Title: Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer
Author: Jerry L. Ross & John Norbern
Release Date: January 31, 2013
Publisher: Purdue University Press
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Space/NASA
Rating: 3 out of 5
Jerry L. Ross has flown in space seven times as a member of NASA’s astronaut corps. In this memoir, he reflects on this life, and how he came to hold this extraordinary record in spaceflight history.
Jerry Ross has flown in space seven times. Seven. So you can imagine that the astronaut memoir addicts among us were eagerly awaiting his memoir, to understand what his secret was and to be along for the ride for some of those amazing experiences. His memoir takes the reader through his life, starting with his upbringing in rural Indiana, through his days at Purdue University, and his eventual selection for the astronaut corps. He writes with confidence, and there are asides in the book from Ross’ wife and children, giving a welcome secondary perspective to the life of an astronaut.
But Spacewalker isn’t without its disappointments. Michael Collins, who wrote the astronaut memoir Carrying the Fire, widely acknowledged to be the best in the genre, only flew in space two times. His memoir was over 500 pages. Ross, who got to experience the wonder of space over three times that, has a memoir that clocks in at around 250 pages, if you remove the appendices and acknowledgments. Astronaut memoir fans want detail. We want to see what you saw, experience what you experienced. After all, it’s the closest almost any of us will ever get to actual spaceflight. We revel in the minutia, absorb every detail. And Ross’ memoir was, sadly, unsatisfying. He definitely tells the story of every flight, but devotes such little space to telling the reader about them, glossing over most of the details, that it’s a bit saddening when you think of what this memoir could have been.
Additionally, there is a lot of religion in Spacewalker. That’s understandable, as Ross is a religious, Christian man who gives thanks to god that he’s had the opportunities he’s had. But there was more than once that the book got preachy, which made me uncomfortable. Of course, this is a memoir, and Ross is going to want to talk about his beliefs, but there’s a fine line between discussion and preaching, and I felt that it was crossed.
Of course, if you’re a fan of astronaut memoirs, you should absolutely add Spacewalker to your collection. There’s no question of that. But you should also be aware that the book has its issues, especially if you’ve read some of the more popular, acclaimed memoirs out there. Ross’ career with NASA was extraordinary, and it’s fascinating to see things from his point of view. One can only wish there was more detail in the storytelling.