Book Review: Spaceman by Mike Massimino

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Everyone needs a job. For many of us, it's a means to an end, something to pay the bills. For some, it's a career path that challenges us and helps us grow. I thought that was as good as you could hope for, to go to work enjoying the challenge. But the truly fortunate get to do something they've dreamt of since childhood, then find that the reality of it doesn't disappoint, and they get to push humanity forward while inspiring others. Oh, and they still get paid for it. It's easy to admire those who seemed to have "made it", but not so easy to realize the drive, sacrifices and series of events that led them to where they got.

In Spaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe, astronaut Mike Massimino shares the journey of his own dream - his personal experiences overcoming the battles of mind (doubt, imposter syndrome) and body (poor eyesight), as well as the rigorous education (phd work, thesis) and training (learning every inch of the shuttle) it took to get there. What makes it so readable is his level of transparency about just how tough it was - and how his colleagues became a family that supported one another. Even though I don't have his level of determination, I'm glad he did. As he says, we love to watch others doing awesome things because it makes us feel awesome about humanity.

Some of my favorite quotes: (there were even more, but I had to draw the line)

  • We have this idea in America of the self-made man. We love to celebrate individual achievement. I think the self-made man is a myth. I owe everything I've ever accomplished to the people around me - people who pushed me to be the best version of myself.
  • Having [a daughter] made me want to pursue my dream even harder because I wanted her to be able to do the same. I didn't want to tell her about how to live life - I wanted to show her.
  • It's not about being the smartest or having the most college degrees. The real qualifications for being an astronaut are: Is this someone I'd trust with my life? [T]he only way to put a spaceship into orbit is if everyone's working together. Very few jerks have been to space.
  • No matter how bad things appear, remember, you can always make them worse. It's true. Once a problem comes up, if you panic or act too fast, you will only exacerbate the problem.
  • At times I went overboard in [asking questions constantly]. Asking too many questions betrayed my lack of confidence and gave some people the impression that I wasn't prepared and didn't know what I was doing. [Grunsfeld] said, "Mass, I believe in you, and I believe that you can do this. Your problem is that you don't believe in yourself." [F]or the sake of the team, I needed to have the same confidence in myself. Accepting that and knowing that was probably the hardest part of preparing for the mission.
  • When you have kids, you want to give them everything. You try to find the best house in the best neighborhood. You put nice toys in there for them to play with. You give them a home. And my thought looking down on Earth was Wow. How much God our Father must love us that he gave us this home.
  • America won the race to the moon because America put people on the moon. People are fascinated by other people. Humans like to watch other humans doing awesome things because it makes us feel awesome about being human.
  • Going to space is one of the few things that unites us as human beings. [O]nce you sign up for this mission, it doesn't matter what flag is on your shoulder. We work together because the goal we're striving for is more important than whatever the politicians are fighting about that week.
  • In the shuttle era, NASA got caught up making nuts-and-bolts justifications about why we go to space when the real answer is just because. We go because we go. We do it because we do it. Because human beings have always done it. It's the reason we first left the caves and poked our heads around the next corner to try to see what the world was about.
  • The U.S. government has spent billions of dollars on [Hubble], and then every year we take the knowledge it provides and we give it away. For free. It's all public domain, and not just for Americans but for everyone in the world. The need to explore, in its purest sense, is always driven by the desire for knowledge itself, and that principle is so important that people are willing to risk their lives for it.
  • [B]eing the right person isn't about being perfect; it's about being able to handle whatever life throws at you.

If you want to get a sneak peek into what NASA is really like, check it out. And if you want to be inspired, or know someone else (even your kids or nieces or nephews) who could use some inspiration (who couldn't?), definitely check it out. My daughter loves to read, and I know she'll get a real kick out of it. Mike has a way of convincing you to follow your dreams no matter who or what stands in your way, and that being an astronaut is even cooler than most people imagine. One of the most nerve-wracking stories was his experience repairing the Hubble, and I found an interesting video that complements that particular story.

One last thought, courtesy of the twitterverse...

And one last last thought. I was listening to Lindsey Stirling while I was reading this and it really is the perfect music to go with this book, especially when you get to the Hubble repair. Roundtable Rival while he was removing 111 tiny screws from the Hubble, These Days while he was talking about being grounded, Don't Let This Feeling Fade during the epilogue. It was like she was providing the soundtrack for the book. :)

Pick up your own copy of Spaceman: (aff link)


Grant Winney

I write when I've got something to share - a personal project, a solution to a difficult problem, or just an idea. We learn by doing and sharing. We've all got something to contribute.

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