Book Review and Giveaway: Spaceman by Mike Massimino

spaceman

Title: Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
Author: 
Mike Massimino
ISBN: 
9781101903544
Pages: 
336
Release Date: 
October 4, 2016
Publisher: 
Crown Archetype
Genre: 
Memoir, Space/NASA
Source: Publisher

If you follow this website regularly, then you know how much of a fan I am of space and space-related books. That’s why I was so thrilled to have the chance to read an early copy of Mike Massimino’s memoir Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe. Massimino is a celebrated astronaut from the shuttle-era, participating in two crucial missions to service the Hubble Space Telescope. If you aren’t that much into space, then you might better know Massimino from when he played himself on multiple episodes of The Big Bang Theory. Either way, if you know who he is, you probably have figured out that he’s a smart, funny, and personable guy.

That’s why Spaceman is such a great read. Massimino’s personality comes bursting through every page; you feel as if you’re sitting down with a friend, rather than reading someone’s life story. We see astronauts as these heroes, these brave men and women who do incredible things every day, and it’s easy to forget that they are human. That they have the same doubts and frustrations as any of us. That’s what I appreciated most about this book—Massimino is honest about his issues and doubts. He doesn’t pretend like he’s perfect or he always knows the answers. Instead, he gives the reader a frank look back at his life. He’s not afraid to be vulnerable or admit he made a mistake, and it makes this book that much more appealing.

There are some astronaut memoirs that appeal primarily to those with a real passion for space. And then there are some memoirs, like Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth that will appeal to any reader, and Mike Massimino’s Spaceman is one of those. It’s sharp, engaging, and insightful, and will inspire you to reflect on your own life.

Thanks to Crown Publishing, and in conjunction with my space newsletter Give Me Space (did you know I have a space newsletter? I write every week or two letting you know about the interesting thing happening in space and science news) I’m thrilled to have three gorgeous hardcover copies of Spaceman to give away to three different U.S. based readers. To enter: Fill out the form at the bottom of this page in its entirety; incomplete entries will not be counted. U.S.-based mailing addresses only, please. You have until Wednesday, October 12, at 11:59 PM ET to enter; I’ll email the winners privately.

Good luck! I hope you love this book as much as I did. To purchase Spaceman, please visit one of the links below.

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Book Review: Rise of the Rocket Girls – Nathalia Holt

rise of the rocket girlsTitle: Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us from Missiles to the Moon to Mars
Author: Nathalia Holt
ISBN: 9780316338912
Pages: 352
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: History, Space/NASA
Source: Publisher

Summary

Before there were laptop computers and smartphones, before computing was done primarily by machines, the United States was sending brave men to space, with the eventual intention of landing on the moon. This is a story most of us know well. A story that isn’t as well known is the women behind these endeavors, who worked as human computers, to help NASA achieve its mission of a moon landing.

Review

I will read any book about the American space program you put into my hands, so when I first heard about Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us from Missiles to the Moon to Mars, I knew immediately it was a book I had to read. While I know a lot about how NASA got us to the moon, I hadn’t heard of this group of lady human computers, and it was a gap in my knowledge I wanted to fill as soon as possible.

Holt tells a compelling story; she writes in a very readable narrative form, weaving a story that will draw readers in from the very first page. It’s never dense or heavy; instead, Holt spends her time bringing these women to life for the reader, decade by decade. We get to learn about their skills, their capabilities, their hopes and dreams, what they gave up in order to do this job, but also what they achieved. It’s incredibly inspiring.

In order to research for Rise of the Rocket Girls, Holt conducted interviews with all of the living members of this group, and you can see their personalities bursting off the page. But the important thing about this book is that it isn’t just women’s history. It’s American history. Too often, the contributions of women and people of color are discounted and considered “niche” history, but this book puts both front and center. It should be considered a must-read book for anyone interested in the history of the American space program.

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Book Review: The Interstellar Age – Jim Bell

interstellar-ageTitle: The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission
Author: Jim Bell
ISBN: 9780525954323
Pages: 336
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Publisher: Dutton
Genre: Nonfiction, Space/Science/NASA, History
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

The Voyager missions have been some of the most successful in NASA’s history. They began in 1977, but are still going on to this day. Planetary Scientist Jim Bell takes the reader through the Voyager missions, from their beginnings to the present, to what might lie ahead.

Review:

If you don’t know much about NASA’s unmanned missions, but are interested in space-type things, you’re missing out. These missions have sent back invaluable data and images and helped us learn so much more about our solar system. But it’s the Voyager missions that are the real shining lights of our unmanned space program, and now they have an enthralling and informative book devoted to them, courtesy of Jim Bell.

Bell does a real balancing act in The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission. This book covers a huge span of time and there’s a lot to discuss: the technology, the science, the discoveries and why they’re important, and the people behind the mission. It’s telling, then, that the reader is always engaged in this narrative because Bell does such a great job with these elements. He illustrates the human side of Voyager, but also talks enough science to make the reader understand just what was so important about this mission.

