Space jam

Updated: Jan 5 2014, 07:11am hrs
Chris Hadfield is Webs favourite astronaut. As the commander of the International Space Station (ISS), he became an out-of-this-world celebrity when he sang David Bowies classic, Space Oddity, from outer space sometime in May. The video went viral with more than 18 million views on YouTube. Before that, he used the video-sharing website to show terrestrial beings how to trim their nails, wring out their wet towels, cry, sleep and eat in micro-gravity.

The Canadian astronauts latest endeavour, An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth, is a delightful extension to these social media presentations. But more than just being a book of exploits, the memoir takes the shape of an inspiring story of one mans journey to the pinnacles of space exploration, laden, as it was, with decades of training, hard work and commitment.

Hadfield has flown three space missions, undertaken two space walks and spent some six months in space. On earth, hes been the chief of ISS operations in Houston, US, and the commander of CAPCOM, or capsule communicatorthe person at Mission Control who communicates directly with astronauts in orbit.

But spacewalk is no cakewalk, as he writes, recounting his first launch on space shuttle Atlantis in 1995: I am in space, weightless, and getting here only took 8 minutes and 42 seconds. Give or take a few thousand days of training.

Peppered with humour and humility, the book is an anecdotal account of a nine-year-old boy, like any other kid of his age, dreaming of taking to the skies. But unlike his contemporaries, he never let go of that dream and made it the sole purpose of his life. From imagining what a nine-year-old astronaut might do to joining the Air Cadets at 13 years of age, and subsequently getting a gliders licence at 15 years and learning to fly powered planes at 16 years, the young Canadian national did the most important thing to become an astronautlearn to think like one.

His pursuit also had a seemingly impossible goalbeing a Canadian astronaut. In those days, Nasa only accepted applications from US citizens and Canada didnt even have a space agency. But then, he had absolute clarityif Neil Armstrong could do it, so could he. Though the odds of becoming an astronaut were non-existent, he decided to do things that would keep him moving in the right direction just in caseand I should be sure those things interest me, so that whatever happens, Im happy. After high school, he joined a military college, where he majored in mechanical engineering. Thereafter, he dabbled in several projects, including those of the Canadian forces and the US Air Force Test Pilot School, where he got the opportunity of flying 32 different types of planes in a single year.

However, he had his first moment in the sun when he got a call from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), but not before going through several screening tests and being selected from among 5,329 applicants. Over the years, he oversaw 25 shuttle launches as CAPCOM and served as director of Nasa operations in Russia, chief of robotics at Johnson Space Center in Houston, chief of ISS operations and, most recently, commander of the ISS, where, while conducting a record-setting number of scientific experiments and overseeing an emergency spacewalk, he gained worldwide acclaim for his breathtaking photographs and educational videos about life in space.

The book focuses on the various aspects of an astronaut who is also an engineer, a decorated fighter pilot, a musician and, most importantly, a husband and proud father of three children. It is here that the memoir takes a human angle. Hadfield talks about his family and his partnership with his wife, Helene, who enthusiastically endorses the concept of going all out in the pursuit of a goal.

Hadfields vivid and refreshing insights will not only give readers an opportunity to step into his space boots, but also teach them several life skills, like learning how to anticipate problems in order to prevent them, how to respond effectively in critical situations, how to neutralise fear, how to stay focused and, in short, how to succeed. Hadfields takeaway from all his survival training is that one doesnt need to go to space to learn to think like an astronaut.

Its mostly a matter of changing your perspective, he writes.

Kunal Doley