Space Questions? Let’s Just ‘Ask the Astronaut’

Books Education Space & Astronomy
Ask the Astronaut
Image: Smithsonian Books

I know we’re a self-selected group here in Nerdland, but which of us hasn’t wondered about what it’s like to be in space, live in space, and work in space? Regardless of your generation, there were important, space-related events that happened during your formative years. Sputnik. Yuri Gagarin. Alan Shepherd. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (and don’t forget Michael Collins). Skylab. Sally Ride. Challenger. Mir. Columbia. The International Space Station. SpaceX. Future-oriented people look toward space. But only a few have been to space themselves. Only a little over 500 people have been in space. That’s a small number compared to the population of the Earth.

So, what’s it like to be there? We can all imagine it a little bit, even if we haven’t been on one of those parabolic flights by companies like Zero G. Swinging on a swingset or going on a roller coaster, we’ve all felt that free fall sensation. But could we stand it for long periods? How would our stomachs hold up? What would we do to adapt?

Astronaut Tom Jones answers many of our “living in space” questions in the new book Ask the Astronaut: A Galaxy of Astonishing Answers to Your Questions on Spaceflight by Smithsonian Books. In it, he breaks down the Outer Space Experience into fairly self-explanatory chapters:

  • Aspiring to Space
  • Training for Space
  • Getting to Space
  • Ships for Space
  • Surviving in Space
  • Living in Space
  • Working in Space
  • Walking in Space
  • Risks of Space
  • Seeing Space
  • Returning from Space
  • Back on Earth
  • Exploring Space and the Planets
  • Big Bangs and Black Holes: Exploring the Universe
  • Your Future in Space

Each chapter contains a numbered question-and-answer format with each Q&A a self-contained blurb which can be quickly read when you only have a minute to spare. Or settle in for a more intensive introduction to the realities of space, covering one chapter at a time. There are dozens of photos also included in the book, pertaining to many of the questions asked. In the first chapter, Aspiring to Space, Jones answers questions from his personal point of view, but most of the rest of the book is more general.

Ask the Astronaut doesn’t go into great detail for any one question, but Jones covers a lot of ground, answering hundreds of questions in this 200+ page book. Designed for grades 5-12 but of interest to any fans of spaceflight, this book gives quite the behind-the-scenes look at everything pertaining to going to, living in, and returning from space.

Some of the content will be what you expect, such as what astronauts eat, how they go to the bathroom, and what the take-off and reentry are like. But Jones also answers more unusual questions on variety of topics, such as: surviving in case of an emergency landing, making money in space, how to have fun in free fall, what astronauts on the ISS do in their spare time, and whether one’s cell phone would work in space. He also talks about the future of space travel, and what we might expect to come next.

I really enjoy reading books like this. Getting a first-hand account of every aspect of someone’s job, especially that of an astronaut, gives a realistic look at what it is like to have that kind of career. Such a small percentage of us will ever be astronauts (and, at 42 years old, I think my chances are over), but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has daydreamed about it.

Ask the Astronaut: A Galaxy of Astonishing Answers to Your Questions on Spaceflight is available starting March 22nd, a perfect gift for any kid, or adult, interested in space and space travel. Get it for your favorite stargazer this year, and keep their dreams alive.

Note: I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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