College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

ISU alumnus, former astronaut, writes book about time at NASA

This story originally published by Julie Ferrell with the Ames Tribune

The cover of "The Ordinary Spaceman: From Boyhood Dreams to Astronaut," written by Clayton Anderson. Photo courtesy of University of Nebraska Press.
The cover of “The Ordinary Spaceman: From Boyhood Dreams to Astronaut,” written by Clayton Anderson. Photo courtesy of University of Nebraska Press.

Throughout his career, Clayton Anderson has covered a lot of ground, both on and off this planet.

Anderson, 56, served as a NASA astronaut and traveled twice to the International Space Station. Following his retirement from NASA in 2013, he began working as a distinguished faculty fellow in aerospace engineering at Iowa State University. And now, Anderson can also call himself an author.

Anderson’s novel, “The Ordinary Spaceman: From Boyhood Dreams to Astronaut,” hit the shelves earlier this month. While he knew he would be required to document some of his time with NASA, Anderson never expected to tell his life’s story in a full-length novel.

“NASA often requests us to write journals, and this was pre-social media, about various aspects of the trainings and missions we’re doing to publish them on the website,” he said. “But I just folded them all together, massaged them a bit, added some corn starch, and a book came out.”

The novel recounts Anderson’s time in space, including the 167 days he spent on the International Space Station and the 40 hours of space walks he completed. A portion of it recalls his childhood growing up in Nebraska, when Anderson said “the seed was planted” and he spent his time watching the Apollo 8 astronauts travel around the moon.

His childhood interest prompted Anderson to shoot for the stars, earning a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from ISU in 1983. He said finding a job at NASA “was kind of a happenstance,” and it took him 15 applications over 15 years to be selected as one of the organization’s astronauts.

Anderson said he remembers feeling “extremely excited” when, in 2007, he was set to go on his first trip to the International Space Station. But the trip was suddenly set to depart months ahead of schedule.

“The actual flight came much sooner than we anticipated, both as a family and as a crew, so that brought a little more excitement to the table,” he recalled.

He spent five months aboard the station and returned for a second mission in 2010. Anderson said the best part of both missions was “feeling like Superman every day.”

“I could fly anywhere I wanted to fly,” he said. “Inside, anyway.”

After retiring from NASA in 2013, Anderson returned to ISU as an instructor and has since led students through lectures and trainings, including a week-long astronaut workshop in the summer. But after talking to a friend, a New York Times best-selling fiction author, Anderson said he realized he could become an author.

“I saw myself being an author before I saw myself being a college instructor,” he laughed. “I’ve always liked to write. I don’t know if I ever thought I might have a book until about the time I was beginning to retire.”

The book is now available on Amazon; at Barnes and Noble; and through the University of Nebraska Press, the book’s publisher. Anderson said he has several ideas on the table for what he wants to do next, adding there is already some interest in obtaining the movie or TV rights to his story. But for now, he said readers can get a look into both the professional and personal story of what it takes to become a NASA astronaut.

“It’s not very technical, but there’s some stuff about rocket launches and space logs. But I try to bring everything from the human point of view: what I lived and what my family lived, and the highs and lows,” he said. “It’s a real account of this astronaut’s journey.”