A Glimpse at a Few Former Astronauts: Background information when reading Dept. of Speculation

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Dept. of Speculation

by Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill X
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2014, 192 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2014, 192 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky

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Beyond the Book:
A Glimpse at a Few Former Astronauts

Print Review

Before we learn that the professor in Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation has been hired by a rich, failed astronaut to ghostwrite a book about the space program, she observes her baby daughter laughing at seeing the garden hose turn on. She writes in reaction, "All my life now appears to be one happy moment. This is what the first man in space said."

Yuri GagarinOne happy moment – said by Yuri Gagarin, that first man in space. It could also be said by the many other astronauts who have been part of various space programs that have launched them into distances most of us can only imagine; that most of us look at in amazement through images in books and online. How could anyone want to retire from the work of exploring the final frontier, and seeing how far our species can go?

But retire they do, especially in light of NASA's space shuttle program ending in 2011. According to the astronaut biographies section of the NASA website, there are 224 former astronauts. So what do they do when it's all over? What do they do when they go back to looking at the stars like the rest of us? So many of them have interesting post-space lives, and the four featured below are no exception. An eclectic group, making the most of that time in ways that are unique, but with one linking theme - they never forget what they have seen.

David WolfDavid Wolf, who retired in 2012, works as a private consultant, and as Extraordinary Scientist in Residence at the Indianapolis Children's Museum. He may have described how astronauts' feel about being in outer space best when he said, "There are amazing views and feelings in space that are so extreme that they're hard to even communicate, which is part of the frustration of a space veteran."



Michael FoaleMichael Foale is hailed as "Britain's most experienced space traveler," according to Wired UK, spending a 26-year career with 375 days in orbit, visiting the International Space Station and Mir (remember that one?), and fixing the Hubble Space Telescope. He retired in August 2013, intending to build an electric aircraft in order to advance green aviation technology.



Alan BeanAlan Bean, a member of the third group of astronauts chosen by NASA in October 1963, and lunar module pilot for Apollo 12, resigned from NASA in 1981. He took up painting at his home and studio in Houston, wanting to show people, through art, the sights he saw for 18 years as an astronaut.



Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield became known for his guitar-strumming rendition of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" on board the International Space Station. He retired in May 2013, after spending almost five months in orbit and, meeting a promise made to his wife 30 years prior, moved back to Canada. He said of the ISS, "It is a place of art, of self-realization, and seeing our own planet. That's why I took 45,000 pictures. Because I wanted people to internalize what capability this science fiction, and now science fact, has given to us as a species. And people around the world readily adopted that." In the fall of 2014, Hadfield joined the University of Waterloo for a three-year term. He instructs and advises in aviation programs offered by the Faculty of Environment and Faculty of Science, and assists in ongoing research pertaining to the health of astronauts conducted by the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences.


Commander Chris Hadfield recorded his own version of David Bowie's Space Oddity on board the International Space Station:



Photograph of Yuri Gagarin by Arkiv Sydsvenskan
Photograph of Michael Foale by NASA
Photograph of Chris Hadfield on a spacewalk by NASA
Photograph of David Wolf by NASA
Photograph of Alan Bean by Matthew Bisanz

Article by Rory L. Aronsky

This article was originally published in February 2014, and has been updated for the October 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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