By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved.MassiminoSpaceman

Title: Spaceman
Author: Mike Massimino
ISBN: 978-1101903544 (hardback)
Published: October 4, 2016 by Crown Archetype
Price: $28.00 hardback/$11.50 paperback/$13.99 Kindle (7/17)
(Reviewing the Kindle version)
Length: 336 pages

Mike Massimino was an NASA astronaut from 1996 to 2014, and he flew twice in the Space Shuttle, both times to work on the Hubble space telescope. Let’s look at his book.

Book Chapters

Prologue: A Science Fiction Monster (do NOT skip this section)
Ch 1: A Perfect Good
Ch 2: Most All-Around
Ch 3: Who You Gonna Get?
Ch 4: The Smart-Kid Olympics
Ch 5: Force Feedback
Ch 6: Human Factors
Ch 7: Disqualified
Ch 8: Yes or No
Ch 9: There’s Mach 1
Ch 10: If You Have a Problem
Ch 11: Spacewalker
Ch 12: Shackleton Mode
Ch 13: Seeing Beyond the Stars
Ch 14: Ready to Go
Ch 15: Weightless
Ch 16: Earth is a Planet
Ch 17: Maybe this is Heaven
Ch 18: The Story of Space
Ch 19: February 1, 2003
Ch 20: Why We Go
Ch 21: From the Ashes
Ch 22: One Last Job
Ch 23: Line 28
Ch 24: Grounded
Epilogue: Around the Next Corner

And now, my review

Don’t skip the prologue, or you will miss some well written material.  Mike’s description of his first time outside the space shuttle Columbia, as they waited to lift off to head to the Hubble, made me feel like I was there:

“The shuttle was making these ungodly sounds.  I could hear the fuel pumps working, steam hissing, metal groaning and twisting under the extreme cold of the fuel, which was hundreds of degrees below zero.  Rocket fuel burns off at very low temperatures, sending huge billows of smoke pouring out.  Standing there, looking up, I could feel the power of this thing.  It looked like a beast waiting there for us.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Prologue

Now that is descriptive writing!

Mike talks about his childhood, seeing Neil Armstrong become the first man to walk on the moon, which made him want to be an astronaut.  During his senior year of high school, Mike decided to go on to Columbia for his undergraduate degree.  He interned before graduating and a mentor at Sperry encouraged him to go on to graduate school to find something he was passionate about, to do with his life.  He saw one of my favorite movies, “The Right Stuff“, which made him realize he really wanted to try to become an astronaut.  He decided his best bet to become an astronaut meant he needed to get a graduate degree (or two) from MIT.  He took a job and decided to wait a year or two before starting grad school, but while he was at work he saw the news about the space shuttle Challenger exploding, and he realized he needed to go ahead and start grad school at MIT.  While there, he started working on skills he needed to become an astronaut, which included scuba diving and getting a private pilot license.

After completing two Masters degrees, Mike decided he needed more education to stand out to NASA, so he started on a program Ph.D at MIT.  It was difficult, and he failed his first qualifying oral exam.  He was on his honeymoon in Portugal when he thought about the early ocean explorers that took risks and never quit, so he realized he needed to try again.  I too had issues in college when I was younger, but later in life I returned and earned my undergrad degree in Computer Science.  That graduation ceremony is one of my own personal high points in life.  Like Mike, I encourage people to not give up and continue to try, as accomplishing a major life goal is always worthwhile.

Before reading Mike’s bio, I figured that a man with a Ph.D from MIT that became an astronaut and had two shuttle missions working on the Hubble might be arrogant and full of himself.  I was wrong.  In this book, Mike credits the people around him that helped him become what he wanted.

“I owe everything I’ve ever accomplished to the people around me – people who pushed me to be the best version of myself.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch 6

It is inspirational to see someone with such a impressive career be that humble.  You don’t need to be a superman to become an astronaut – you need to work long and hard and with focus to become one.  I should add that Mike prepared differently for his second Ph.D oral exam and passed it.

After earning his Ph.D, Mike took a job with McDonnell Douglas and moved to Houston to be near NASA.  He applies and goes through the astronaut selection process, passing everything but the eye exam.  Now that his vision was a disqualifying issue, he decided to fix it instead of giving up.  He sees an eye doctor and starts vision training.  Working hard, following the advice of his doctor and friends, his vision improved enough and after reapplying, was accepted into the NASA astronaut program.  At last, he was in.

Mike undergoes new astronaut orientation and talks about flying T-38s.  I’d assumed all astronauts are pilots, but that isn’t true.  Mission specialists like Mike fly in the back seat – they get to do maneuvers including aerobatic, as well as handle the radio and navigate, but they don’t do take offs or landings.  Bummer.

“There are a couple of things you do on your first flight, kind of like your initiation.  The first thing is to go weightless.  The second thing you do is break the sound barrier.  When we reached <mach> 1.0, I said, ‘There’s Mach 1,’ in my best Chuck Yeager impression.

