Saturday, June 11, 2022

"Spaceman" by Mike Massimino--Nonfiction Review

So I’ve been pretty clear on this blog before about how much I love space, which is why today we’re talking about Mike Massimino’s “Spaceman.”

Mike Massiminio

What I love about this book:

Clearly, the space stuff is my top love for this book. Massimino was part of the tail end of the generation of astronauts who flew in the space shuttle, which I’m not too proud to admit I don’t know as much about as the earlier programs. So it was nice to get to know the names and missions that happened during his time at NASA.

Most of this book is about his journey to become an astronaut. I hadn’t realized this before he pointed it out, but, unlike most career paths, there are no well-known tracts to take to become an astronaut. So it’s nice that he put it down how he did it, for all the advice he provides.

Massimino is a charmingly warm and often funny guy. I went in for the audiobook version—per usual—and it’s read by him. I know I belabor this point a lot, but especially in this, hearing the tone of his voice as he relates some of his personal disappointments and some of the tragedies to befall NASA immeasurably adds to the experience.

Getting his first-hand account of what it was like to work on the Hubble telescope was endlessly fascinating to me. It cannot be adequately expressed how much that orbiting telescope has given us, so it’s incredibly important. Working on it in space sounded equally amazing as it was terrifying.

What I don’t love about this book:

There isn’t much I didn’t love about this memoir. It’s firmly in my wheelhouse, after all. If I had to say something, maybe an argument could be made that it dithers a little bit too much before getting into the meat of the NASA stuff. That isn’t too serious of a criticism, though, because I enjoyed Massimino’s journey becoming an astronaut almost as much as I enjoyed him as an astronaut.

The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster was hard to read about and thus relive. When the Challenger exploded during the launch, that disaster happened before I was born, but I was in middle/high school when Columbia happened. So the tragedy of that event when it happened still sticks in my mind, and the old feelings of disappointment that NASA, an organization I idolized, didn’t do enough to keep that crew safe resurfaced. That they dropped the ball on the dangers of free-falling foam debris from launch and how it could damage the orbiting vehicle.

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Author’s Website:

Parting thoughts:

Space exploration is inherently dangerous and expensive. There are many solid arguments for why we shouldn’t bother with this exercise. How to justify the cost monetarily and, more importantly, in lives lost is tricky. Why spend billions of dollars on space exploration to send a handful of people to space while millions of people are starving right here on Earth.

What Space exploration is ultimately about is investing in the next step for our species, for the next generation’s future. It’s about the billions and billions of people yet to be born who could one day lead a better existence beyond the confines of the Earth. 

The Earth, as wonderful and beautiful as it is, is a closed system. We keep adding more and more humans to that closed system without increasing the fixed amounts of resources and livable area. The idea that we’re somehow going to collectively agree to stop creating too many people globally and then create rigidly sustainable utopias out of our various bickering and competing cultures in the near future demonstrates a lack of awareness of human history in my mind.

At this point in our societal and social evolution, we should do what we have always done collectively when faced with shortages of livable space, opportunity, and resources. We should move on and spread out.

Crossing the oceans at one point seemed like an impossible technical feat to our ancestors, yet, they eventually managed it. It wasn’t safe, and it wasn’t cheap. Many people died for the dream of seeing over that next horizon. But in the end, it was necessary.

Let’s be clear about this point: our shameful legacy of appalling poverty, sickness, famine, and war wasn’t caused by NASA’s budget. Our poorest citizens, again globally, are so poor because we’re still collectively beholden to a wealthy and privileged ruling caste. We might not call our billionaires princes, princesses, dukes, or duchesses anymore in the United States, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. 

Most of the world’s wealth belongs to a few individuals—a lot of it is inherited wealth that wasn’t earned in any meaningful way by the so-called elites of our various human societies but is merely passed down. That is the real insidious reason most of us toil from the cradle to the grave.

I wish that we were collectively wise enough to conserve the Earth and do so in a way that we could all live reasonably equitably on it and happily. But wishing reality was different doesn’t make it so, and realistically what I believe our next step is—is to chase that next frontier, the last and final one above us all. 

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