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Diary of an Apprentice Astronaut

Penguin released the English translation of “Diary of an Apprentice Astronaut” by ESA Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti last week (link here). The Diary is a very personal account of what happened to the Writer from the moment she was selected for one of the first stages of the recruitment for ESA Astronauts till she landed back in Kazakhstan after 200 days in Space on board of the International Space Station.

Please trust my opinion, this should be the next book you read, if you are even just remotely interested in aviation and space exploration.

Indeed, let me say that only a few books were able to capture my interest, satisfy my curiosity and then pierce my layer of critical filter to touch directly my core values and feelings.

Richard Bach wrote in a famous article: “Any [pilot] who would print his loves and fears and learnings on the pages of magazines says farewell to the secrets of his mind and gives them to the world.” This is what Samantha Cristoforetti did by opening her diary to us.

But let’s get to what I loved of the book:

All the information you wish for, never overly technical

Only a few people have the gift to explain complex things in easy terms. Thanks to this great ability of the Author, I managed to discover a lot of aspects and details of the background of a space mission without getting lost in difficult scientific explanations.

The language is direct and clear, the way you would indeed expect from a pilot and astronaut, but don’t think the book is at all a dry description of technical aspects.

To the contrary, you’ll see how relationship, teamwork and friendship are at the core of space exploration. Reading the book you realise how all space missions rely on a planetary network of agencies, scientists, expert, trainers, technicians that work around the clock and around the globe. Astronauts in training travel around the globe to the different agencies to train on modules, procedures, suits and tools over a period that lasts around 2 years.

If the extent of this global cooperation is somewhat new to you, you can’t avoid asking yourself, why don’t we cooperate so well with each other also in all other fields?

The descriptions

As said, the book is far from being some sterile technical account of events. A side that I truly enjoyed are the descriptions of places, people and rituals. I don’t think I will ever visit the Cosmodrome of Baikonur or Star City, the complex outside Moscow where astronauts train, but in my head I could almost tell you how the coffee and cookies taste and what precise tone the carpets are. I could imagine to walk in the room where they serve a royal-like buffet before the departure of the astronauts and I could imagine to smile and nod while hearing a toast in Russian. I could almost feel the pain in my forearm when the Author describes the difficulty of grabbing an object while wearing the rigid gloves of the EMU, the NASA suit for extravehicular activities.

Reflections on human life

This is not a book about philosophy nor about politics and a few ontological questions pop-up very discreetly only every now and then. However, who saw our planet from 400km of height acquires necessarily a different perspective on the life on our planet. The lifespan of the whole mankind is absolutely irrelevant compared to the age of Universe. Yet too much of our life gets wasted in fights and diatribes. If we became more aware of how insignificant our existence is compared to the rest of Universe, perhaps we would be more compassionate towards each other.

I loved this aspect of the book because it’s a feeling I also share. Let me be clear, I have little to share with the experience of the Author. I have very little experience of microgravity limited to a few instants in some aerobatic manoeuvre and I would probably never be able to spend more than a week with the same 6 individuals in the limited room of the International Space Station. Nevertheless, I understand somehow the feeling, as this is similar to what I and many other pilots feel after a flight where we managed to contemplate the beauty of nature: humbled and grateful.

In conclusion

I found it a very inspiring reading and I would strongly recommend it to anyone, but especially to young readers.

Diary of an Apprentice Astronaut is truly a great book and I am confident you will be as satisfied with the reading as I was. Now, when I look at the sky and spot the ISS at night, I feel a whole new sense of familiarity with that strange object and its inhabitants.

The book is available in English, Italian and German at any online bookstore (not sure, why the changed the cover in the English edition, I personally prefer the Italian version, below).

Also, all proceeds of the Author go to charitable organisations.

Do you want to spot the ISS at night or verify whether it was that light spot in the sky? check here:

As usual, I am happy to hear your comments!


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What pilot watches to own in 2020

The Aeronaut has finally completed its list of most appreciated watches for 2020. This doesn’t mean that the watches have necessarily been released this year. It’s more a view on how they compare to peers and the general trends in terms of watches.

It was a really tough choice because of the many excellent watches available. Also, I hope you will forgive the delay in publishing this list, but due to very high workload it was impossible to write earlier.

Enjoy and be safe!

Gavox Spitfire

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Gavox is one of the brands I love for many reasons: Michael Happé designed this watch for pilots and maintains its impeccable taste throughout all models while ensuring to meet the operational needs of any aviator: readability, durability and precision. Do you need a proof for this? Many fighter jet pilots and also cinema celebrities like Monica Bellucci wear Gavox on their wrists.

Let’s get, however, to the reason why I chose the Spitfire. Right when I felt satisfied about my collection of pilot watches by Gavox and was thinking to move to another micro brand, Gavox released the Spitfire and it was love at first sight! The Spitfire features a 36mm case, sapphire crystal and a Seiko quartz movement. You read right: 36mm! In facts, in today’s world, this is an unusually small size. However, I tested the watch in flight and can enthusiastically say that this is a pure pilot watch, well readable even during bumpy rides. But its charm is not limited to the sky. indeed, it will catch a lot of attention also discretely sliding out of a suit’s cuff.

The price is EUR 210 at Gavox shop.

Bulova A15

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Bulova is a name that grew closely linked to the American air and space industry. The NASA chose their clocks to display the official time in the control rooms of the US space program during its Mercury, Gemini and Apollo years. Bulova’s Accutron even made it to space during Apollo 15.

The recently issued A15 is the remake of a watch commissioned by the US government for the military pilots in 1943. The government requested a reliable and solid watch and it needed to have a very specific function: keeping track of the lapsed flight time. Only a few test watches were produced, the series production sadly never took off. Along this line, many things changed over time: Bulova went into financial trouble is now owned by Citizen and this watch mounts a Miyota automatic movement instead of one of the innovative and original movement Bulova became known for. Nevertheless, we have to be thankful to Citizen for keeping alive a brand that accompanied some of the bravest conquest in mankind.

However, I chose this watch for three main reasons: 1. the way its 42 mm case looks and feels is absolutely amazing, 2. I keep cheering for Bulova and hope in the future it will make us talk because of some new crazy proprietary movement and 3. I desperately needed a watch with a lapsed time marker for my flights.

The hands and dial numbers are treated with blue luminescent paint.

The watch prices around EUR 499 and is available from multiple online stores.

Breitling Navitimer B01 Cronograph

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One may argue that recommending to purchase a watch that has been around for ages does not make much sense. I disagree and I will tell you why: Breitling recently became property of a private equity fund. Accordingly, the group took some decisions that are in my view excessively profit oriented and disregard the long tradition and history of Breitling. under the new owenrship of CVC Capital partners, the company is selling a new version of “Navitimer”. Unfortunately the new watch has very little to share with the original model holding this name: the Navi-8, the name given to the new Navitimer, indeed has no flight ruler, no cronograph and no proprietary movement. So my choice to include the B01 is a way to celebrate the real Breitling spirit with one of the most iconic models ever made.

Unimatic – Modello 1 (U1-FN)

This is not exactly an aviator watch. It’s a diver’s watch, which works great also in the air. Indeed, it offers a very simple dial, with minimum visual disturbances. The hands are treated with Super Luminova (R) C1 and the case is dark and brushed, which prevents disturbing glare when flying on a sunny day. All these features together ensure maximum visibility. The caliber is an automatic Seiko and the watch is water resistant up to 300m.

Price is currently EUR 625 on the Unimatic website.