By Terry Virts



280pp/$27.95/September 2020

How to Astronaut

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Terry Virts first flew to the International Space Station aboard Endeavour on STS-130 in 2010. He returned to the ISS in 2014 on Soyuz TMA-15M and remained on the space station through Expeditions 42 and 43, serving as commander of the latter expedition. His new book, How to Astronaut: Everything You Need to Know Before Leaving Earth is his opportunity to share his experiences and lessons with anyone interested in space travel. Divided into short chapters, each of which look at a different aspect of being an astronaut, Virts notes that there is some repetition, although not enough to be really noticeable.

The essays are divided into sections, beginning with "Training," which naturally enough discusses the process of becoming an astronaut and what Virts had to do before he was able to fly, in his case a period of ten years. Although many of the topics in this section are expected: a look at the neutral buoyancy training, flying in the Vomit Comet, and undergoing simulations, other topics are a bit of a surprise. Virts talks about the importance of packing for a trip to space and reveals how much of the astronaut's luggage is actually left up to them, he talks about learning to work with animals, and, perhaps most surprisingly, the need to learn to cut hair in order to fulfill a promise he made to fellow astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.

Subsequent sections deal with "Launch" and the expectations and concerns surrounding it, "Orbit" about life on the space shuttle and the International Space Station, "Spacewalking," about leaving the space station, a conjectural section on "Deep Space" and finally a look at "Re-entry," which refers not only to the process of landing back on earth, but also the even longer process of reacclimatizing to terrestrial gravity and culture. Virts's writing style is breezy, making nearly all of the shory chapters entertaining to read. The only real exception is the chapter in which he discusses the Columbia disaster, during which time, three years before his own first flight, he was serving as a a family escort for Commander Rick Husband's family. Virts describes how he knew what had happened before the official announcement. This chapter adds a poignancy to many of the early chapters in which he paid tribute to those who acted in a similar role for his family when he flew on his missions.

While Virts's book is information and wonderful for anyone interested in near earth space travel, it also works as an excellent primer for anyone who wants to write about the space program with the small details which may not be well known, but add a sense of reality to a work of fiction or non-fiction. Virts has spent more than 200 days in space in addition to his training regimen and has made three space walks. His knowledge of the environment and hazards is unparalleled and he provides details looks at how astronauts deal with the joys and tribulations of being in orbit.

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