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Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales Of A Space Shuttle Astronaut (2007)

Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut (2007)
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4.12 of 5 Votes: 4
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0743276833 (ISBN13: 9780743276832)
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English
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Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales ...
Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales Of A Space Shuttle Astronaut (2007)

About book: Between this book and Packing for Mars I know way more about pooping in space than I ever wanted to…..Mike Mullane’s childhood fascination with space travel gave him the determination to become one of the first groups of astronauts chosen for the space shuttle program, and eventually he made three trips into orbit. Despite eyesight bad enough to prevent him from being a pilot, he was also an Air Force officer who flew combat missions in Vietnam as the weapons system operator. (Like Goose in Top Gun.) He’s traveled the world and has a lot of funny stories about meeting famous people like hobnobbing with Christie Brinkley at a Super Bowl and getting a tour of the White House while cracking jokes with Barbara Bush. While he’s justifiably proud of his achievements, he’s also got a self-deprecating sense of humor that shows he doesn’t take himself too seriously.All in all, Mullane has lived a life that’s going to make most of us seem about as interesting as a bowl of cottage cheese by comparison, and he’d probably be entertaining as hell if you had a couple of beers with him. He’s amusing at providing the details about what it’s like to be in space including oversharing a bit on the Viagra effect of zero-G as well as a step-by-step explanation of using the toilet. However, despite having the subtitle of “The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut”, I didn’t find any of the tales that outrageous or different from other books I’ve read from people involved in the space program. Since the shuttle missions were mainly about delivering freight to space, they just aren’t that exciting unless something went horribly wrong. It doesn’t help that two of Mullane’s three missions involved putting top secret military hardware into orbit so he can’t even talk about the details of those because they're classified. I feel silly saying that a guy writing about riding a giant tank of burning rocket fuel into space seems kind of routine, but when I contrast this with something like Jim Lovell’s Lost Moon, in which Lovell recounts not only his life story but the life-threatening Apollo 13 mission, then this seems kind of tame by comparison despite Mullane’s efforts to convey the wonderous nature of viewing the Earth from orbit. (In fairness, part of the reason I checked this out was because Andy Weir’s The Martian gave me a tremendous hankering to read something from a smart-ass astronaut’s point of view, but it’s really not fair to compare the fictional Mark Watney to the real life of Mullane.)What I did find intriguing was Mullane’s frankness when discussing the shuttle program, NASA management and his own obsession with getting into space. He doesn’t hedge when saying that after NASA completed the greatest engineering project in history by getting to the moon that it was turned into a freight hauling service with demands to become cost effective by politicians and bureaucrats who treated the shuttle like a commercial jetliner instead of the high risk experimental aircraft it was. He’s highly critical of the NASA management that let a secretive process to select flight crews turn the astronaut’s office into a seething stew of paranoia, fear and frustration. Mullane plainly lays the blame for the Challenger and Columbia disasters on the culture that resulted from these factors. He also confesses that like most of the other astronauts he was so desperate to get into space that he ignored safety concerns, and that he often put his own family second to his career.Mullane is also brutally honest when recounting the casual sexism that he and the other astronauts engaged in when they were training with America’s first female astronauts. As someone who had gone to the all-male West Point as well as being a military officer, Mullane’s background had been almost exclusively male, and he admits to behaving like a jerk at times. However, he would grow to respect most of the female astronauts and would develop a strong friendship with Judith Resnik who would later be killed on-board Challenger. He was far less friendly with Sally Ride, and one gets the impression that the two of them probably didn’t exchange Christmas cards.While I enjoyed his story as well as his frankness, in the end I wish that NASA had come up with a grander mission for a guy like Mike Mullane rather than risking his life to put satellites into orbit.

