Loved-it, NetGalley, Non-fiction, space

It’s High Time I Reviewed Another Astronaut Memoir! How to Astronaut: Everything You Need to Know Before Leaving Earth by Terry Virts

It’s been a while since I reviewed an astronaut memoir. Knowing how much of a space book buff I am, it’s a wonder. I swear I have at least 20 books about astronauts on my Kindle, a few of them memoirs for sure. I should really pick them up more often! And having just finished How to Astronaut by Terry Virts, I can firmly say I should read at least one a month. Because this book was brilliant!!

How to Astronaut: Everything You Need to Know Before Leaving Earth by Terry Virts

Check out on Goodreads
★★★★✬ 4.5 stars
How I read this:
free review copy from NetGalley

How to Astronaut is a detailed memoir by NASA astronaut Terry Virts. It has a chapter covering pretty much every aspect of life in space! (When I say pretty much, I think I mean at least 99.9%.)

From lift off to day to day activities on the International Space Station, from differences in riding a Space Shuttle and a Russian Soyuz capsule, and all of that told with Terry’s wonderful wit and humor. If you’ve ever wanted a glance at the life of an astronaut, you’ve got it right here!

Very Informally Written, But Very Detailed

How to Astronaut is different from other “space” books in that it’s so… random! And it includes everything! I mean, yeah, it was meant to sequentially tell about the parts of an astronaut’s training, and that makes sense – you go from medical testing to training, to suiting up and all that, but since I’m not an astronaut, the stories still ended up feeling a little random to me. But that’s good! Cause reading this kind of book, you just feel like you’re sitting in the room with the author, and he is telling you stories. Like a campfire evening with an astronaut! That’s a good feel for a book.

Reading How to Astronaut is like having a campfire story night with an actual astronaut. Informally written, but detailed and INCREDIBLY interesting – it's perfect for every space buff out there: Click To Tweet

Terry Virts is a good storyteller. The essays are detailed, but they definitely have fun in them too. What I liked the most was the level of detail – the kinds of experiments that they used to do on the “vomit comet” (the zero-gravity mimicking parabolic plane that was used for training and experiments and is sadly not a thing anymore) and even the kinds of inappropriate graffiti they may have left on the walls of the ISS! You won’t read about this kind of stuff in most books.

international space station

An image of a segment the International Space Station with two astronauts working on it in space suits, with the Earth visible below it, courtesy of NASA-Imagery on Pixabay

And it’s not just that – some of the things the author talks about will be things you never imagined could be part of an astronaut’s life. For example, survival training does sound like it would be useful, but to imagine astronauts running around grizzly bear woods, hunting salmon and looking at the stars, huddled in front of a fire – and that being part of their JOB – wow, right?

By the way, Terry also shares these sort of little secrets with you. Like how they can call ANYONE from the ISS, if those people have previously agreed to talk to them – no matter how famous, to just have a chat about life and things. And people mostly agree! (I mean, you get to talk to a living, breathing astronaut who is currently stationed outside of Earth. You’d have to be pretty out there to not actually agree, am I right?) Apparently, Terry himself has talked to a lot of big names, but can’t say who. Now I’m curious!

The Author’s Personality Really Makes How To Astronaut A Great Reading Experience

Another thing I really appreciated about the author’s style, or rather – his personality – was how enthusiastic he seemed to be about everything! He seemed to really enjoy the medical training he had to go through to become the medical officer to the craft, as well as nearly everything else he did there – like taking IMAX footage for a movie or literally going out the door of the station. Knowing how tough astronaut work is, I could only marvel at Terry’s unflinching enthusiasm despite the fatigue, risks and responsibility. It’s very inspiring!

Terry Virts was also very passionate about the Earth when viewed in orbit, like most astronauts are usually. There was a whole chapter devoted to how beautiful and incredible the Earth is from above, and what things surprised him or caught his attention the most.

earth from space

An image of Earth, as viewed from space, with a part of a satellite visible in the corner of the photo, Courtesy of Free-Photos on Pixabay

This book is different from other ‘space’ books that I’ve read in that it’s so detailed about mundane, everyday things – even shirt styles and colors they wear at the space station. (Or how your preference for tightly whities may change in space! Ha.) Most books about astronauts will be focused on the ‘grand’ part of the job – while this one focuses on the daily part of it – how astronauts are just people like you and me, with the same needs and likes, dislikes.

In the book How to Astronaut, Terry Virts focuses on the daily aspects of an astronaut's life, and that's something that isn't talked about too often! Take a peek into the life on board of the ISS: Click To Tweet

Haven’t you always wondered how astronauts shower? How they sleep and even cut their hair? Or how they, well, GO? (There is SO MUCH great juvenile humor in that chapter, I can’t even. I laughed so much.) But what I particularly enjoyed about this level of detail was the part about suiting up. Give me all the detail about space suits! We never have enough!

So What Really Goes Into Preparing For Space Flight?

Turns out, there is also a lot of work that goes into the preparation for spaceflight. That part is also often glanced over, but not gone into too much detail. Terry Virts does the opposite – he talks about ALL the prep. From weightlifting to medical classes, the “vomit comet” and even detailed info about training in the spacewalk pool. You’ll learn about everything.

But that’s not all – a thing even less talked about is the rehabilitation programs after you come back from space. Because after spending a longer time in weightlessness, the body athrophies and has a lot of trouble readjusting to Earth’s conditions again. Terry Virts is the first astronaut to have given me any detail about this process – which I’ve been wondering about ever since I read Endeavor, Scott Kelly’s book, where he talked about the problems he faced just after he returned from the ISS, but never really talked about how he got over them. I’ve been curious for years!

If you want a detailed account of life onboard the International Space Station, check out How to Astronaut by Terry Virts. It may be the most detailed book on life in space out there! Click To Tweet


This is an absolute must-read for any space stuff fan. If you’ve read and enjoyed books like Packing for Mars or Endurance, you will LOVE How to Astronaut. (And if you haven’t read them, well then it’s obvious all three are recommended!) I enjoyed How to Astronaut so, so much. I can only hope I’ll be able to read something as good about space soon!

I thank the publisher for giving me a free copy of the ebook in exchange to my honest review. This has not affected my opinion.

So have you read any good nonfiction books about space lately?