Sunday, August 19, 2007

Riding Rockets

I just finished Riding Rockets, a memoir by shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane. Subtitled "The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut," it does indeed contain some outrageous tales, and at first I was put off by what seemed to be an overly macho attitude and a lot of low brow humor. Mullane entered the astronaut class of 1978 to be trained as a mission specialist. He had flown as a "back seater" in USAF F-4 Phantoms, including service in Vietnam, and his military background colored his humor and his attitudes, especially on the subject of civilians and especially women in the cockpit. But as he describes his experiences in astronaut training and on the three missions he flew between 1984 and 1990, he also describes how he came to admire and respect his fellow astronauts regardless of their backgrounds. With all their shared experiences, they also became more and more like family, a fact that made the loss of the Challenger crew in 1986 especially hard on him and his own family.

Mullane's descriptions of his personal relationships with his parents, wife, and fellow astronauts are honest, open, and sometimes very moving. Space flight is a tough business at many levels, and not only for the astronauts themselves, though this doesn't seem to cause any shortage of volunteers to do it! His descriptions of the process of training to become an astronaut, of the political machinations within NASA, and of flying in space are colorful and detailed. I learned a lot and really enjoyed the book. It was a great addition to my personal "shuttle immersion month" which started when I learned I would be attending the launch of Endeavour in Florida. Of course I've written plenty about that! Mullane is now a professional speaker and author (

I'm thinking my final shuttle immersion for now will be another astronaut memoir I bought, Sky Walking by Tom Jones. The reviews suggest that it's a more detailed and serious book by a class of 1990 astronaut who flew four missions, continuing the story up to the ISS era.

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