The personalities behind Voyager were some of the most intriguing parts of The Interstellar Age; they take the narrative from something that could have been mildly interesting to those who don’t have a space fascination (let’s face it, I probably would have enjoyed this book even if it was just a list of dry facts) to something emotionally engaging. The reader becomes invested in the mission, in the success of the Voyager spacecrafts, and feels the turn in their stomachs when a camera isn’t working or funding is being cut. It’s a hard thing to do, to become emotionally invested in an object, a thing flying through space, yet Bell manages to capture the reader entirely.

As I said, I would have enjoyed this book even if it was a dry list of facts, but Jim Bell makes The Interstellar Age so much more than that. It’s a narrative about human achievement and greatness, at how we can accomplish so much more than we believe we are capable of. It’s beautiful and poignant, and I highly recommend this for nonfiction fans generally.

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Book Review: Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space – Lynn Scherr

Sally Ride coverTitle: Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space
Author: Lynn Sherr
ISBN: 9781476725765
Pages: 400
Release Date: June 3, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, Space
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary:

In this in-depth biography of the late Dr. Ride, America’s first woman in space, journalist and friend Lynn Scherr tells Ride’s remarkable story. Scherr explores Dr. Ride’s professional life, from tennis player to astronaut and beyond, but also discusses Ride’s personal life, much of which wasn’t known to the public until after Ride’s death.

Snapshot Review:

An in-depth biography of the late Dr. Ride, Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space is a well-written and well-researched account of the celebrated astronaut that will help readers come to know and understand this complicated woman.

Full Review:

We all know the basics of Dr. Sally Ride’s life—she was the first American woman in space, something that propelled her to celebrity status. But who was Dr. Ride really? It’s not an easy question to ask, and the answer is murky at best. But Lynn Scherr does a great job regardless, giving the reader a portrait of this intensely private woman who lived so much of her life in the public eye.

Scherr starts at the beginning in Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, following Sally through her childhood and educational years. Scherr had the cooperation and support of those closest to Sally—her family, friends, colleagues, partners, and more—so the reader really gets a comprehensive picture of what Ride was like during her formative years. It’s easy to see the brash, confident woman becoming the astronaut that we all celebrated, especially as she shattered glass ceilings left and right, determined to pursue science, no matter how much her professors discouraged her.

The biography follows Ride throughout her career, showing her as disciplined and determined in her professional life. Sally Ride was everything young women everywhere hoped her to be. After flying on the shuttle twice, Dr. Ride participated in the investigation into Challenger’s explosion, trying to make the shuttle safer for her and her colleagues. Her retirement from NASA followed, and that is, it seems, when her real life began. Dr. Ride was free to pursue her real passion: bringing young women into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. It’s amazing how hard Dr. Ride worked towards this goal and how many young women she inspired into following in her footsteps.

Dr. Ride’s professional life is where things are a bit more muddled in Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, and not because Lynn Scherr did a less-than-stellar job. It’s actually interesting that despite the fact that Scherr and Ride were close friends, the author doesn’t try to present a rosy picture of the former astronaut. Scherr acknowledges her biases, but then tries to present the most realistic picture she can, and it’s appreciated. Readers can really feel like they get to know Dr. Ride and come to understand who she was.

No, the issue with Dr. Ride’s personal life is the surprising revelation upon her death: that she’d been in a 27-year relationship with a woman, one that her closest friends (including the author) were unaware of. It’s incredibly sad that Ride thought she had to hide this intimate part of herself, that she thought it would hold her back professionally (and even sadder, that she was probably right about it.) Scherr illuminates Ride’s personal life as much as one can, given how private the late Dr. Ride was, and does an exceptional job with it.

If you’re interested at all in biographies, then Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space is absolutely a book worth picking up. Those fellow fans of astronaut biographies will appreciate the depth of this book: Scherr mines every source available. While many astronaut biographies and memoirs feel one-dimensional, Ride’s is colorful and vibrant, full of the personality and imperfection that made up the woman we so admire. It’s a fitting tribute to one of the giants of American history, and it’s good to know that Dr. Ride’s legacy lives on through her work with young women (and men!) in bringing American youth into STEM fields.

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Book Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – Chris Hadfield

Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth cover

Title: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything Author: Chris Hadfield ISBN: 9780316253017 Pages: 304 Release Date: October 29, 2013 Publisher: Little, Brown and Co. Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Space Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: Astronaut Chris Hadfield became […]

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Book Review: The Astronaut Wives Club – Lily Koppel

Astronaut Wives Club cover

Title: The Astronaut Wives Club Author: Lily Koppel ISBN: 9781455503254 Pages: 288 Release Date: June 11, 2013 Publisher: Grand Central Publishing Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Space/NASA Source: Publisher Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: We’ve heard so much about NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts. Names like Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman are well-known as […]

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Book Review: Spacewalker – Jerry L. Ross & John Norberg

Title: Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer Author: Jerry L. Ross & John Norbern ISBN: 9781557536310 Pages: 300 Release Date: January 31, 2013 Publisher: Purdue University Press Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Space/NASA Source: Publisher Rating: 3 out of 5 Summary: Jerry L. Ross has flown in space seven times as […]

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Book Review: Carrying the Fire – Michael Collins [TSS]

Title: Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys Author: Michael Collins ISBN: 9780374531942 Pages: 512 Release Date: June 23, 2009 Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Space/NASA Source: Personal Copy Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: Michael Collins is the oft-forgotten third member of the crew of Apollo 11, the man who orbited the […]

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