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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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Re-reading ‘The Little Prince’ 20 years later

As father of a 4-year old, while looking for some new books for her, I stumbled across “The Little Prince”, the most famous book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

I remember reading it when I was 7 or 8. At the time, I found it pleasant, but very cryptic in some way. So, I thought that it would be very interesting to go through it again, now that I am a grownup and a pilot, using the sweet excuse of reading it to my little one.

In facts, reading it now, around 20 years after my first time, that little book transmits a completely different feeling. I could possibly say that it conveys some of the most private feeling of the pilot “Saint-Ex”, but clearing the story from every technical details that would possibly bore the young audience.

One thing of the book that I struggled to understand was why and how the Little Prince was travelling from a little planet to the other. It is difficult to understand what the different small planets that the Little Prince visits are if one doesn’t know that when Antoine de Saint-Exupery started to fly, one of his tasks was to open new air routes for the Aéropostale connecting towns and countries. At the time, a remote town close to the Andes could easily be seen as a different planet. And people could more easily close themselves, thinking to be kings, but without knowing of what insignificant realm.

However, a theme – if not the theme –  that is central to the book is that of death. It is somehow never explicitly mentioned. When the Little Prince agrees to be bitten by the snake, he simply wants to go back to his planet. When I was small and read this lines, part of me was convinced he did actually make it back. I still think it now somehow.
If you have the chance to read some of the articles Saint-Exupery wrote during the years of the Aéropostale and especially about what happened when a pilot assigned to a long and dangerous did not arrive, you will immediately understand why death is something that remains unspoken. In facts, when that happened, there was only the silence left by their absence but often no confirmation of what had happened. A part of each of the friends and colleagues waiting on ground hoped for some different epilogue.

The book has certainly many other meanings, but you can read about them in any anthology. Here I just sit with my imagination in the room were Saint-Ex wrote his masterpiece and listened to the pilot.

I am happy to hear what does the book represent for you. Feel free to use the contact form you find under the respective page!

I wish you all a nice reading.