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Review: Becoming Off-Worldly

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Becoming Off-Worldly: Learning from Astronauts to Prepare for Your Spaceflight Journey
by Laura Forczyk
Astralytical, 2022
paperback, 255 pp.
ISBN 978-1-7344622-2-7

Last year finally opened the doors of the space tourism market, after years, if not decades, of anticipation. Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic flew people suborbitally, while SpaceX performed its first commercial Crew Dragon flight to orbit. Even the Russians got back into the space tourism business, flying commercial customers to the International Space Station on Soyuz spacecraft for the first time in more than a decade. More private astronauts are set to fly this year, with Blue Origin expected to conduct several crewed New Shepard flights and Axiom Space sending its first customers to the ISS on a Crew Dragon launching at the end of March.

More opportunities for non-professional astronauts to go to space mean more people will be looking for insights into what the spaceflight experience is like. The new book Becoming Off-Worldly by Laura Forczyk, founder of the space consulting firm Astralytical, attempts to fill that gap by talking to both private and government astronauts about what it was like to travel to space as well as train for those flights.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it: wealth or connections will give you a leg up. At least for now.”

As with her earlier book on the perceptions millennials have about space (see “Review: Rise of the Space Age Millennials”, The Space Review, February 10, 2020), Forczyk uses extensive interviews as the foundation for Becoming Off-Worldly. These interviews are with former government astronauts (and one current one, ESA’s Samantha Cristoforetti) as well as private individuals who have flown in space or who are planning to fly, or are otherwise involved in commercial spaceflight. As it turns out, there is some overlap between the groups: former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría is set to command Axiom’s Ax-1 mission launching to the ISS in March, while another former NASA astronaut, Nicholas Patrick, is now involved with Blue Origin’s New Shepard program.

Some of the chapters of the book discuss the spaceflight experience itself: the acceleration of liftoff, the sensations of microgravity, and the change in mindset created by seeing the Earth from space. Richard Garriott de Cayeux, who flew to the ISS on a Soyuz mission in 2008, recalled the experience of seeing where he lived in Austin, Texas, and where he grew up in Houston, in the same field of view from the station. “Suddenly, I had a deep reaction that was both mental and physical,” he recalled. “In this case, the Earth obviously stayed the same size out the window, but my conception of its scale immediately and radically diminished.”

Other chapters of the book examine the training and other preparation, physical and mental, associated with spaceflight. Private astronauts can come from a much broader range of backgrounds than professional government astronauts, but can still benefit from both advance planning for their flights—especially for suborbital missions that last only minutes—as well as physical preparation. There’s also the financial issue, she acknowledges. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it: wealth or connections will give you a leg up. At least for now.”

Forczyk makes clear she is not a dispassionate observer of the field: she wants to go herself, and has done training such as parabolic aircraft flights and centrifuge runs to prepare for a trip, some day. “Writing this book while cheering on the commercial spaceflight accomplishments of 2021 has given me new hope for my own personal goal of personal spaceflight,” she writes.

For those who became curious about the prospects of flying into space because of those accomplishments last year, Becoming Off-Worldly is a good place to start. It won’t tell you everything you need to know before signing up and paying a deposit, but will help you better appreciate what to expect and help decide if it’s really for you.

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