unlikely astronaut

Category: Children’s Books
Reviewed by: Susan Raizer
Title: An Unlikely Astronaut
Author: Susan Kilrain with Francis French
Illustrator: Becky Hardy
Age Range: 5-8 years
Format: Hardcover/Kindle
Pages: 32
Publisher: Book Press Publishing
Date: October 2023
Retail Price: $19.95/$8.95
ISBN-13: 978-1947305731
Find this book

Former astronaut Susan Kilrain never let the obstacles placed before her to discourage a childhood desire to one day pilot the Space Shuttle. She, along with her co-author Francis French, have written a book describing the path to achieving a goal that, for many in our society at the time, was frowned upon for women to achieve.

Susan Kilrain was born in 1961 Augusta, GA, and was the only female in a family with eight brothers. From a young age, she was fascinated by math, airplanes and flying. While being encouraged by her family, there were not many opportunities for her to learn to fly, until she won an essay contest in high school with the first prize of flying lessons. She was smitten by the astronaut bug after hearing a lecture given by Sally Ride. She earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1982 and a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1985.

It was not until she had a chance conversation with the late astronaut Dick Scobee, who encouraged her to become a military pilot if she wanted to be an astronaut pilot. She took this suggestion to heart and in 1985 she enlisted in the Navy. She became a Naval Aviator and graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, becoming a test pilot and flight instructor. She served twenty years in the Navy with over 3,000 flight hours in more than thirty different types of aircraft, including the Skyhawk and F-14 aircraft.

In this she faced gender discrimination and her service as a female Navy pilot was not easy. However, not letting the negativity dissuade her, she finally achieved her long-range goal of becoming a pilot astronaut for NASA.

Susan was accepted into the 15th NASA astronaut training group, which was a unique group that focused on training pilots and engineers for space shuttle flights. She became only one of three female NASA shuttle pilots, the second to do so, and was one of the youngest astronaut pilots. She flew on STS 83 and STS 94, spending almost twenty cumulated days days in space. When not flying, she worked in Mission Control in support of other astronauts’ missions. She retired from NASA in 2005 and is now an astronomer and photographer as well as a motivational speaker, encouraging children and underprivileged teens, especially girls, to pursue careers in STEM subjects, to a goal of one day living and working in space.

Her co-author, Francis French is a space historian, educator and best-selling author of history books about space. An Unlikely Astronaut is his second children’s book. Becky Hardy, the book’s illustrator, is a self-educated artist who has been inspired by space exploration and those in the field.

The authors wrote the book to encourage young people, especially girls, to pursue their dreams.

An Unlikely Astronaut is a colorful, beautifully illustrated book that details Susan Kilrain’s journey from a childhood dream of being a pilot to becoming one both in the Navy and to being accepted as a pilot astronaut for NASA. Throughout the book, there are numerous QR codes that, when clicked on, open to pictures of the author’s childhood, her service in the Navy and her time at NASA, both as a pilot and an astronaut. Also included in the book is a page of vocabulary in language that is readily understandable by the intended readership. The book is upbeat and shows what fun it is to be in space.

This reviewer is a docent in the space galleries of an aerospace museum on Long Island, NY. Here she interacts with young visitors of all ages and encourages them to do well in school and to pursue their goals no matter what stumbling blocks are placed in their paths. This is the same theme that is found in An Unlikely Astronaut. For this reason, I recommend that NSS members purchase the book and give it to young relatives and friends to encourage them to follow their dreams. There is still gender inequality prevalent in our society. However, if we are to achieve success in space development, then all children today should be encouraged to do well in STEM and space subjects.

©2024 Susan Raizer

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