I first featured Spaceman by Mike Massimino in my post on October 2016 Book Releases. When I received a copy of the book I decided to read and review it right away. I had been badly disappointed by a prior astronaut’s memoir – An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth by Chris Hadfield – which turned out to be more of a trite self help book than a book about the science and excitement behind space travel.
From the description of Spaceman I was hoping for a lot less overdone life advice and a lot more marvels of science and space – and that’s exactly what I got. Read my review of this engaging memoir about a truly remarkable man below.
Spaceman by Mike Massimino
Published: October 4th 2016
This is the story of a boy from a working-class family from Long Island who persevered against the odds to fulfill his dream of becoming an astronaut. Despite setbacks – like when he flunked his first doctoral exam at MIT and had his astronaut application rejected three times by NASA – Mike Massimino refused to give up on his aspirations to one day travel to space and ultimately succeeded.
What I Liked
Mike Massimino is not what you’d usually imagine an astronaut would be like – humble to a fault and even suffering from significant lack of self-confidence at times, with a wry and self-deprecating sense of humor. His reflections on the Earth’s and our place in the universe during his first space walk will make you look at the beauty around you with fresh eyes. And if you’ve ever thought there was something you couldn’t accomplish in life, his story will inspire you to just work harder at it.
I thought this quote from the memoir in particular was a beautiful reminder of the importance of scientific inquiry and space exploration. Unfortunately the recent economic crisis and ongoing financial concerns have put a stop to the shuttle program, and the future of human exploration in space remains uncertain (although President Obama has announced a potential manned mission to Mars by 2030).
“Exploration is what we do. It’s a basic human need, the drive to know more merely for the sake of knowing it. Understanding what’s happening at the other end of the galaxy is a path to understanding ourselves – understanding who we are and why we’re here. Five thousand years ago the Earth was small and flat and ruled by angry gods who lived on Mount Olympus. Today the Earth is a giant blue spaceship hurtling through an ever-expanding universe that’s 13.8 billion years old. That’s why we go.”
Massimino’s story of how he overcame the odds to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut is definitely inspiring, but the book also does a great job of bringing the complex scientific concepts that are part of space exploration to the masses in an understandable and relatable way. You can feel Massimino’s passion seeping through every word he writes about aeronautics and the technical side of his work as an astronaut.
When Massimino tells the story of his first trip to space on the Columbia space shuttle to undertake repairs and replacements on the Hubble Space Telescope, you really feel like you are with him every step of the way. He takes you through what it means to train for a mission of that scope as an astronaut, what the space shuttle launch feels like, what is involved in completing a successful space walk and also some of the more mundane details of life in space (like having to fall asleep while floating for the first time).
There are unexpectedly moving sections of the memoir as well, in which Massimino reflects on how he felt part of an extremely close-knit team at NASA. Through difficult times like his father’s illness, Massimino shows how fellow astronauts pulled together without a second though to provide him with emotional and physical support, donating blood and platelets for his father’s care.
“I knew that teamwork and camaraderie were an important part of it, but I didn’t understand what that really meant until my father got sick. What it means is that if you have a problem, we all have a problem. If your father is sick, our father is sick.”
A truly sobering part of the memoir was when Massimino experienced the death of fellow astronauts and close friends during the Columbia space shuttle disaster, in which the shuttle disintegrated in re-entry. Massimino had traveled on that same space shuttle on its prior trip into space for his first spacewalk. He had been one trip away from losing his life himself. It really brought home the dangers of being an astronaut, and how the men and women who choose to dedicate their lives to space exploration are real heroes and have to always be mindful that their lives are at stake.
What I Didn’t Like
There really was nothing I didn’t like about this memoir. It was easy to read, engaging throughout, had a good pace to it and kept me turning the page. I will say though that for a man who has accomplished so much in his life and is in an extremely exclusive profession, Massimino comes off almost as too humble to be believable – but I gave him the benefit of the doubt because at least he was consistent about it throughout the book.
A great read for lovers of quirky memoirs, anyone interested in space and space exploration, and also those who like a good underdog story. I like all of the above and loved this book.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for an honest review. This post includes affiliate links from Book Depository.