The words used by the Astronaut Evaluation Board to describe my 152 days of service on board the ISS were, in part: “Although Clayton is thoughtful with his peers, he needs to improve his communication skills and attitude towards other teams with which he interfaces. . . . He tended to be a bit too casual with Mission Control, and sometimes too frank, and he could have been more patient during stressful times.” They went on to say that “Clay will need to rebuild his relationship with Mission Control if he is to fly again.” The recommendation for my flight status, as developed by my office peers, was listed as “conditionally eligible.”
It’s tough to admit, but on some of this they were right. While my intentions were always aimed at making things better for those who would follow me into space, I had not heeded the advice I’d been given and I let the frustration build to a point where it affected my work and my interactions with the ground.
Yet I wasn’t totally at fault. The situation on ISS where we were all assigned work behind the same panel in the same week was ridiculous. As a crew support astronaut for the Expedition 4 crew, I participated in the weekly planning meetings where these types of situations were discussed. On numerous occasions I was the “elephant in the room” who complained when the technical team failed even then to grasp the concept of “proper planning prevents poor performance.” To direct a crew to waste that amount of identical (and expensive) crew time on orbit was the highest form of government waste. It was inexcusable.
Even though my family and I had some legitimate grievances, I could have handled myself better. I did not follow the unspoken rule that no matter what, the ground is always right and they should be treated with kid gloves.
Excerpt from The Ordinary Spaceman: From Boyhood Dreams to Astronaut by Clayton C. Anderson by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. © 2015 by Clayton C. Anderson. Available at nebraskapress.unl.edu.