Just about every kid growing up in the ’60s wanted to be an astronaut; Americans were glued to rabbit-ear television sets counting down to blastoff and witnessing historic firsts in the race for space. For most of us, that dream went the same way as Space Food Sticks, Tang and freeze-dried astronaut ice cream, but Houstonian Scott Parazynski went the distance. And then some.
During his 17 years with NASA, Parazynski flew five missions to space and conducted seven spacewalks, led the first ever U.S.-Russian spacewalk, and pulled a MacGyver to repair the International Space Station while tethered to an improvised leash.
"Every kid in my class wanted to become an astronaut too," says Parazynski. "I just didn't have enough common sense to grow out of it. I did hold onto dreams pretty tightly."
Parazynski is out with his first book, a memoir, and says following one's dream is one of the messages that he tried to get across while writing The Sky Below: A True Story of Summits, Space and Speed. "Having the resolve to make them come true," he says. "It's harder. It takes more time."
His life experiences certainly warrant a book. He served as John Glenn's personal mission physician when the legend returned to space at the age of 77, coached luge in the 1988 Calgary Olympic Winter Games, and even summited Mount Everest.
"What's kind of cool about [the book] is it's first-person, present tense. I take readers along for the ride: really wild adventures, growing up overseas in war-torn areas, climbing rocks, climbing mountains, space walks, space shuttles," says Parazynski. "It's a fast-paced adventure book. I also show the challenges along the way. It's a very open and forthcoming look at what it takes."
The book, which is coauthored by Susy Flory, was about three years in the making. "I thought it would be an easier process. I thought four to six months to write it, ship it off, voilà," jokes Parazynski. It comes with a foreword by Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys: A Memoir. "It's kind of cool to have this wonderful man introduce my book."
He says he has mixed emotions about the prospect of traveling to Mars. "I think it will be extraordinary to touch down on Mars. And, as I describe in my book, my dream was to be the Neil Armstrong of Mars," says Parazynski. Though he says it's most likely not in his own personal destiny, he's excited to think that there are young people in school now who will travel to Mars in 15 to 20 years.
Those reading the Kindle in Motion eBook version get a few extras, including narration by the author. "I can't escape the emotion of many of the scenes of the book. You'll hear the impact these events had on my life."
The eBook also offers an immersive experience with companion videos and schematics, one of the firsts of its kind. Parazynski calls it a "right place, right time" bit of luck. "It came out beautifully, I think, especially for a memoir. As you're reading along, you can toggle on the enhanced feature," he says. "It's really a powerful way to enjoy a book and I kind of think it may be the way we're all enjoying books in the future."
Parazynski will be discussing his book and signing copies this week. He'll be at Space Center Houston on August 5 and Brazos Bookstore on August 7.
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"I'm looking forward to being back at Space Center Houston. It's really one of the rare jewels of Houston. It gives us a foreshadow of what lies ahead," says Parazynski. "I love going down there. When my son was younger, we would go once a month."
Book signing events for The Sky Below: A True Story of Summits, Space and Speed:
1 to 3 p.m. August 5. Space Center Houston, 1601 NASA Parkway, 281-244-2100, spacecenter.org, admission is free to $29.95.
7 to 8:30 p.m. August 7, Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet, 713-523-0701, brazosbookstore.com, free.