Quick, fun weekend read about the life of a Shuttle astronaut who started at NASA in 1978 and was there from the beginning of the Shuttle program until 1990. Mike Mullane has lead a very impressive, and frankly lucky, life. First, he was surrounded by the type of parents, family, and wife who supported him as he sought to be an astronaut. Secondly, the probabilities played out on a few missions so that he was able to survive despite dangerous malfunctions happening. Interesting reading but it becomes apparent early on that Mullane is pretty sexist. I think this book made me a feminist. Mullane grew up in the 1950s, went to catholic school, West Point, and then the Air Force, so he claims to never have had much experience around girls to get to know them, and he acknowledges that his views are pretty sexist. That's an explanation but not an excuse. He really had a disgusting attitude to women and never really showed how he changed his interactions with women to be more, I dunno.. civilized. In addition to this, he has repeated and petty ego issues with competition and soul-seraching regret. When he wasn't assigned a mission he is insanely jealous. When he is on a mission, he's nervous and sure that he's going to die. Even when he retires, he is thinking about the crew headed to space on the next mission, and insanely jealous of them. I guess he has written a brutally honest autobiography to reveal all his ugly emotions, but perhaps he could have used some enlightenment somewhere along the line. But no, the crude humor runs throughout his entire career. It's crazy that somebody like this was chosen to join such a select and lucky club of humans which have been allowed to go to space. Despite all this, I was honestly struck by some very nice passages wherein he actually displays both keen observational and gentle descriptive powers, such as his depiction of the sounds at the funeral at Arlington Cemetery for the crew of the Challenger shuttle: "A military band, playing a medley of patriotic arrangement, led our procession. A formation of skin-headed GI pallbearers, dressed in mirror-polished livery, marched with them. Another group of buzz-cut soldiers bore the American flag and other standards streaming blue and red battle ribbons. Rivulets of sweat poured into their eyes from under their headgear, but they did not break the precision of the march to wipe it away. The astronaut corps and a handful of our spouses trailed the entourage. Between music selections the drummer maintained a solo staccato. The clop of hooves on the cobblestone mingled with the tapping of the women's heels to compete with the drummer's cadence. A symphony of other mournful sounds tugged at the heart: the choking sobs of women, the creak of the caisson, the groan of the leather tack, the jingle of a bridle."Recommended reading if you come across this book and can tolerate his attitude.
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Reviews
rinabeana
The shuttle program was something I didn't know much about, and don't really follow now. Most of my space nerdiness regards the Apollo program (and Mercury and Gemini as they led up to it). This book was a double whammy because I learned a lot about the shuttle program and was very entertained. I loved Mullane's writing style and no holds barred stories. (I perhaps didn't need to know quite so much about waste excretion in space, but what can you do?) I was (naively) shocked to discover just how dangerous the space program was and that many of the missions came very close to the fates of Challenger, Columbia, and their crews. Mullane's opinion was that he (and most of the other astronauts) considered it a very real possibility that they wouldn't come back from their missions (which didn't stop them from going, to the dismay of their families). He was also openly critical of the way NASA handled problems (or didn't handle them), and held them directly responsible for the Challenger and Columbia disasters. It's quite sad, really. Despite these criticisms, he managed to throw in countless anecdotes about his fellow astronauts. I was especially amused that Sally Ride shunned him after he told a dirty joke. I loved his descriptions of his relationship with Judy Resnik (who died on Challenger) and how the women in the shuttle program really showed him that his former misogynist views were groundless (though in his own defense, he cited many examples of how he'd been indoctrinated to such views). I applaud him for learning such a lesson, because it seems that not everyone was able to. To sum it up, this book is well worth reading!
Dana Stabenow
Funny, candid, detailed, with an easy prose style, astronaut Mullane has opinions about the shuttle program, NASA bureaucracy and the exploration of space, and he knows how to use them. He was a friend of fellow astronaut Judith Resnik, who died on Challenger, and he writes honestly about the pain of that loss. He is also very frank about the unpaid service of astronauts’ wives, and you will end this book thinking his own should be canonized. Riding Rockets is the best book by an astronaut since Michael Collins’ Carrying the Fire. Reading both back to back is a full history of the US astronaut corps.
Kathryn
Like probably half of American kids, I wanted to be an astronaut. So I was hoping this book would get down to the nuts and bolts of what it's like to be on a space shuttle, what astronauts do all day when they're up there, what the training is like, etc. Also, this book came recommended by Mary Roach. I was very disappointed. First of all, the writing style is that of a talented sixth-grader. The dialogue, such as it is, is stilted and unrealistic. (Proud of that Tarzan nickname, are you, Mike? So proud you need to use it in every sentence Judy says?) The author himself seems to be stuck permanently in sixth grade as well-- the jokes are either about poop or boobs, and self-aggrandizement alters with self-pity so fast it should have given the author whiplash. He's fixated on the idea of himself as a red-blooded, all-American, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps don't-ask-nothin'-from-nobody kind of guy, and then whines throughout the book about how the female astronauts get the most press attention, and other missions get the most press attention, and Sally Ride was mean to him because he's a serial sexual harasser, and on and on and on. In one paragraph, he asserts that the civilian astronauts don't have any life experience, and in the next, he states that he's never worked with a woman before. Because the only kind of life experience that exists is fighting in Vietnam, apparently. And even though this is supposedly the beginning of his transformation in thinking, I have never read anything less self-aware. Later on, he wants some cookies for having realized that the women he works with are competent and do their jobs well. As a self-professed middle-of-the-road guy, you'd think he'd have recognized that a woman, like Sally Ride, with a PhD in physics from Stanford was beyond competent. In fact, this book left me with serious doubts about NASA's HR. Mike Mullane is one of those people who substitutes "politically correct" for "polite." A large percentage of the book is taken up by his gleeful stories of sexually harassing other astronauts and staff. He takes about a page to go through the women in his astronaut class and give their credentials, along with their marital status and number of kids. (Of course, he never does anything similar with the men.) The only women he likes are the ones who don't object to his sexist jokes, many of which he recounts in detail. Sorry, Mike, if you're looking at a woman's chest while talking to her, that's not un-politically correct. That's both unprofessional and an asshole move. When he finally gets on the shuttle, there is very little about day-to-day life, except the details of the space toilet (which I thought was pretty interesting). There's almost nothing about the mission itself or what astronaut work looks like (his second two missions were classified, but the first wasn't). There's a lot of wanna-be poetical stuff about watching the earth below the shuttle, which is also written at a sixth-grade level, tops. If you want to know what an astronaut's job is, read a different book. The only interesting parts in the book were about NASA internal politics and the Challenger explosion. According to the author, there were a lot of internal screw-ups and a nasty office culture that led to the Challenger explosion, and the Columbia disaster several years later. He spends quite some time on the toxic climate in NASA, where astronauts fear that any dissent will get them grounded permanently, and where there is no transparency or accountability for things like flight assignments and engineering failures. The effect this lifestyle has on astronaut families is tragic, and you really do feel bad for the author's wife. Mostly, though, I only finished this book because I was waiting for my next hold to come in from the library. Don't read it if you like professionalism, women, or the English language.
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