2016 year Reviews

Spaceman: an astronaut’s unlikely journey to unlock the secrets of the universe

Mike Massimino

Simon & Schuster, 2016, 316pp, hardback


ISBN 978-1-4711-4952-8

Mike Massimino is one of a few astronauts who have gravitated towards the media as part of an effort to explain space exploration and humanise space explorers in a way that almost never happened in the 20th century. He has appeared in TV documentaries, talk shows and popular science programmes in the US and UK and has even played himself in the science-based sitcom The Big Bang Theory. His ‘day job’ as a NASA astronaut lasted from 1996 to 2014 and he flew on two Shuttle missions to the Hubble Space Telescope (as reflected in the book’s subtitle).

This is the latest of several books by former astronauts to bring space down to Earth and, as he is only one of 500 to have been in space, Massimino deserves a platform to explain his experiences. He takes us on a very personal journey from his impressions of the first Moon landing, through his career as an astronaut, to the time of his inevitable ‘grounding’.

After his last flight, he had a chance to go back for a long-duration mission to the ISS but decided against it: “I calculated the date of my return as the week before Daniel would graduate from high school”, he says. “I’d miss seeing Gabby off to college. I’d miss everything. It wasn’t a hard decision to make”.

Massimino’s description of his emotions on his return to Earth is honest, engaging and, above all, understandable to ‘mere humans’. “I was so grateful to be home alive”, he admits. After seeing his family, he returned to the crew quarters and found himself alone for the first time in two weeks. “I had been around my crewmates in close quarters, staying focused on the mission, keeping my emotions in check”, he says. “But there, alone in my room, I started thinking about the journey I had taken, the incredible beauty I had seen… and started to cry uncontrollably”. Massimino’s release of pent up emotions continued for 10 or 15 minutes as he “let it all out”. “Then I pulled myself together”, he says, “took a shower… put on my jeans, and re-entered the Earth”. It might not be the ‘right stuff’ to which we’ve all become accustomed, but it’s certainly not the wrong stuff either. Good one, Mike!

Mark Williamson

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