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Review: Moonshot

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Moonshot: A NASA Astronaut’s Guide to Achieving the Impossible
by Mike Massimino
Hachette Go, 2023
hardcover, 224 pp.
ISBN 978-0-306-83264-2

To the general public, astronauts can seem like the closest thing to perfect people. They are physically fit individuals with backgrounds ranging from science and engineering to being military test pilots, with NASA picking a handful of the very best out of an applicant pool of more than 10,000 for each class. But astronauts, of course, are people that make mistakes like the rest of us, from misplacing tomatoes being harvested on the International Space Station for eight months to losing a tool bag on a recent space station spacewalk.

There are lessons to learn from such mistakes beyond keeping better track of tomatoes and tool bags. In Moonshot, former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino distills his experiences at NASA into a set of lessons for the public, a hybrid of astronaut memoir (which he has previously written) and self-improvement book.

A fellow astronaut took him aside and informed him of “Hoot’s Law,” named after astronaut Hoot Gibson: “No matter how bad things may seem, you can always make it worse.”

Massimino has crafted a persona as something close to an ordinary person: an everyman from Long Island, albeit one with an engineering PhD from MIT who went to space twice to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. “I soon found that what made my experiences relatable was the fact that I wasn’t a natural. I’m not Neil Armstrong. Or Lebron James. Or George Clooney,” he writes.

In the book, he’s open about his setbacks and mistakes he made both trying to become an astronaut as well as during his astronaut career. One example he offers in the book is when, during one of his first sessions in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, used for spacewalk training, he got tangled in a safety tether and, rather than ask for help, tried to free himself, only to get further entangled. Afterwards, he said a fellow astronaut took him aside and informed him of “Hoot’s Law,” named after astronaut Hoot Gibson: “No matter how bad things may seem, you can always make it worse.”

Not making things worse is one of the lessons that Massimino passes along in the book. Most of them seem straightforward and common sense: the value of teamwork and collaboration, speaking up if you see something wrong, and not giving up even in the face of long (but non-zero) odds. He also passed along what former astronaut Alan Bean called the “First Rule of Leadership,” which is to admire and care about every member of your team, as well as the “Thirty-Second Rule,” which is to allow yourself a half a minute to beat yourself up about making a mistake, then move on.

Those lessons seem straightforward, but the fact that astronauts have to be reminded of them is a sign that they’re hard to implement. They’re good lessons to learn, and Massimino offers them in an entertaining way. You may make many mistakes along the way, but there’s a good chance you’ll never lose a tomato on a space station or a tool bag on a spacewalk.

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