Astronaut Roy Bridges intentionally pursued a life of adventure. From fearlessly hunting bears in the woods with his cap pistol at age five, to piloting a fighter jet in Vietnam in his twenties, to rocketing into space at forty-two, he quietly, diligently, and relentlessly made his dream a reality. Fueled by ambition and hard work, fed by the support of family, and formed by the wisdom and character of their example, he made his way from humble beginnings to positions of leadership and prestige—and followed his dream by flying into space as the pilot of the Challenger space shuttle, a classic American Dream of our times.
Join him on his quest as he becomes An Improbable Astronaut.
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A debut memoir focuses on a venturesome Southern farm boy who fulfilled a lifelong dream to explore space as an astronaut.
From his earliest days, decorated military veteran and retired astronaut Bridges had an undeniably adventurous spirit. His book, split into three sections, first explores his quest to learn everything about space travel during an inquisitive youth, then his full immersion in the NASA program, and, finally, his emergence as a key leader in numerous Air Force interstellar projects. Beginning at age 5, the author displayed a lively imagination and explorative spirit as he scoured the forests around his suburban Georgia home in search of bears and buried treasure. Born during World War II, Bridges writes fondly of his early life as the son of a registered nurse mother and a father formerly enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Though the family was preoccupied with work, this aspect afforded the shy author and his sister, Eva Mae, many opportunities for “testing boundaries” even after they relocated to his beloved grandparents’ tobacco farm. In high school, Bridges developed an affinity for science and engineering, marveling at how Soviet space explorers launched an artificial satellite into an elliptical low Earth orbit. With his family’s immense support, he decided to pursue a career in space travel: “I didn’t care how improbable that might be. I saw it as my great adventure.” His strenuous years training at the Air Force Academy provide plenty of stories of camaraderie, cadet scandals, and his marriage to his first love, Benita, in 1967 (they are still together). After flying fighter jets in the Vietnam War, he saw his career trajectory soar, spanning intensive training in pilot school with rocket-powered aircraft, working at the Pentagon, and becoming a NASA astronaut candidate.
In his early 40s, after raising two children with his wife, Bridges accepted a prestigious offer to pilot the Challenger Spacelab 2 shuttle mission in 1985. This climactic event becomes the memoir’s capstone and is narrated in exacting detail, providing a riveting account of his time manning the craft as it shot into space despite a terrifying episode of engine failure. His career would climb even higher in the Air Force before the author retired in 1996. Though the impressively written book needs no embellishment, Bridges’ story is further enhanced with generous personal photographs illustrating the many pivotal moments of his momentous career. There are shots of Bridges immersed in a water buoyancy spacewalker simulator; near the combat jets he piloted; with the Spacelab 2 crew; and during his stint as an Air Force major general, perhaps his crowning achievement. In this obvious labor of love, Bridges, at 79, reflects on a life lived to the fullest, with many dreams accomplished and countless boundaries and obstacles conquered. While he shares a somewhat overwhelming amount of detail throughout his impassioned self-portrait, what will resonate most with readers of all ages is the author’s fearless spirit and perseverance in achieving seemingly insurmountable goals. Even readers with just a casual interest in space travel and interstellar exploration will find much to savor in this admirable, inspiring, and heartfelt account. The memoir proves that with enough drive and determination, anything is possible.
A sublime scrapbook tribute to an unexpected career in orbit.
Roy Bridges may only have one spaceflight to his credit (STS-51F/Spacelab 2) in 1985, but feels fortunate to have experienced a fascinating life and career; from a young five-year-old farm boy hunting bears in the woods, to attaining the rank of Major General in the USAF and filling several key executive positions in NASA and aerospace.
His very personal account, from the family farm in Georgia and the air war in Vietnam, to NASA, the Pentagon and Director of NASA field centers and beyond, is highly enjoyable and a real page turner. Presented in an episodic format, Bridges has skilfully divided his story into three main sections, allowing the reader to continue with the main story or select specific time periods or additional callout sections. For this reader it was a challenge not to simply read the book from cover to cover in one go, but the sections proved very useful.
In the first section, Bridges recalls his formative years on the family farm, developing a respect and fondness for his parents and grandparents and being taught life skills which proved very useful in later years. As with many astronauts, family, faith and honour are foremost in all they achieve.
His story continues with his early education and experiences at the USAF Academy, followed by undergoing the Air Force pilot training programme. Bridges’ account of his time in the Vietnam conflict is enlightening, as are his recollections of attending the Aerospace Research Pilot School and subsequent assignments prior to selection to the NASA astronaut programme. Over 220 pages are devoted to these early years which, compared to the 60-odd pages recalling his astronaut career, might seem a bit of an imbalance, but this reviewer does not think so. We are well versed in the assignments of astronauts at NASA, their flights and support roles and it is finding out about the person behind the astronaut wings which is always fascinating, such as the attainments they achieved to enable them to be selected in the first place. Bridges certainly had the experience and depth even before arriving at the Astronaut Office.
The summary of his assignments and experience at JSC in this section is informative, but for me it is the story before and after his time in the Astronaut Office which is most revealing and rewarding. There have been numerous accounts of the path to astronaut section and even the challenges in life after spaceflight, but few have been as informative and engaging as Bridges’ explanation of the trials and tribulations of life after space, with various USAF assignments and a return to NASA for senior appointments at the Kennedy Space Center and later the Langley Research Center that are the most interesting. The closing section of around 140 pages brings the reader up to date with his final corporate appointments before a well-earned retirement – after several attempts – in Colorado.
Then there are accounts of the normal highs and lows of family life, the successes, setbacks and tragedies, high points and humour, all blended into an engaging read. This is definitely one book to add to any collection and offers a balanced and very open view into what it really means not only to become an astronaut, but a highly successful Air Force officer, an effective manager and a devoted family man.
Bridges encourages all who read his book “to imagine the best life you could have and then go for it”. He clearly achieved that for himself. I leave the closing statement to Roy Bridges and his final words in the book:
“As the title of this book suggests, I pursued a path of adventure and service with an improbable chance of achieving my dream of participating in our nation’s space program as an astronaut. I shared it with a loving wife and family. The results exceeded my wildest expectations.”
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