Space odyssey

Last Updated 19 April 2014, 14:19 IST

Human life is a complex web of expectancy, surprises and impulses.While many may prefer to be driven by circumstances, some might like to drive their lives themselves towards their goals.

For the latter, every day is a preparation for the realisation of their goals.

This preparedness for life is what is advocated by Chris Hadfield in this extremely readable book An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth.

This 282-page saga is full of Hadfield’s personal account of his diligent and strongly motivated involvement in every little work he undertakes, may it be his rigorous workouts or writing his CV or composing music on space or sending greetings to his wife and children.

Born and brought up in Southern Ontario, Canada, his strong desire to become an astronaut is kindled at the age of nine when he watches on television one of the greatest events in human history, the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon in July 1969.

This could have faded out as just an obsession of a kid if he had not thought at that moment that he had to keep himself ready to perform well if there was any chance at all in the future.

As a Canadian, it was hard for him even to imagine becoming an astronaut — NASA accepted applications for positions of astronauts only from Americans.

But, taking inspiration from Neil Armstrong, who had proved to the world that it was possible to land on the moon (which was considered impossible till then), Hadfield starts his efforts to reach his goal.

Thus his journey towards his achievement starts — he joins the Canadian Armed Forces and through that he gets into the Royal Military College to procure his engineering degree.

He becomes a test pilot and flies several experimental planes. He also earns a Master’s degree in aviation system.

The Canadian Space Agency considers him for an astronaut programme in 1992. In 1995, as a mission specialist, he flies in space aboard STS-74.

During this time, he visits the Russian space station, Mir. His other important mission, in April 2001, is STS-100.

He visits the International Space Station (ISS) and then walks in space. He also works for the installation of Canadarm2.

In 2012, he flies aboard Soyuz TMS-07M and joins Expedition 34. He becomes the commander of the ISS as a part of Expedition 35.

He collects a lot of data and shares them with scientists on various crucial experiments.

He records his experiences aboard the space station taking photographs and posting them on his websites.

He extensively uses social networks like Twitter and Facebook to educate youngsters on issues involved in space travel.

He composes and plays on his guitar from aboard. He achieves celebrity status on all these counts. He retires from his official position as an astronaut and military pilot in 2013.

Hadfield achieves all these by sheer hard work.

He has to rehearse every event and though some of the preparations appear to be futile exercises, the preparedness gives him a sense of confidence and control over the situations he encounters in his life.

The autobiography, while chronicling his aspirations, achievements, satisfactions and excitements, also offers tips for people who would like to achieve greater things in their lives.

The importance of being a student of life perpetually is what is most advocated in this book. He does not come out with a list of do’s and don’ts.

He just narrates his story, which could be taken as an example of how meticulous one has to be to achieve success.

Achievement cannot reach people either by luck or by chance, but by a deliberate attempt towards that.

Competition, which is a greatest hurdle of any achievement, has to be taken in its stride.

Hadfield is also least humble about his successes.

He knows that his accomplishments are well-earned and that he need not be modest about it.

At the same time, he confirms to himself often that he is an ordinary human being like any other — a caring husband, but well focused on his career, a concerned and loving father, but least interfering, and an affable person who likes to be surrounded by friends and relatives, but least demanding.

The conspicuous strength of Hadfield, as revealed in the book, is that he is not at all negative about anything, including human relationships.

The anecdotal narrative with streaks of irony, (for instance, when he loses his chance of going to France and when a little later he gets a more prominent position in the US, he thinks there might be some chance factor involved in his success), subtle humour (for instance, the superstitious practice of men astronauts urinating on the wheels of the spacecraft, of the women’s carrying theirs in bottles to throw it on the wheels, the Russians’ religious practice at the time of launching, etc.) makes the reading interesting.

The lucidity of discourse with well-stated agenda — ‘guide to life’ — makes the reader wonder if the author is trying to persuade them to see his reiterated point from a larger perspective.

Despite long technical descriptions of several issues related to spacecraft, the book reads like a human story of accomplishment.

An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth
Chris Hadfield
pp 296
Rs. 599

(Published 19 April 2014, 14:17 IST)

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