I loved flying.  I could not get enough of it.  Backseaters had to log a minimum of twenty-five training hours in the T-38 every quarter.  I was always near the top of my class in hours.  I had more hours than any mission specialist in my group, especially out of the civilians.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman

I’d love to have a chance to ride in a T-38, even just one time, and yeah, I’d take as many photos as my phone would hold (and maybe one or two short movies) to be able to relive the event.  Maybe some day.  Everyone can dream, can’t they?

Shortly after being accepted to the astronaut program, Mike’s father became ill and he asked his fellow astronauts for help and they gave it.  Mike said something about astronauts I hadn’t heard before and feel like I should share it with you:

“If you’ve ever wondered what the right stuff is, that’s what the right stuff is – the real right stuff.  It’s not about being crazy enough to strap yourself to the top of a bomb.  That’s actually the easy part.  It’s more about character, serving a purpose greater than yourself, putting the other guy first, and being able to do that every single day in every aspect of your life.  People ask me all the time what it takes to become an astronaut.   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? Will this person help look after my family if I don’t make it home?”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman

Mike’s father recovered and was able to attend his graduation ceremony from Astronaut Candidate (ASCAN) to full Astronaut.  The way Mike’s fellow astronauts and friends rallied around when he needed help was incredible – not many companies where you matter so much to you coworkers, especially in this modern world.

When Mike was becoming an astronaut, it was the time we were preparing to build the ISS.  Assembling the ISS would require a lot of spacewalking, so Mike learned that skill.  He covers the details in depth, and I had no idea how much was involved just learning to move about in space.  Fascinating read, chapter 11.  Do not skip it.

One thing the astronauts had to learn was cold weather survival skills.  They went to Cold Lake in Canada, where it was subzero most of the the time they were there.  As a Minnesota transplant, I understand how difficult it can be for warm climate people to be forced to contend with severe cold, and they did well.  During a trip to Japan to help the Japanese Space Agency, he realized something important about his job:

“Going to space doesn’t make you an astronaut.  Being an astronaut means you’re ready to go to space.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch 12

The Hubble Space Telescope is simply incredible.  In addition to sharing the same first names, Mike Massimino and I are both impressed with the Hubble as it is a great engineering triumph for humanity.  The research done by the Hubble far exceeds the beautiful images it sends back, and it is indeed a valuable tool for discovering our place in the universe.  Before reading this book, I was unaware the Hubble has 6 gyros that keep it aligned on a target, and that the internals of the Hubble are kept at room temperature even though the outside conditions vary between -200 and 200 degrees F every day.  The Hubble had problems with gyro failure, so two missions were planned: 3A and 3B.  Mike was part of the development process for 3B and he hoped to be part of the actual mission:

“Bob Curbeam, who flew on a couple of station assembly flights (of the Shuttle), used to say, ‘Hubble guys are the Jedi.  The coolest.’  I wanted to be a Hubble guy.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch 13

Did he get to go on flight STS-109, mission 3B?  Yes he did.  He talks about the details of establishing the shuttle crew, the dynamics and skills of the people that were mission specialists and the flight deck crew, as well as the Hubble components they were to replace.  The amount of work he and other astronauts do, just to get ready for a mission, is incredible.  It is amazing how well NASA can provide different ways of duplicating conditions the astronauts face while working in space.  They not only have the pool for full size practice.  They also use virtual reality to practice how it feels to move mass in a weightless environment.  The preparation for the mission was lengthy, but finally they launched.  Mike’s description of the Earth from the shuttle is worth sharing:

“We were over the Indian Ocean, which was a beautiful shade of blue with puffy white clouds sprinkled across it.  I felt like I was in one of those dreams where you’re magically floating above everyone else.  I could see the ripples in the ocean, the horizon with the blue atmosphere in thin, hazy line.  It was like all the pictures I’d seen, only a thousand times better.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch 15

Mike continues to provide details about the mission, including that they needed to setup the toilet, galley, and exercise bike after launch.  I never thought about them being stowed, but it makes sense.  Again, great details for space enthusiasts as well as prospective astronauts.  Mike’s description of how they needed to get used to being in space was also new.  He describes how it feels to have all the fluid in your body move towards your head, and it doesn’t sound fun.  And I didn’t know that your spine stretches so you grow an inch, but the muscles in your back have to stretch and adjust, so that’s painful too.  And he gives the best description I’ve seen about space sickness:

“Then there’s the nausea.  ‘Stomach awareness’ is the official term.  That whole first day I floated around feeling like I was going to barf at any moment.  Space sickness is the opposite of seasickness,  The effect is the same, the nausea and vomiting, but the root cause is different.  … In space, you’re floating around and this time it’s your eyes that are telling your brain you are moving and your inner ear that’s telling your brain that you’re still, because your inner ear doesn’t move when you’re weightless.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch 15

