Review: Clayton C. Anderson – The Ordinary Spaceman
The title of his recently-released autobiography notwithstanding, Clayton C. Anderson is anything but “ordinary”. The mild-mannered Midwestern space flyer has roared to orbit twice on NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters. First in 2007 as a member of the STS-117 crew on board Space Shuttle Atlantis and again on STS-131 aboard Discovery. He was the member of two Expeditions on the International Space Station (ISS), orbiting high above our world, and he sat down with SpaceFlight Insider to discuss his literary offering and what it takes to become an astronaut.
Anderson mentioned that there are a wealth of books written by astronauts relaying their experiences on orbit. While The Ordinary Spaceman, Anderson’s book, provides details about traversing past the atmosphere and to the only current destination in low-Earth orbit (LEO), the ISS – that, however, is not the focus of the book.
From his time in apple trees in Nebraska, to his mother’s efforts to have “her” astronaut win a costume contest, to a fellow astronaut utilizing a unique method to gain access to a club and so on – Anderson helps to provide a personal perspective to a subject that tends to drift to the technical.
The two-time shuttle veteran noted that his childhood experiences heavily influenced his decision to become an astronaut. He also talked about how the family can be impacted by one’s pursuit of becoming an astronaut.
“I think it’s really important, at least from my perspective, what it’s like to be an astronaut, how it can affect your family, how it affects you as a person. Sure, there are ‘highs’ and they are many – but there are also ‘lows’,” Anderson told SpaceFlight Insider. “There are a lot of astronaut books out there, they talk about launches, they talk about landings, they talk about spacewalks, they talk about a lot of things.”
Anderson noted that when he decided to pen his own book, he was looking to provide a different perspective on being an astronaut. What was it like? He wanted to talk about the fun, the challenges those that have chosen to be an astronaut’s face.
Anderson said that The Ordinary Spaceman is about a person, who came from a small town in Nebraska, who was able to do some extraordinary things.
As is the case with so many young people that go on to be astronauts, Anderson credits a healthy dose of comic books and history that helped to fuel his passion.
“As I watched the Apollo 8 crew go behind the Moon that this was a something that motivated me to be an astronaut, my mom will tell you that I expressed my desire to be an astronaut at a much earlier age, like when I was five or six,” Anderson said. “As a kid reading Superman comics, my whole dream at that time was to have the abilities that Superman had; I gained a few of those during my time on orbit.”
As he had dreamed of being an astronaut his whole life, Anderson was asked if, once he had become an astronaut, the actual experience matched his expectations.
“My ‘vision’ of what an astronaut did was probably the same as everyone else’s. As a kid, watching the astronauts in those early days, I began to apply to enter the Air Force; I tried to find out if I would be qualified and asked them a few questions about ‘what if my eyesight is not good enough to fly a jet?’,” Anderson said. “They said that, ‘Well, you’ll be stuck on a five-year tour of duty behind a desk.’ That didn’t appeal to me too much, so I decided to take a chance to just apply with NASA.”
For Anderson, penning this memoir was less about recalling his past and more about showing aspiring space flyers that they also have what it takes to ride fire and fly to far-flung destinations.
“The term ‘astronaut’ is morphing into its next iteration and it is something that is achievable if you have the drive and determination,” Anderson told SpaceFlight Insider. “I hope that there are a thousand of young people that want to be astronauts. Secondly, I would tell them to follow the path of science and mathematics – and to maintain their dream of living among the stars.”
Published by The University of Nebraska Press, The Ordinary Spaceman is a solid read at 400 pages and it retails for $29.95 (U.S.). The book is suited for long-time space enthusiasts and the uninitiated alike.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.