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December 2014

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An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

Written by , Posted in Reviews

I got this from my sister for Christmas last year. The only profession I can recall really wanting (as much as little kid wants anything) was astronaut. Of course I didn’t actually do the things one would need to do, like join the military, to do that (and my vision would have disqualified me before anything else did). But I still talk about going to space someday.

This book is different from Mary Roach’s “Packing for Mars” in a good way: it’s told from the perspective of an astronaut from Canada who has been to space three times, including as commander of the International Space Station. The book is a memoir of his time preparing for, supporting, and traveling to space, and is framed as a way to be successful in life on Earth.

He makes some great observations, including a chapter on sweating the small stuff (you should) and treating the things that lead up to the big events (going to space) as just as important as those big events. It makes sense – if everything is focused on these large events that may or may not happen, and that’s all that is seen as worthwhile, everything else (the vast majority of life) will seem like a waste, or sad. And while it might not be this dire for all of us, his advice of being as prepared as possible and thinking about the ‘next thing that will kill me’ can be helpful too.

I also really liked his discussion of being a minus one, a zero, or a plus one. His idea is that we are all one of those things in each role we fill, and those who come in aiming to be a plus one when they are new on the scene tend to end up as a minus one. He suggest we all aim to be a zero (someone who doesn’t screw things up, but isn’t the champion), and by doing that, as we develop expertise in the area, we eventually will end up being a plus one.

I think that with many of his suggestions you could argue that there is a downside (if you’re focused on the small stuff, how do you look at the bigger picture), but I also think it depends on perspective. In that example, you look at the big picture but then break it down into much smaller steps to complete to get there, and care about each of those steps. Which actually seems to match most of the advice people give with things like goals and resolutions. My goal might be to buy a house, but I can’t just say that and then it happens. There are a lot of smaller steps involved, and each of those involves smaller steps, and it makes sense to lay them out and work at doing those steps well.

I’d recommend this book for sure – it was a pretty quick read for 300 pages, and his writing is interesting and vivid. If you aren’t going to get a chance to read it, though, please check out the video the author put together while on the ISS. You may have seen it before. It’s pretty great.

 

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