moonshot

Category: Nonfiction
Reviewed by: Douglas G. Adler
Title: Moonshot: A NASA Astronaut’s Guide to Achieving the Impossible
Author: Mike Massimino
Format: Hardcover/Kindle
Pages: 224
Publisher: Hachette Go
Date: December 2023
Retail Price: $28.00/$14.99
ISBN: 978- 0306832642
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Most astronauts who write a book after they have flown in space follow, essentially, the same script. They tell their life story, which generally breaks down something like this: a childhood yearning to fly in space, followed by an education and series of jobs wherein they are still very focused on space, their application to NASA, the thrill of acceptance into the manned spaceflight program, the rigors of learning how to be an astronaut, the exuberance of their first (and second, and third) spaceflights, and a closing chapter with a few pithy comments about achieving your dreams, never giving up, etc., etc., etc.

Ony a select few astronauts, however, can transcend the genre and deliver a book to readers that truly breaks the mold, and says something different, illuminating, and interesting about humans traveling into space. Michael Collins’ supremely insightful, “Carrying the Fire” and Al Worden’s heartbreaking, “Falling to Earth” both come to mind when thinking of these latter types of books.

Space Shuttle Astronaut Mike Massimino has, however, given us a third type of book with his recent work, “Moonshot: A NASA Astronaut’s Guide to Achieving the Impossible.” Many readers will remember Massimino from his recurring role on the television sitcom The Big Bang Theory where he played the antagonist to the well-meaning but deeply-awkward Howard Wolowitz during his training and mission to the International Space Station, where he was accompanied by Massimino every step of the way.

While Massimino’s sitcom persona was insensitive, cutting, and at times downright cruel, it seems the real Massimino is something else entirely. Moonshot is part autobiography, part inspirational tale, and part self-help book. Each short chapter is built around a vignette, or series or related episodes, from Massimino’s time at NASA, either on or off of the Earth, and the hard-won lessons he learned along the way.

To his credit, Massimino reveals a lot of the inner fears and insecurities he felt as an astronaut trainee and later as a full-fledged astronaut. There is not a lot of bravado in Moonshot. Many of the anecdotes revolve around Massimino making an error, or taking something or someone for granted, and learning that such behavior is not the way to succeed, either at NASA or in life. A representative story involves Massimino flying backseat in a T-38 with fellow astronaut Jim Kelly. Kelly, in the story, makes an error with regards to flight heading after takeoff and Massimino fails to correct Kelly. The error could have gotten both men killed, and when this all comes to a head Kelly tells Massimino, “The number one thing you need to learn from tonight,” Kelly told him, “is that you have to speak up when you see something that could be wrong. It was my bad for missing the new heading, that’s on me and could have gotten us killed. But we also almost got killed tonight because you didn’t speak up.” From that, Massimino is able to convey to the reader the critical importance of speaking up, even if you are the least experienced person in the room, among other lesions. Other experiences, including an encounter with the always-interesting Apollo Astronaut Alan Bean (Apollo 12, Skylab 3) gave Massimino a lot of valuable lessons on leadership in a big organization, including how to value every member of your team, no matter how far down the totem pole they might be.

The book has a genuine and earnest tone that helps the stories and lessons provided hit home with the reader. As an avid reader about the Shuttle program, I was already very familiar with both of Massimino’s flights, but many of the anecdotes and stories here were new to me, making the book that much more interesting. The chapters are relatively brief and most readers will be able to read the entire book in one or two sittings. Much of the advice that Massimino has supplied here can be found in the many books on how to do well in the business world that are published each year, but Massimino was working to succeed in an organization that was putting humans in space, and not just trying to make money, so his outlook is a little different. I suspect many of the readers of this book will be unused to a book like this from an astronaut, and most will be pleasantly surprised by what Massimino has produced.

Overall, astronaut Massimino has created a well-written and interesting book that takes his time at NASA and uses it to teach a wide range of interesting lessons about life and success, most of which are not specific to spaceflight and can be applied to any discipline.

© 2023 Douglas G. Adler

NSS index of over 400 book reviews

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