Posts Tagged ‘Astronauts’

Best New Books of 2014: Dan B’s Picks

December 3, 2014

My favorite books of this year include a dark and grim Fantasy, a book about meditation, the newest Star Wars novel set far, far away, and two near future Sci-Fi thrillers. Here are some of my top picks from 2014:

Half a KingHalf a King by Joe Abercrombie
Move over George R.R. Martin, there’s a new author of grim, dark Fantasy in town. Prince Yarvi is the titular “half king” due to his deformed and crippled left arm, with which he can hold neither sword nor shield. That’s fine with Yarvi, as he never wanted to be a warrior or king, and is content to continue his studies. However, Yarvi’s plans change when his father the king and his brother are both murdered by a rival king from across the sea. Yarvi must strike back against treacherous enemies, but some are seen and others are hidden.  See my full review.

10% Happier10% Happier by Dan Harris
ABC newsman Dan Harris has never been a very spiritual guy. The news biz is pretty cut throat and for years he was driven to succeed and get on air as often as he could. One fateful day the mounting pressure got to him, and while reporting the news on Good Morning America, he had a nervous breakdown – live on national TV. Harris’ memoir-cum-self-help book about the benefits of meditation takes readers through his journey, and if doing something can make you 10% happier, wouldn’t you want to try it?

A New DawnA New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… Kanan Jarrus is a former Jedi student who’s become a loner, never staying put too long. Almost 20 years before A New Hope, the Empire defeated the Republic and the people of the galaxy began to suffer. The Emperor has sent Count Vidian to the planet Gorse and its moon Cynda to ensure productivity is high in their mining operation, no matter the cost. There just might be a spark of rebellion soon. This novel takes place shortly before the new Star Wars Rebels cartoonSee my full review.

Lock InLock In by John Scalzi
In the near future, a virus spreads that leaves about 1% of our population locked inside themselves, unable to control their bodies. They can interact with the world two ways: through an “integrator” (a person who lets them ride inside their body), or through the use of a robotic body that they control remotely, known as a “threep.” When a murder occurs involving an integrator, rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is partnered with Leslie Vann to solve the case. Chris, a victim of the disease who uses a threep, soon discovers the real mystery goes much deeper.

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
Astronaut Mark Watney becomes stranded on Mars when a dust storm forces his team to evacuate and return to Earth earlier than planned. He is presumed dead, but has miraculously survived, and although he knows he’ll be the first human to die on Mars, he fights to stay alive. As the mission’s engineer, Mark may have just enough know-how to figure out how to get enough air, pressure, food, and water to live. By turns thrilling and laugh-out-loud funny, this tale of survival set against a Science Fiction backdrop will have you turning pages past your bedtime.

The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel

September 10, 2014

Astronaut Wives ClubThe Astronaut Wives Club provides readers with first-hand accounts of what it was like to be a wife to some of America’s first men in space. The wives went from ordinary housewives of pilots to Astronaut Wives overnight. The wives describe what it felt like to experience the glitz and glam of appearing on the cover of Life Magazine. Women around the country admired them and followed what they wore and what they cooked for their astronaut families. This fame had its downsides too. The wives had to deal with absent and or cheating husbands, “cookies” (astronaut groupies), cameras tuned on them constantly during the dangerous space missions, and their husbands’ moods when they came down to Earth.

The Astronaut Wives Club was formed by the wives as a way to provide support and friendship to each other during times of intense excitement and stress. Through this club they formed life-long friendships and a kind of sisterhood. The wives would go to each other’s houses to keep them company during the space missions to offer comfort, food, and empathy as only they knew what it felt like to have a husband in this rare occupation. Lily Koppel provides a unique perspective of some of America’s thrilling historical events. Astronaut Wives Club is a fascinating and fun read and would be a great non-fiction book club selection. This is one of the new book club kit titles available through Wake County Public Libraries.

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Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, by Mary Roach

May 6, 2014

marsbookcover.phpEver wondered what it would be like to live in outer space?  Or on another planet?  With boundless curiosity and a sense of humor, Mary Roach takes us into the esoteric world of scientists who ponder how our earth-evolved bodies and minds can survive in such a foreign environment.

One of the biggest problems is reduced gravity. This makes everyday routines into big problems. The titles of the chapters give you some idea–the one on bathing in space is called “Houston, We Have a Fungus.”  How do you clean yourself when the shower droplets do not run down, but just float away? How dirty can a person stand to be?  A Mars mission might take more than a year, and the physical (and mental) effects of that many dead skin cells are thoroughly explored by Roach.

The physical problems of life in space are numerous, but what of the mental challenges of people crowded together in a small space for months?  The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency tests the patience of their wannabe astronauts by requiring them to fold 1000 origami paper cranes over several days.  Apparently, what is considered to be the “right stuff” has changed! Nowadays, astronauts’ missions are planned down to the smallest detail, and the right stuff largely consists of being able to take orders and persevere in them.

Roach takes us through it all, from the crash tests on cadavers, to the studies of motion sickness, to the test subjects who volunteer to lie in bed for a year.  Nothing concerning space travel escapes her notice or her interest, and her audience cannot help being infected by her enthusiasm.  As one reviewer put it, “This is a book for people who have silently dreamed of being astronauts themselves.”  It clearly takes a lot of patience (and a sense of humor) to be a real one!


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An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

February 19, 2014

I first heard of Commander Chris Hadfield on Twitter, when he replied to William Shatner, aka Captain Kirk.  Shatner asked if he was tweeting from space.  Hadfield replied “Yes, standard orbit, Captain, and we’re detecting signs of life on the surface.”

I was amazed.  This man was tweeting from outer space, and doing it with a sense of humor! When I looked at his other tweets, I was hooked.  Not only was he regularly posting pictures taken from space, he was making videos to answer students’ questions about what life was like on the space station, such as, “What happens when you cry in space?”  (The tears don’t fall; they just hover in front of your eyes). What a wonderful resource and a great way to get children interested in space travel!

Hadfield’s book tells his story of how he became an astronaut, and what he learned along the way. He first decided what he wanted to be when he saw the men walk on the moon.  As a young boy, he didn’t realize how much the odds were against him.  There were no Canadian astronauts at that time.  Later, when he learned how difficult it would be, it only made him work harder.

Hadfield discovered many things while he was training, some of which went against what is considered common sense.  For example, as an astronaut you have to sweat the small stuff. A very small error can have big consequences in space.   Also, helping a coworker perform better will help you in the long run, even if you are competing for the same job.  In space, having the best possible team is crucial to your survival.

The most important thing he learned, however, was that one must enjoy the journey.  It would be ridiculous to work so hard for so long with the goal of getting into space if you hated science, piloting, or any of things you must learn before your flight.  It is quite possible to spend a lifetime learning all of these things and never make it into space, just by accident or bad timing.  Would you feel your entire life was a waste if this happened?

I found Hadfield’s book and attitude to be very inspiring.  It is a great reminder not to focus so much on the future that you forget to enjoy the present.  And all his stories of daily life in outer space are fascinating.  I think we have become so accustomed to seeing men and women in space that we forget what an amazing achievement it is.

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