MIR space station with a Swiss army knife; holding onto the ISS at 17,000 miles an hour, blind, holding a drill and with the oxygen feed hissing out into Space – that only two or three people in the history of the world could have written. And then, in Spring of this year, I got my first email from Space… (In answer to a friend's question: yes, the multi-billion-dollar International Space Station has Wi-Fi.)
A lot of people know about Chris Hadfield’s tweets from Space: those gorgeous photographs of arid deserts, tropical river basins and sunrises every 45 minutes. But his memoir goes beyond that, and describes what it means to live as an astronaut over a twenty year period – most of that time, of course, sat on plain old Earth, endlessly training. What comes through – always waiting, always possibly about to be bumped in favour of a US astronaut or a Russian cosmonaut – is an acceptance that it might never happen, and a correspondingly huge thirst for making the most of the knowledge on offer.
He talks about the amazing eye for detail and a readiness to ‘sweat the small stuff’ that astronauts must have if they ever make it to Space (Hadfield famously said that when he gets into a lift, his first thought is not ‘which floor?’ but ‘what will I do if it starts to go into freefall?’); and a boundless joy in the little things of life. Structured in three parts, mirroring the different phases of a space expedition (launch… what to do if you find yourself with six months in the International Space Station … and hurtling back towards earth in the Soyuz lander), it’s a book that made me fall in love with the idea of Space for the first time since I was a little boy. And I hope that it will do the same for readers around the world. But seriously, forget the film GRAVITY and just read Chris’s drill-blind-hissing-oxygen scene…
You can hear Chris read an extract here:
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An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth is available in hardback now. And you too call follow Chris Hadfield on twitter here: @Cmdr_Hadfield