What an Astronaut Is

Chris Hadfield is an astronaut.

And an astronaut is generally defined as someone who takes trips to outer space.

Commander Hadfield is 56 years old, which is about 20,500 days. And he has spent 166 of those orbiting the world. Plainly put: less than 1% of his life has been in space.

Because astronauts spend most of their time on earth. So if all you like is jetting through the stars in a rocket ship, Mr. Hadfield will tell you that you won’t like being an astronaut.

Don’t get the guy wrong: he loved being in space. But the vast majority of an astronaut’s time is spent in between those missions up to the edge of the universe.

You see, it’s true that an astronaut is someone who takes trips to outer space. But really, an astronaut is someone who trains to take trips to outer space. Trains and trains and trains: simulations, Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory practice, language lessons to speak with Russian Mission Control at the International Space Station, adapting to zero gravity.

And after all that training, an astronaut might never leave earth. Funding gets pulled, you get sick, there’s a shift in technology and you’re too tall or too short to operate the vehicle.

Now, Commander Hadfield? He loved the training. Loved it. Rocketing into the stratosphere was the cherry on top.

As he wrote in An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, training wasn’t some perch from which to fly higher or a gotta-power-through-this slog in between big trips. It was an end in and of itself.

If he didn’t feel that way about the time in between, he’d be one miserable astronaut.

So an astronaut is someone who takes big trips to outer space – maybe. And someone who trains to take big trips to outer space – absolutely.

But really an astronaut is someone who loves the time in between big trips.

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