Reflection on “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” by Chris Hadfield

The video encapsulates the wonders of space travel and the talents of Chris Hadfield.  Watching Hadfield and the guitar float causes the feeling of wonder.  What would that feel like?  What does it take to be able to do that?  The answer to this latter question is summarized by Hadfield in his book that also includes a number of life lessons.

The path to becoming an astronaut is a long one.  Hadfield says he began dreaming of being an astronaut at the age of 9.  From this moment, he weighed his choices based on the following question, “Is this what an astronaut would be doing?”  From eating his vegetables to diligently doing his science homework, the dream of being an astronaut strongly influenced his decisions.  He referred to this as checking his attitude, which in spaceflight terms means orientation relative to, say, the sun.  Don’t let your spacecraft drift wildly.  Give it an attitude.

Maintaining an attitude requires a lot of prep work.  Astronauts are known for being space cowboys, riding on rockets and living on the edge of humanity.  This image is highly skewed.  Almost all of an astronaut’s work is in preparation.  Hadfield recounts hours and hours of his life lived in simulators.  Astronauts practice over and over for their mission.  Hadfield summarizes the lesson here to always sweat the small stuff.

Sweating the small stuff is not something I do regularly.  Life is overly simple.  But, I do remember one time that I did sweat the small stuff.  Last year when I was training for the Bix, my plan included how I would recover from an illness that caused me to miss some training days.  I didn’t end up missing any days, but that possible fall was already planned and it caused me ease in knowing how I would handle an “emergency.”  Hadfield repeatedly said one of the reasons for the space programs success is that they always asked the following question: What could kill me next?  My potential missing of a training day wouldn’t have killed me, but it follows the general idea.  Plus, we are lucky to not have to deal with life or death situations regularly (unlike Hadfield and other astronauts and cosmonauts).

One of the best ways to reduce risk is to ensure you have team support.  Hadfield showed me an aspect of the space program that I never knew about.  He had a role of being CAPCOM, or head communicator to astronauts on a mission.  He also spent years living in Russia.  I’m forgetting his exact title, but he represented NASA and worked closely with the Russians.  This view strengthens the concept that everything takes a village.  People are helping you all the time, often without our realization.  I’m reminded of watching the documentary on the Hubble Space Telescope and it mentioning that over 10,000 people had a hand in its set up.  Great feats require a great team.  Be grateful for peoples’ contributions.

Speaking of teams, what makes a great team great?  Most of it lays in the values of the team.  The team of NASA is a great example of valuing learning.  Any mistake made is looked at for the sole purpose of learning, not ridicule.  Hadfield tells a story of how he went blind, due to residue from his visor cleanser, during a spacewalk.  NASA took this seriously and changed the cleanser used.  Great teams value growth (and having strong players doesn’t hurt either, as being chosen to be an astronaut is incredibly competitive).

Hadfield ends his book with a description of how to always be happy with life.  His advice is simple.  Give it everything you’ve got.  You’ll never be disappointed knowing you put forth all your effort.

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