Guest Post, Interview Mike Mongo’s audiobook narration instruction manual: How the author of THE ASTRONAUT INSTRUCTION MANUAL prepared for his adventure in the audio booth

Slip on your space helmets, listeners! We’re talking to astronaut teacher and author Mike Mongo about his new audiobook edition of THE ASTRONAUT INSTRUCTION MANUAL available on audio download now, and coming to CD on February 28, 2017. We wanted to hear all about his out-this-world experience behind the mic when he recorded right here in New York City.


How did you prepare?
Going into the studio was really exciting for me. And the experience was even better than I imagined. One of the things I tell students about pursuing any goal—that is, any goal that really means the world to them—is this: “Study your business like homework.”

What that means is, when something is important enough to you to prepare for it with real dedication and to put everything you have into it. But the only way you are going to do that is if you really have an objective. That’s what I call the “end game.” In this case, the end game was connecting with students who love audiobooks and love space and astronautics. Turning THE ASTRONAUT INSTRUCTION MANUAL into an audiobook means I can talk to each student directly. This is why I wrote the book in the first place, for that student out there who dreams of space and wants to know that his or her dream is not only good, it’s achievable!

When I was growing up, audiobooks were brand-new. We didn’t even have CDs, much less downloads—there were no personal computers, smart phones, or tablets. My first audiobooks were on cassette tapes. My first audiobook was The Lord of The Rings. I was hooked on audiobooks from a very young age. What I listened to in order to study for my recording session was The Golden Compass. Now that’s a remarkable audiobook production!

Mike Mongo behind the mic

Mike Mongo behind the mic

Preparing for my recording session really had more to do with all the work I have done over the years preparing me for this moment, the preparation I did in becoming an astronaut teacher. Bear in mind, the actual reason I am an astronaut teacher today is because when I was growing up, like most students then, no teacher explained to me that I could grow up to live, work, and play in space. I became an astronaut teacher specifically because as a grown-up, I hadn’t become an astronaut. And at that time when I set out to be an astronaut teacher, there weren’t any astronaut teachers. There was no such job. There were teacher-astronauts Sally Ride, Barbara Morgan, and of course, Christa McAuliffe. But what I realized that put my career in motion was that tomorrow’s jobs are in space, and today’s world is on the verge of having lots of jobs in space. Suddenly it became very clear to me that someone was going to have to let today’s students know this, too.

With a background in computers, science, and education, I set out to become an astronaut teacher. And because, to me, being an astronaut teacher is the most important job in the world—that is, giving students permission to imagine themselves living, working, and playing in space—I worked at it harder than anything I had ever done. Harder than college, harder than programming, harder than the Army. And taking it one day and one step at a time, I eventually became the go-to guy for anything to do with students and space. Ten years later, when you google “astronaut teacher,” four names come up: Sally Ride, Barbara Morgan, Christa McAuliffe, and mine. It’s the best work in the whole world. To get it and be where I am today, you better believe “I studied my business like homework.” So when people ask me how I got ready to record this audiobook, I tell them I practiced for ten years until I got it right.

What snacks did you eat? Your version of “astronaut ice cream”?
This is a great question. You may not know this but the microphones in the Penguin Random House Audio studios are super sensitive. They can hear you swallow, they can hear you breathe, they can even hear what you ate for breakfast or lunch! So I really had to think about what to eat before I went into the studio. I needed something since I knew my stomach couldn’t be empty and growling and that it would have to be busy without making any digesting sounds.

What I finally chose was a slice of New York’s best cheese pizza, along with a banana protein bar and a half a can of Coke, plus one bottled water. The soda added just enough sugar to trigger the stomach acids and keep them busy. And then I went and played an hour of Pokémon GO while walking around the actual skyscraper that houses the Penguin Random House Audio studios. The plan was to get my stomach busy devouring my lunch and keep it quiet during the entire afternoon of recording. And it worked!

Was the recording booth anything like the inside of a space ship?
Arriving at the studios of Penguin Random House Audio was the best. The lobby is enormous and I was met by audiobook producer Aaron Blank who immediately made me feel comfortable and at ease. We walked through several gates and special doors that needed electronic passes. Since it was a skyscraper building we rode the elevator up to the floor where Penguin Random House Audio studios are located. They are huge, too. But the feeling was actually very friendly. There were M&M’s and Skittles and tea, and even muffins.

"It really did feel like a spaceship."

“It really did feel like a spaceship.”

To get to the studio, we had to pass through more electronic doors and go through a labyrinth of halls and offices. Arriving at the studio was so funny. Everything else was so big. The studio was like a little, kind-of dark apartment with carpeted walls and ceiling. There were no windows and you didn’t know if it was day or night outside or rainy or sunny. It really did feel like a spaceship. But the best thing was the actual recording booth. It had really heavy double-glass doors, two of them, with great big steel bar metal handles that ran from the floor to the ceiling. To enter, you had to pull one door open and push the other. And when they both closed, it vacuum-sealed, exactly like a spaceship would. Shhoomp. But the most amazing part was how quiet it was inside the recording booth! This may sound strange but I have told many people this: It was the loudest silence I had every heard in my life. I really think you could probably hear your hair grow. I couldn’t stop being amazed. It really is a miracle of technology. Aaron the producer and the sound engineer couldn’t stop being tickled over how amazed I was by the technology. But it was so cool!

What was it like to walk outside again after the recording?
The recording took all afternoon. We did a couple of takes before I got it “in the zone.” That was the moment when I realized my voice being recorded was talking directly to the person listening, like someone is really there on the other side of a phone or radio. Right then it all clicked and it felt like I was on fire. That’s when it got really good. We recorded the first part again just to have it with me “on fire.” I was so feeling it then.

And then it was over. When we cracked the seal on the doors, it really was like stepping out of a “zone.” And then everything started moving regularly again and we all sat around for another half-an-hour talking about space exploration. That was really great too, discovering that the Penguin Random House Audio team is just as excited about this book and space exploration as me.

Which audiobooks would you take with you if you were headed on a space mission?
Definitely The Golden Compass audiobook, I don’t think I will ever tire of hearing that. And I am a huge fan of Lee Billing’s Five Billion Years of Solitude, which is perfect from the perspective of a long space mission. And all the Dr. Seuss audiobooks to keep me in good spirits. You can’t help but smile listening to Dr. Seuss. Lastly, the poetry of Maya Angelou to remember what it is to be human.

What kinds of headphones could be used in space?
Headphones are important in space. You know that space is a vacuum and sound doesn’t travel in space. So whichever headphones I bring, they have to be good ones that last.

Me and audio producer #aaronblank before recording #audiobook of The Astronaut Instruction Manual for @randomhouse

A photo posted by Mike Mongo (@mikemongoastronautteacher) on

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