One of the best astronaut-penned biographies I have read

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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