It took three days to catch up to Hubble, so they had time to adjust and to prepare for the mission.  Mike was very nervous, but he remembered details he shares in this book, like how he sounded in his suit:

“My voice sounded different, too, because the sound wave travels differently through the lower atmospheric pressure.  It’s at a lower register.  I sounded like I was about to cut a blues album.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch16

Mike and his teammate do their first EVAastronauts install ACS on Hubble and replace one of the solar array panels.  It was an intense process, physically difficult and draining, and the part of the mission Mike was most concerned with.  He was stressed, but Mike says the view of the Earth was worth it.  His second EVA was working with James Neuman to replace the failed Faint Object Camera with the Advanced Camera for Surveys and NASA has a picture of the two mission specialists doing that during the 3B mission.

Astronauts have reported having an epiphany during their missions.  I’ll let Mike speak for himself on his own epiphany:

“I took a moment and turned and glanced over my shoulder at the Earth again. …

The thought that went through my head was If you were in heaven, this is what you would see.  This is my view from heaven.  Then that thought was immediately replaced by another thought.  No, it’s even more beautiful than that.  This is what heaven must look like – maybe this is heaven. …

And my thought looking down at the Earth was Wow.  How much God our Father must love us that he gave us this home.  He didn’t put us on Mars or Venus with nothing but rocks and frozen waste.  He gave us paradise and said, ‘Live here’.”

Mike Massimino Spaceman Ch 17

While he was resting after the mission finished, Mike listened to music and said certain music was better during the day or night.  He liked Sting, Phil Collins, Coldplay and U2 during the day.  At night, Radiohead, plus the soundtracks for Dances with Wolves and Meet Joe Black.

At the end of chapter 17, Mike mentions that their Hubble mission, STS-109, went before STS-107.  Both were Columbia missions.  Mike’s flight came home, STS-107 broke up during re-entry and all aboard were killed, and Mike devotes chapter 19 to explaining how the loss of the crew of STS-107 affected their families and the other astronauts.

We’ve lost too many of our astronauts – the crews of Apollo 1, the Challenger,  and the Columbia – I wish, as a country, we could have an astronaut remembrance day to remember each of these brave individuals that gave their lives exploring space, to make us better as a race.  We should remember them as they deserve: as our heroes.

Chapters 20 through 23 are about the final mission to the Hubble.  After the Columbia was destroyed during re-entry, the decision was made to cancel the last planned trip to the Hubble, as it was considered too unsafe.  NASA kept a planned robotics mission to go to Hubble, and then the NASA administrator was replaced by someone wanting to do something big for NASA, and the mission was back on.  Due to the costs of replacing entire defective systems, the decision was made to repair them in place – something that qualify as the most technically challenging repair ever done in space, on could be viewed as the most important piece of astronomical equipment ever deployed: the Hubble.  The technical challenges they faced, disassembling, repairing and reassembling equipment not designed to be worked on in orbit, were considerable, but NASA being NASA, they were addressed and the mission to upgrade and fix Hubble was on, using the Atlantis shuttle.  In addition to saving the Hubble, one other notable event happened during the flight: the first tweet from space was done by Mike on the Atlantis.

Every good thing comes to an end.  Mike decided against doing any long term Soyez missions, so he was removed from flight status and moved on from being an astronaut, but he is still using social media – I follow him on Twitter, as do many.

I took four days to read this book, because I didn’t want it to end, any more than Mike wanted his time as an Astronaut to end.  A truly great story about overcoming obstacles to accomplish what is important to you in life.  I found three videos plus a ton of podcasts about or by Mike Massimino on iTunesU – go there if you want to see and hear the man himself.  Or you can try episodes of The Big Bang Theory on TV – he’s made a number of guest appearances since the 5th season

Conclusion

I really enjoyed Mike’s bio.  Learned a ton of things about becoming and being an astronaut, as well as understanding how a shuttle mission was planned and implemented.  Like Col. Hadfield’s bio, this is one I will re-read.

I strongly encourage people to buy this book.  Mike Massimino tells a great story, and his vivid details paint a clear picture of his experiences.  He takes you inside the astronaut program and lets you see how hard it is to get in, but shows that you can overcome obstacles if you work hard enough.  I give it 5 stars out of 5.

Only one task is left for me now: I need to track down an autographed copy in hardback for my home library.  I want to read it again and then I will encourage my wife to read it.  I may even buy a few paperback copies to give as Christmas gifts.

Note

I have written book reviews for print magazines in the past.  The largest I wrote was 1000 words, but usually they were 200 – 500 words.  This review is much longer because I wanted to do justice to this biography.  It is well crafted, exciting to read, and reveals more details about NASA and space missions than other NASA bios I’ve read.  I enjoyed the book and hope Mike Massimino has another one planned – if he does, I’ll read it.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s