After I wrote Noooo! Sci-fi keeps women out of computing…, one of my very generous readers sent me a book. I’ve just finished reading that book: Seize the Moment: Autobiography of Helen Sharman (affiliate link).
It tells the story of British astronaut Helen Sharman’s trip into space in May 1991, and what led up to it.
One of the things I loved was how Sharman made it clear that she was an ‘ordinary’ person, rather than ‘astronaut stuff’, from an ordinary town and family, with good but not medal-winning school scores.
In fact, she hadn’t ever dreamed or thought of space or being an astronaut, until one day when she heard an advertisement for the job.
My family background was stable and secure … At school … I won no coveted scholarships … I broke no school athletic records …In every street in every British town and village you will find someone like me.
— Page 48.
That’s the kind of thing that holds out hope for others who may one day find themselves in position to take on something remarkable.
Sharman also adds perspective on the job of astronaut:
What I learnt was that although the job can certainly be dangerous, and sometimes exciting, it is not at all glamorous.
— Page 49.
The chapters are nicely interleaved — a handy technique for maintaining interest. The book starts on launch day, and Chapter 1 takes Sharman into space. Then the next chapter describes her childhood (briefly) and how she came to sign on as an astronaut.
After that alternate chapters describe events of her time in space and return to Earth, or the selection process and her training.
I enjoyed reading the details of her time in space. Some descriptions particularly caught my interest, such as a reference to the size of the Pacific Ocean:
It would take us about five minutes to travel from Belfast to Hanover … twenty minutes to cross Africa; when we crossed the Pacific it often took more than forty minutes before we were over landmass again.
— Page 132.
She even mentioned New Zealand:
Vast areas [of the Earth’s land-surface] are the reddish-brown of desert … Agriculture tends to look a dark grey, or a dull sage-green, whereas bare earth is fawn or brown, or a brick-red colour. When I was in space only two places looked green: Ireland, and the South Island of New Zealand.
— Page 133.
One other quirky thing really stood out for me: the foreword by Sir Arthur C. Clarke. He seemed to be missing something major when he wrote about the role of satellites in transforming our world:
… applications in meteorology, communications, position finding, resource management — and, not least, peace-keeping …
— Page 12.
That drove me to check the publication date: 1993. Of course, just before the Internet started to take hold in our global society. I know the Internet doesn’t rely on satellites, probably mainly using cables, but in my mind, at least, they are inextricably bound together.
This book was a good, easy and enjoyable read. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in space and astronauts.
Now I’ve finished it I’d love to pass it on to another reader. If you’d like it, email me with your shipping address. First in will receive it.