A pilot afflicted with arrested development grows up fast when he becomes a space-shuttle astronaut.
Navy pilots have Top Gun; investigative journalists have All the President’s Men; and astronauts will always see and be seen through the prism of The Right Stuff. West Point grad and hotshot Air Force pilot Mullane acknowledges as much in his memoir’s opening scene, which finds him and 19 others going through a rigorous set of tests in hopes of being selected as astronauts for the space-shuttle program (extended contact with an enema is involved). Mullane is eventually chosen to join the 1978 class of astronauts, who referred to themselves as TFNGs (Thirty-Five New Guys, a play on the military acronym for Fucking New Guy) and were about as mature and PC as drunk players on a high-school football team. Mullane longwindedly recalls the training process and tells stories of his childhood and married and military life. Along the way, we gain an appreciation for his love of bathroom humor, danger, rockets and other big machines that go really fast. (We also learn of the practical jokes he and his pilot buddies played on civilians.) Occasionally fun, these sections grow monotonous fast, but the books gains substantial traction once Mullane finally makes it into space onboard Discovery in 1984. It’s worth wading through his adolescent hijinks to get to these descriptions of the nerve-jangling launches, the rapturous beauty of space and the unbelievably foul living conditions aboard the ship (the mechanics of a zero-gravity toilet are worth hearing about). Mullane’s explanations of how he became disenchanted with NASA bureaucracy and his achingly tragic recollections of crewmates who perished in the Columbia tragedy raise this book above the ranks of the standard-issue boys-in-space memoir.
One astronaut’s messy, exhilarating story, with no edges sanded off.