Review: Spaceman by Mike Massimino

Review: Spaceman by Mike MassiminoSpaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Mike Massimino
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: autobiography, science
Pages: 320
Published by Crown Archetype on October 4th 2016
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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to find yourself strapped to a giant rocket that’s about to go from zero to 17,500 miles per hour? Or to look back on the earth from outer space and see the surprisingly precise line between day and night? Or to stand in front of the Hubble telescope, wondering if the emergency repair you’re about to make will inadvertently ruin humankind’s chance to unlock the universe’s secrets? Mike Massimino has been there, and in Spaceman he puts you inside the suit, with all the zip and buoyancy of life in microgravity.
Massimino’s childhood space dreams were born the day Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, but his journey to realizing those dreams was as unlikely as it is captivating. Growing up in a working-class Long Island family, Massimino catapulted himself to Columbia and then MIT, only to flunk his qualifying exams and be rejected twice by NASA before making it to the final round of astronaut selection—where he was told his poor eyesight meant he’d never make the cut. But even that couldn’t stop him from finally earning his wings, making the jump to training in T-38 Air Force jets and preparing his body—and soul—for the journey to the cosmos.
Taking us through the surreal wonder and beauty of his first spacewalk, the tragedy of losing friends in the Columbia shuttle accident, and the development of his enduring love for the Hubble telescope—which he’d be tasked with saving on his final mission— Massimino has written an ode to never giving up and the power of teamwork to make anything possible. Spaceman invites us into a rare, wonderful world where the nerdiest science meets the most thrilling adventure, and pulls back a curtain on just what having “the right stuff” really means.

My Review:

Reading Spaceman feels like the next best thing to going to space oneself. As someone who also dreamed that dream more than a little bit, reading Mike Massimino’s account of his seven-year-old self in Astronaut Snoopy pajamas reaching for that dream of becoming an astronaut with all his heart certainly touched mine with both envy and awe.

And it’s difficult to separate my own wishing self from the life story of someone who got to live that dream. There were plenty of points where I teared up.

Massimino was a boy when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, but that historical journey became his own North Star. He set his heart on becoming an astronaut. And he did.

But one of the fascinating things about the author’s reach for space is that it isn’t about the glory for him. Not at all. It’s only partly about the journey. Instead, it’s about the team. Not merely in the sense of the cliche that “there is no I in TEAM”, but mostly in the sense that becoming an astronaut was about joining the best and closest knit team (also one of the smallest) in the world.

It wasn’t just about “boldly going”, it was also about becoming part of something greater. And that’s the part of the story that resonates. In the end, it’s all about the people. Not just, and often not primarily, the person who wrote the story, but all the people involved in this great and wondrous endeavor.

Read Spaceman, and feel like you’re almost there.

Escape Rating A: If you are looking for a book about space flight and astronauts that doesn’t just pick out the usual suspects, Spaceman is a winner. The author does a fantastic job of taking the reader with him on his journey from seemingly average boy on Long Island to one of the last people to fix the Hubble Space Telescope. While on a spacewalk 350 miles above the Earth.

It’s also a just plain inspiring life story. Massimino saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, and decided that he wanted to be an astronaut more than anything. In spite of the fact that his dream had no real-world relationship to anyone he knew, he hung onto that dream. Even as he scrambled to figure out to reach it.

This is the story of someone who dreamed even bigger than he was, and managed to make that dream come true. Not smoothly, not easily, not without plenty of fits and starts, but come true it did. And it’s awesome. Especially because it tells the story of someone who gets knocked down and comes back up over and over, until he achieves his dream. One of  things that is great about this book is that it doesn’t end with the achievement of that dream as so many stories do. Instead, he goes on and talks about what a person does when they’ve spent their entire life up to that point in the pursuit of a goal that has been achieved. He talks about his joy in his second act, and that’s incredibly important.

It also tells a story that we all have heroes, that we all need them, and that they all suffer the same doubts and fears that the rest of us do. Reading about an astronaut going through his own bout of “imposter syndrome” puts my own day-to-day twinges of that same feeling into perspective.

The book ends with a heartfelt paean to the future of the space program. Today is a struggle, but we will get back out there. As another intrepid space explorer once said, “Risk is our business.” We’ll go back out to see what’s over the next horizon, and what’s in the next galaxy, because that’s what humans do. That’s what we’re made for.

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