Book Review: Story – The Way of Water

For those unfamiliar with Story Musgrave, a quick list is in order. Story worked at NASA for 30 years. As mission specialist or payload commander for six shuttle flights, he contributed to many scientific endeavours, including the mission to fix the Hubble telescope. While on ground, he kept busy by helping design the EVA suit, being the CapCom for many missions, giving soaring and flight lessons as well as using his medical doctorate at hospitals to perform surgery on patients. With many degrees, he has kept his mind sharp, while with many contributions he has endeavoured to use the knowledge to great benefit.

Finding this list of accomplishments within the book isn’t easy. One of Story’s passions is communication and he loves expressing himself with poetry. Throughout the book, poems and poetic expressions impress upon the reader the value of living life rather than obtaining awards. Like a true biography, the book has a fairly faithful timeline beginning with Story’s childhood in New England. Honest, open accounts of watching tree leaves change colour, charging tractors through fields and living with an alcoholic and an abusive parent give glimpses into the foundations of Story’s character. Reading of Story’s drive to continually build upon his abilities gives a strong sense of searching. Many entries taken directly from his journal show uninhibited and unqualified views of his thinking, like one saying, “Space is a great place to get away from technology!” A judicious collection of quotes from journals, interviews with family and colleagues and summarized accounts enable this book to be a touching, insightful and faithful presentation of Story’s journey through life.

An interesting thing about writing a biography on a person still living is the caution needed in order to accommodate potential activities. This book addresses this wonderfully by focusing on thoughts and feelings. Story’s decision to attend universities or join the astronaut core were because he saw himself already fitting there. He pushes himself as he has such a strong love of life he doesn’t want to waste a moment. A chapter on death and life resoundingly brings this home. Flight figures predominantly in his life. We read of Story literally soaring up high with birds a few feet from his wing tips. Another chapter showcases space ballet, how Story choreographed movements to fix equipment without the traditional gravity. Chapters are not typical like ‘Story at school’ or ‘Story in the marines’. Rather they include art and literacy, philosophy in nature and being a lifelong mechanic. In so doing the book gives a view of Story as if he were an artist. We don’t see the final paintings, we learn about brush strokes, tone, colour choices and subject selection. In this manner, as an artist in training can learn about a master’s work, people looking for inspiration in life’s undertakings can read this book and find motivation and direction to live life to the fullest.

As can be guessed, Story’s life is anything but typical. Perhaps because of this, there is little reference to his marriages, children and home life. Story, with his never ending quest, seems to have spent little time putting down roots. Also, though the many quotes give solid authenticity, sometimes they make for difficult reading. People’s speech seldom has the polish of written prose. Some pruning of these passages would have smoothed out the flow. Also, there are continual references to Story’s novel photographic work, yet none of his pictures are included.

Though intentioned as a biography, this book is no less a review of one man’s journey into the quest for the purpose of life. Continually driving oneself, undertaking quests and all the while looking for answers is almost a metaphor for life. There is no presumption to having found, ‘the answer’ though some curious thoughts arise such as, “intelligence may not be the best hereditary trait”. Seeing the journey unfold and sharing in the emotional and mental discoveries sets a shining example of sampling life’s many offerings and making the most of them.

With six shuttle missions, many space walks, thousands of hours piloting aircraft, performing countless surgeries and working deep in soil, Story Musgrave has filled his days. But as Anne Lenehan wonderfully shows in her biography of him, Story – The Way of Water, the purpose wasn’t for another award to hang on a wall or citation to be read. Story wants to experience the most he can with his life on Earth and happily, this inspirational recount shares his discoveries and his passions.

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Review by Mark Mortimer