For a man that has been to space three different times, Chris Hadfield is incredibly down to earth. His pragmatic dealings with situations have led to countless opportunities and an understanding of how he has moved from point A to point B. And yet this is a man who is full of dreams, curiosity, and desire. It is this duality that shines through in his novel, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. Part autobiography, part how-to guide, the novel explores all that Hadfield believes made him into the person he is today.
There is no glamour in his story. Hadfield is starkly humble throughout the book, and one lesson he refers to is the need to help others succeed. In space, sabotaging someone to make yourself look better can get people killed, and Hadfield says he has needed to actively work every day to make sure he is helping those around him. He states, “Over the years, I’ve learned that investing in other people’s success doesn’t just make them more likely to enjoy working with me—it also improves my own chances of survival and success.” The idea of community and teamwork can be foreign at times in a world where people emerging from high school and university are told they will be constantly pitted against each other.
Hadfield knows he worked hard at the achievements discussed in the book, but by no means does he tout himself as something great. He willingly paints out the mistakes he has made, whether in his own work, in dealing with co-workers, or in his personal life. A moment that stuck out was how Hadfield described trying to fill the disciplinary father role after being away in training for a while, and his wife promptly explaining how he needed to earn the right to be that figure in the house again. The way Hadfield describes his relationship with his wife is heartwarming, and a nice change from the usual drama and hostility that develops in astronaut relationships. He respects her in all the ways possible, it seems, and is willing and eager to give her credit for aspects of his success.
Often, space novels, fictional or not, glaze over the minute details, instead focusing on the bang, glitz, and achievement—not so with Hadfield. He takes great care in explaining these overlooked details and steps that were taken in preparation for missions and tasks. It disillusions the reader from the idea of an astronaut’s life being constant adventure and excitement, and that many of the accomplishments are near-magic in their creation. Instead, the reader learns how much detail, energy, and monotony can go into each mission, which humanizes the whole space program. It brings it to a level that is understandable and relatable, and it’s important to pull back the curtain and show how people are put into space. Hadfield is perfect for this job, and works constantly to remove all the curtains—not just in his novel, but in his day-to-day actions. This potentially comes from how in-tune Hadfield can be. The book is saturated with sensory details, and Hadfield says he took moments time and time again to simply experience what he was going through with all five senses. The reader isn’t just told about space—they are painted it, and Hadfield tirelessly aims to help as many people as he can experience what he did. He knows that he is incredibly fortunate to go to space, and now feels he has a duty to bring others as close to this opportunity as well.
Truthfully, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth could almost be retitled as An Astronaut’s Guide to Surviving University. Hadfield’s advice to constantly push your learning, take every opportunity as its own reward instead of an attempt to get higher on theladder, and how to make people view you as an asset, are things that any student can find immensely valuable. Readers will find themselves relishing in the advice and tips that are given throughout the novel and may be refreshed by how against the grain Hadfield is with his “self-help” advice. From telling readers “don’t sweat the small stuff,” to saying there is value in negative thinking, the new spin may work for those that thrive in tough-love advice. All in all, there are valuable lessons to be pulled from the book that can be applied over and over again in real life, regardless of whether readers are attempting to become an axstronaut, or a poet laureate.
For those looking for a chunk of Canada pride, or simply looking for a new way to view their goals and challenges, those that want to delve into the inner workings of space exploration, or those who are just looking for some oddball humour, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth is relatable to a wide audience, even if just for the how-to on peeing in zero gravity.